Can Ibogaine cure opioid addiction?

Withdrawal is one of the most insidious aspects of addiction. Symptoms like nausea, sweating, vomiting and painful muscle cramping keep addicts chemically dependent and locked in a destructive cycle of addiction. Even for addicts who are ready to leave the life of addiction behind them, the prospect of undergoing withdrawal is daunting.

Enter: Ibogaine. A naturally occurring substance found in the Iboga plant, Ibogaine has traditionally been used for medicinal and ritual purposes in West Africa. However, Ibogaine has become a popular therapeutic tool to treat addiction to opiates, cocaine, methamphetamine, and alcohol by helping make the detox and withdrawal process much more bearable.

When considering how Ibogaine can help treat addiction, it’s best to think of it as an addiction “interruptor” rather than a cure. Ibogaine treatment helps greatly decrease– and often completely eliminate — painful withdrawal symptoms and cravings, so that an addict can take the next steps in the recovery process.

How Ibogaine works.

When alcohol and drugs are consumed, neurological receptors in your brain are triggered. These neuroreceptors drive addiction by telling the body that it needs opiates, alcohol, nicotine, or psychostimulants to feel back to normal. Eventually, your brain becomes dependent on these substances, so when a person tries to quit their addiction and substances are suddenly removed, a rebound effect occurs and the body enters into withdrawal. As the brain scrambles to regain a sense of balance, a series of uncomfortable symptoms occur.

Essentially, Ibogaine works by restoring brain receptors to a pre-addicted state. When Ibogaine is administered, it metabolizes in the body as Noribogaine. Noribogaine is a type of serotonin reuptake inhibitor that binds to opioid receptors. Essentially, it turns off the withdrawal process and the neurological receptors that crave more drugs or alcohol.

As a result, patients report little to no withdrawal symptoms and a reduction in cravings following Ibogaine treatment. Cravings and withdrawal symptoms can return after a few weeks or months, but at greatly reduced intensities. As a result, addicts have a better chance at getting clean and staying clean because they don’t have to undergo a painful detox process.

Success rate of Ibogaine. 

Ibogaine is still classified by the DEA as a Schedule 1 drug. In 1995 The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) pulled research funding for Ibogaine as a possible addiction treatment and there have been no systemic controlled trials in the United States or Europe since.

With that said, there are a number of case studies that show Ibogaine as an effective treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

A 2017 study published in the Journal of Psychedelic Study  found that Ibogaine had positive long term effects for sufferers of chronic addiction. The majority of study participants (80%) reported that ibogaine either drastically reduced or totally eliminated their withdrawal symptoms, with 30% abstaining from opioid use for years following the treatment.

Two observational studies which were conducted in New Zealand and Mexico found that a single dose of Ibogaine decreased signs of opioid withdrawal and achieved either cessation from opioids or sustained, reduced use for up to 12 months following treatment.

In fact, patients who received Ibogaine reported a 20-50 percent rate of abstinence at a one-year follow-up point. This is compared to Suboxone, which shows a 8.6 percent success rate after an individual stops taking it to treat opiate addiction.

However, it’s important to note that research also shows that long-term recovery and relapse avoidance is dependent on whether an individual enters into rehabilitation immediately after receiving Ibogaine under the supervision of a doctor.

When Ibogaine is used to treat methamphetamine addiction, there’s a 70-90 percent success rate, but only if the patient is given proper aftercare. If an individual takes Ibogaine but then returns to their old environment where they abused meth, there’s a 90 percent relapse rate.

The importance of after-care.

To ensure you get the most out of Ibogaine treatment, it’s important you choose a treatment facility with a high level of medical supervision and support. The right facility should offer comprehensive pre-treatment and post-treatment counselling, alongside other kinds of aftercare and mental health support.

A robust after care program supports patients by providing them with tools to build self-esteem, confidence and form new, healthy habits. This typically includes a combination of traditional counselling and mental health support,  alongside a variety of holistic therapies such as acupuncture, breathwork, equine therapy, meditation, massage and yoga.

There’s no magic cure for addiction. Long term recovery is only possible if you show up and “do the work.” This means attending aftercare programs, getting involved with local support groups, NA, or AA meetings, and/or staying away from negative environments.

Ibogaine won’t magically eradicate your addiction or alter your personal habits, however it can help you get through the painful process of withdrawal so that you feel prepared to face those challenges on your own.