Ibogaine Treatment for Addiction: Side Effects, Risks, and Alternatives
Table of contents
What is Ibogaine?
Ibogaine is a hallucinogenic drug that is harvested from the roots of a Western African shrub called the Tabernanthe iboga plant.1 In small doses, ibogaine is a stimulant but in large doses, it can induce an extremely powerful high or psychedelic state. Large doses may also reduce opiate withdrawal symptoms and opiate cravings, but the safety of using ibogaine for addiction treatment is questionable, as most studies have involved animals and ibogaine-related deaths in humans have been reported.
How Does Ibogaine Work?
Although researchers don’t fully understand how ibogaine works yet, scientists do know that when a person takes ibogaine, it is converted into noribogaine, which is a compound that targets certain parts of the brain associated with addictive behaviors. Noribogaine works to rewire those areas of the brain, and as a result, reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms.2
Although research studies show ibogaine may help a person stop using opioid drugs, it is not a cure for substance use disorders and additional therapy and drug rehab are still necessary for a full and lasting recovery. Ibogaine treatment simply interrupts the addiction and substance abuse and acts as a tool for detoxing. Once a person is sober, they will still need addiction treatment and behavioral therapy to maintain lasting sobriety.
How Does Ibogaine Treat Opioid Addiction?
Historically, ibogaine has been used by members of the Bwiti religion during initiatory ceremonies.3 In America, however, Ibogaine is a Schedule 1 substance and has no accepted medical use.4 The FDA has not approved it for treating any substance use disorder and more research needs to be done to confirm its safety and efficacy.
Howard Lotsoff is credited with being the first person to use ibogaine to treat his own heroin addiction.5 In 1986, he received a patent for the capsule form of ibogaine and proceeded to work with European medical experts to develop a treatment for opioid and cocaine addiction. Although the research and tests were promising, clinical trials were stopped due to funding issues and the death of a patient who was treated with ibogaine.
Today, ibogaine is illegal in the U.S. but some international treatment centers offer ibogaine treatment for addiction. Since opioid and heroin withdrawal can be a lengthy and uncomfortable process, individuals may seek out these international treatment providers in hopes of overcoming their addiction(s) without having to endure the pain of withdrawal or the irresistible drug cravings afterward. Unfortunately, many of these ibogaine treatment providers do not have sufficient medical training to properly care for people and clients may be at risk for serious medical complications or even death.
Is Ibogaine Treatment Safe?
Although ibogaine is unlikely to be abused recreationally, there were a total of 19 deaths associated with the ingestion of ibogaine between 1990 and 2008.6 These deaths were attributed to several different factors including:
- Pre-existing medical conditions (especially cardiac conditions)
- Seizures from acute withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepines
- Polysubstance abuse
The Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) estimates that ibogaine has a mortality rate of 1 in every 300 patients.7
What Is the Ibogaine Treatment Success Rate?
Medical experts who have used ibogaine to treat meth addiction have reported 50-80 percent success rates. While this may sound promising, ibogaine treatment may not be effective for everyone. Long-term recovery rates depend on the level of support and treatment patients receive following ibogaine treatment, so the treatment success rates alone aren’t the entire story.8
Results from one 2017 study suggest that ibogaine is associated with reductions in opioid use, complete abstinence (in some cases), and long-term positive psychological outcomes, including lower rates of depressive and anxious symptoms.9
Although 70 percent of the total study sample reported a relapse following treatment, 30 percent reported never using opioids again after ibogaine treatment and 11 percent eventually achieved abstinence.10
However, all the patients in this study received detox care at an ibogaine treatment center, followed by residential rehab, psychological support, and aftercare planning.
In short, achieving lasting sobriety after ibogaine treatment for opioid, meth, or cocaine addiction largely depends on whether a person completes reputable rehab or aftercare programs following detox.
What Are the Side Effects of Ibogaine Use?
Using ibogaine recreationally or relying on ibogaine treatment as a self-treatment for opioid withdrawal comes with some serious risks, such as:11
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Heart complications
- Impaired balance and muscle coordination
- Dry mouth
Researchers are still studying ibogaine treatment to determine appropriate dosages and safe administration of the drug. More research is also needed to fully understand the long-term effects of ibogaine on the human body.
What Are Safer, Alternative Treatment Options for Opioid Addiction?
Although ibogaine treatment may be an attractive option for opioid addiction and detox, there are far too many risks involved. Fortunately, several alternative treatment options can help you or a loved one overcome opioid addiction.
- Medical detox: Medication-assisted treatment is a safe and trusted way to detox from opioids. Medical detox can both reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and ensure a person’s safety throughout the detox process. A medical detox program may also provide clinical care with individual and group therapy.
- Long-term drug rehab: Long-term drug rehab is often necessary, even after the completion of detox, as the behavioral and psychological aspects of the addictive behavior still need to be addressed for a person to achieve long-term sobriety. Rehab can help people overcome their addiction(s) by providing various types of behavioral therapy and specialized therapies.
- Recovery support services: Recovery support services like a peer monitoring program, sober living programs, and aftercare programs can also help individuals maintain a lifestyle of sobriety while adjusting to the increase in responsibilities and freedoms after rehab.
- Community support groups: Community support groups like Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Smart Recovery, and Celebrate Recovery (among many others) can be very valuable resources for people in recovery. Regular attendance at community support group meetings and H&I meetings can provide the necessary accountability, encouragement, and healthy peer interaction with other sober people.
If you are struggling with opioid addiction and you’re looking for a way out, ibogaine isn’t the only option. Call now to speak with a Nova Recovery Center representative and learn more about addiction treatment options near you.
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