Imagine a drug that could eliminate a scourge that impacts the lives of more than three million Americans and more than a million western Europeans ? drug addiction ? with one pill.
Ibogaine was isolated from the root-bark of a plant known as Tabernanthe iboga that grows in a forested area of West Africa in Cameroon and Gabon. In Africa the plant is central to a religion known as Bwiti, one of the most resilient indigenous belief system in Africa. An initiate into the religion must eat the iboga root to induce intense visions and to “meet their ancestors.”
According to an African story, it was at the beginning of time when a god tossed bits of a Pygmy he had hacked up onto the forest floor. When the man’s widow found flowering plants growing from his flesh, the god told her to eat the root.
John, an East Village squatter who traveled to Gabon with the Peace Corps during the 1990s, became a follower of Bwiti (foreigners are welcome to become initiated) after a ceremony that included consuming what he said seemed like two pounds of sawdust. John told me it was the most difficult experience of his life, but that the psychedelic encounter changed him forever.
In the western world, the difficult process of consuming the active ingredient Ibogaine has been made a lot easier. Today you can take a capsule with Ibogaine, or even have it administered rectally; but the 36-hour experience has never been easy and the drug is illegal to possess in the United States.
Ibogaine’s anti-addictive properties were discovered ? some might say rediscovered ? by a 19-year old drug experimenter named Howard Lotsof while living with his parents in suburban New Jersey. A precocious teen that had been experimenting with a multiplicity of drugs, Lotsof had unwittingly become mildly hooked on heroin.
One day Lotsof was having breakfast with a friend who was active in small underground LSD scene. He turned Lotsof on to a hit of Ibogaine, but he warned, “It’s a 36-hour trip.” Lotsof held on to the Ibogaine until right before going to an appointment with his psychologist, where he described the trip to the astonished shrink: “I was walking up a ladder leading to a ? diving board over a pool. I was naked. My mother appeared beneath me with her legs open, I was diving into her vagina.” Strangest of all, Lotsof awoke refreshed after three hours of sleep without the urge to cop heroin.
On October 16, 1966 LSD became illegal in California, and by 1970 Ibogaine was listed as a Schedule I drug along with acid, heroin and cocaine. This meant the government declared the drug has no medical value.
Howard Lotsof went on to be a filmmaker and put his Ibogaine experience into the back of his mind. Ibogaine still had a spooky aura, but was rarely, if ever, a part of the drug scene. Hunter S. Thompson once joked the drug might have been used to cause Edmund Muskie?s meltdown during the 1972 Democratic primaries.
Dirty needles and shooting up heroin signaled the arrival of AIDS, and the deadly disease motivated a small group to gather around Lotsof and begin a project to provide Ibogaine to addicts. Lotsof and a companion traveled to Gabon and were granted a meeting with the African country’s president Omar Bongo, who listened as the two Americans pleaded their case for Gabon’s support. Bongo rose to the occasion and declared that, “Ibogaine is Gabon’s gift to the world.”
When they returned to America, they brought back several pounds of Tabernanthe iboga root bark donated by Gabon, and a plan to start treating addicts.
By 1986 Lotsof had started a company called NDA International. He filed patents for Ibogaine to treat addictions including opium-heroin, cocaine, amphetamine, alcohol and tobacco. NDA began the long torturous process of getting a drug approved for humans in the United States. It can cost as a much as a half-billion dollars to bring a drug from the laboratory to the market, and the vast majority of new drugs never make it through the process.
Dr. Stanley Glick at Albany Medical College was contracted to do the first animal studies, showing that Ibogaine did in fact reduce self-administration of both cocaine and heroin by mice. Soon addicts were recruited, and treatments began in the Netherlands in the 90s. Activist Robert Sisko, doing his own treatments in Holland, started an organization of addicts called The International Coalition for Addict Self-Help, working closely with the Netherlands’ well-organized junkies. But the guerilla treatments were ended when a patient being treated died. An investigation by Dutch authorities didn’t find a direct connection to the use of Ibogaine, but it slowed down research at a critical phase.
