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Ibogaine in Addiction Treatment: Efficacy & Risks

No clinician in the United States can use ibogaine legally. People who want to experiment typically head to Mexico or another country to undergo a ceremony with this hallucinogenic drug. Some of those people die, as ibogaine can be toxic to your heart.

Struggling with Addiction? Get Help Now

Ibogaine is a hallucinogenic drug pulled naturally from a West African plant. People have used this substance for decades in religious ceremonies, but now, some people believe it can help address addictions too.

Before you use an experimental drug to treat addiction, know that plenty of established, proven forms of therapy exist. You don’t need to tinker with other drugs to overcome your current drug addiction. Get help from a reputable treatment center instead.

Can Ibogaine Help Your Addiction?

Hallucinogens like ibogaine alter your consciousness and place you inside a dream-like state. They work by changing chemical signals between brain cells. Sometimes, their effects linger long enough to help people break the addiction cycle.

People who take ibogaine for addiction describe watching a movie of their lives while they’re under the influence. They revisit difficult episodes, talk to people they loved, and process trauma.

Few would describe the episodes as entertaining or fun. Most would say they hated every moment of their hallucinations. But they can emerge feeling like they’ve dealt with problems they have avoided for years. Some people feel this gives them a better foundation to embark on recovery.

Researchers say small, safe doses of ibogaine can do the following:

  • Reduce withdrawal (for people struggling with opioids)
  • Lessen drug cravings
  • Transition people to sobriety

But experts point out that ibogaine won’t change your life. When the high wears off, you’re left with the same thoughts, feelings, and habits that kept your addiction alive. Unless you engage in another form of treatment and learn how to build a sober lifestyle, you’re likely to relapse to drug use.

Is Ibogaine Safe?

People who use ibogaine discuss its impact on thought patterns and feelings. But the drug also works on other parts of your body, and sometimes, it causes real harm.

Ibogaine can impact your cardiovascular system, leading to heart palpitations and cardiac death. Between 1990 and 2008, almost 20 people died due to ibogaine use, and most of them died due to heart problems.

Few overseas rehab clinics perform medical screening tests before administering ibogaine, which could mean that sensitive people could get the drug when they shouldn’t, and they could die. It isn’t a risk worth taking.

Because ibogaine is precarious, it’s on the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule I list. Few organizations in the United States can even experiment with the drug, and even fewer can give it to patients. People with ibogaine can be arrested for using it.

Researchers with the authority to experiment on ibogaine are looking for innovative ways to use the drug. For example, one group synthesized the drug in a laboratory and eliminated the cardiovascular impact.

Synthetic drugs like this could be safer than natural ibogaine. They’re easier to administer in precise doses. They are structured to touch the brain in a certain way, and they’re made in controlled laboratories.

But it could take years for solutions like this to hit clinic and pharmacy shelves. More research is needed before this happens.

Why Are Psychedelics Interesting to Researchers?

It may seem unusual to use one drug to help people overcome an addiction to another drug. But researchers say they have valid reasons for working with hallucinogenic substances.

Drugs like ibogaine, LSD, and psilocybin work on the serotonin neurotransmitter system. Researchers say the impact lasts for several days. People living through these episodes feel less inclined to return to old habits and ways of thinking. The tiny gap in substance use allows them to revisit why they use drugs.

Psychedelics also show promise in treating mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Many people with addictions have underlying mental health conditions, and those altered states keep them using drugs.

Addressing those problems with psychedelic medications could help people to manage their addictions too. When their depression or anxiety is under control, they are less likely to abuse substances.

What Can You Try Instead of Ibogaine?

You’re struggling with an addiction, but you don’t want to take an experimental drug to get better. And you don’t want to pay thousands of dollars out of your own pocket to get help. What can you try?

Consider conventional addiction treatment. Your health insurance plan could cover your care, so you’ll save money. And you’ll tap into therapies supported by decades of research. It’s a safer, more rational way to address the problem.

An addiction treatment program can assess your current substance abuse issues and map out a comprehensive care plan that works for you. With the right support, you can learn to cope with triggers without turning to substances. You’ll build a support system that can help you to live a balanced, healthy life in recovery.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated June 7, 2023
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