Investigating Ibogaine Addiction Interruption Therapy
Addictions can seem to transport people to another place, in which the sights, sounds, and sensations are so much different than those seen in the everyday world. Some people suggest that people with addictions can heal via the very same process. Specifically, they propose that people with addictions can get better if they ingest a hallucinogenic substance (ibogaine) and go through an extended period of reality distortion.
What Is It?
Ibogaine is a natural substance that’s native to West Africa. News reports about the drug suggest that it’s been used in native rituals for centuries. In the 1950s, these reports say, researchers became interested in using the substance to help people who had an addiction.
The idea of using a drug to help with an addiction has developed into a tourist boom, reporters say, as people from all around the globe flock to places like Costa Rica to drop $10,000 on a treatment that has yet to be approved by Western governments.
Typically, in an ibogaine treatment, people with addictions are given a dose of the drug and surrounded by people who perform some kind of ritual. Some websites have created videos that demonstrate how the rituals work, and they can be a little discomfiting to watch. People with addictions are asked to chant, to shake rattles, and to take on new names. They’re using hallucinogens, but they’re also participating in something that seems a little otherworldly.
Also, the experiences aren’t always considered pleasant. One woman profiled for a website about her ibogaine experience spent hours screaming at visions no one else could see, and when she awoke, she described the experience as far from pleasant. There may be rituals involved, but there may also be pain and fear involved.
In one study of the issue, researchers gave cocaine-addicted rats ibogaine. One injection resulted in a dip in cocaine intake, and that lower level stayed in place for 48 hours. But the researchers said the results were best when the rats were given the drug once per week for three weeks. They didn’t say, however, what sort of health effects that could have on people.
Clearly, this is far from a success story. The entire study is quite short, and many people relapsed to drugs within that short time-frame. For the three who did get better, it might have been the start of something wonderful. It’s just too early to know.
A fully functional study would have a much longer period of observation, so researchers could really look for clues about changes. Unfortunately, much of the research done on this drug follows people for short periods of time. Those studies seem to suggest that people react to this therapy in remarkably variable ways.
These results are all over the place. Some people felt better. Some didn’t. Some felt better in different ways. It’s hard to make reasonable treatment decisions with this kind of variable data.
Some human studies are just poorly designed. In one such study, a participant admitted that there were no brain scans done of the people involved, and the participant describes his healing using words like “euphoric state” and “sense of awe,” which are far from quantifiable. It’s hard to know what to do with the data from a study like this.