In stepped Dr. Deborah Mash, Professor of Neurology at the University of Miami School of Medicine. She had discovered coca-ethylene, a by-product of using alcohol and cocaine that explained an epidemic of cocaine overdose deaths in Miami. She first heard about Ibogaine at a conference on addiction from an African-American man, who asked her if she’d heard about something from Africa that could be used to wean people off cocaine and heroin.
Mash admits to blowing off the suggestion, until a month later when Mash attended a presentation by Stanley Glick on Ibogaine. As a scientist Mash says she became “intrigued with wanting to know exactly what the Ibogaine molecule was.” She began investigating the drug with her team, Mash says, and she discovered that like cocaine and booze, Ibogaine metabolizes in the body into a new drug that’s really the cause of its anti-addiction benefits, a drug she calls 12-hydroxyibogamine.
That discovery by Mash in Miami set the stage for a battle with Lotsof over control of his patents. The strained relationship began over Lotsof’s belief that his patents should cover all the active compounds discovered relating to Ibogaine. At that juncture, Lotsof got sick, and although he recovered was financially forced to sign away control of his patents.
Mash went on in found one of the biggest and most successful offshore Ibogaine treatment clinics on the Caribbean Island of St. Kitts. Since then, independent Ibogaine clinics have opened up in Mexico, Canada, and reopened in the Netherlands. Thousands have been treated and studies have been published with more and more evidence of Ibogaine’s value as an anti-addiction drug. The impetus has come time and again from addicts themselves who are unhappy with the alternatives: a life of addiction to heroin, methadone, or dangerous and uncomfortable so-called “ultra-rapid-detox” methods.
Recent studies show that Ibogaine and its derivatives are effective in reducing the self-administration of methamphetamine, and even better at reducing the craving for nicotine then earlier studies. Addiction, AIDS and the terrible destruction they visit on people in the US and around the world remains unabated. Each month more than 100,000 in the US alone try heroin for the first time and nearly 60% of those first-time users will go on to develop a serious heroin dependence problem that will follow them the rest of their lives. More than 2 million Americans are addicted to cocaine.
Yet, despite the explosion of medical research and miracle drugs in recent years, very little has been done medically to try and find a “magic-bullet” to cure addiction. Only 10 drugs are being studied by big pharma to treat addiction; in comparison, 400 drugs are currently being studied to treat breast cancer. Not surprisingly, it’s been the addicts themselves that have had to step up and provide the impetus to find a cure.
Additional news, added December 8th
Feds Announce the First Ibogaine Conspiracy Bust
A couple in Caspar, Wyoming was arrested by federal authorities and charged in a multi-count indictment with conspiracy to import Ibogaine from the Central American nation of Belize. Ibogaine is a hallucinogenic drug isolated from the root-bark of a plant known as Tabernanthe iboga that grows in the rain forests of the West African nations of Cameroon and Gabon. But the drug is not recognized as having any legitimate medicinal uses under United States law and is illegal to use and possess here. Ibogaine was made a schedule I drug in the early 1970s along with LSD and other similar drugs. But in the 1980s an intrepid group of former drug addicts and their supporters began to claim Ibogaine had the almost magical ability to stop drug withdrawal symptoms and reduce the craving to do drugs like heroin and cocaine.
In the years that followed thousands of US addicts were treated in guerilla clinics located in countries where Ibogaine is legal such as the Netherlands, St. Kitts, Canada, Panama, Israel and Belize. Ibogaine is rarely provided in the United States, but on Friday December 2, 2005 the US Attorney’s office in Caspar, Wyoming announced the arrest of Jack and Karen Haut, also of Caspar. According to Assistant US Attorney Kelley Rankin who spoke exclusively with this reporter from the Dick Cheney Federal Building in Caspar, the couple faces up to 20-years in prison for the alleged Ibogaine conspiracy, use of a controlled substance and an unspecified firearms offense. Rankin says no Ibogaine was ever sent to the couple involved in the conspiracy charges. US conspiracy laws make it illegal to plan a crime, even if the crime is never committed.
Rankin added that the defendants were “trying to cure their addiction,? and that ?other addiction issues” were involved. He specifically mentioned the addictive narcotic pain killer hydrocodone and methadrine, a street drug also known as “speed” or “crystal meth.” Rankin refused to give more information about the government’s charges. He said a preliminary hearing was scheduled for 4 PM mountain time on Thursday, December 8.