Written by Aria and Miri of University of Vienna SSDP
The European Ibogaine Forum took place in Vienna, Austria from September 8-10, 2017. It was the first international meeting of its kind held in Vienna and an indication that a new wave of psychedelic research and culture has reached Austria. Although Vienna is home to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, it appears to be a rather sleepy city when it comes to psychedelic cultural events. This may partly be due to the special juridical situation, which can appear rather liberal so long as issues do not gain public attention. For example, trading ibogaine is legal in Austria, as long as it is not intended for human consumption. It is not only sold over the internet but also in at least one shop in Vienna. But it seems like Austrians are finally coming out of the psychedelic closet. In 2016/17 not only was the Vienna Psychedelic Society founded, but an SSDP chapter also opened.
Before delving into the content of the presentations held at the conference, we should first understand what ibogaine is and why it is so relevant for today’s society. Ibogaine is not a classic psychedelic, but rather a dissociative or even oneirogenic (dream-creating) substance. Ibogaine and other alkaloids occur naturally in the root bark of a select group of plants, one of which is Tabernanthe iboga. This plant, native to Gabon (Central Africa), has been used for countless generations in the context of Bwiti ceremonies; Bwiti being one of the three officially recognized religions of Gabon along with Christianity and Islam. These ceremonies mark initiations or rites of passage as well as healing practices. A traditional Bwiti ceremony involves people coming together as a community through a fire ceremony, traditional Bwiti music, trance-state dancing, initiates sitting for hours watching their own reflections in a mirror and much more. Similar to other traditional plant medicines, the iboga plant is consumed with reverence and humility, always respectful of the powerful plant spirit, oftentimes referred to as “the grandfather”.
How this plant ultimately reached the “western world” is a topic of controversy, which leads to a point repeated several times throughout the conference; do not trust the ibogaine Wikipedia page. According to the page, in the USA in the 1960s a 19-year-old heroin addict, Howard Lotsof, serendipitously identified the potential of ibogaine to treat substance abuse. This discovery occurred when he realized, after taking ibogaine, he did not experience heroin withdrawal symptoms, which is arguably one of the greatest difficulties to overcome when attempting to detox from physically addictive substances. From that point on, a small group of activists and idealists, including Howard, his wife Norma Lotsof, Dana Beal, Boaz Wachtel and many more set off to spread the word of Ibogaine’s incredible properties, initiating new research, isolating and patenting the responsible alkaloids and ultimately treating hundreds of individuals who found themselves addicted to substances such as heroin, morphine, or prescription drugs. Of course, this plan of action brought with it a whole set of obstacles, controversies, and hurdles, some of which are still ongoing today.
After all the presentations during the conferences along with the testimonials and the conversations we heard or participated in, it seemed undeniable that ibogaine is the single most effective substance to treat addiction today. It’s important to note that this does not mean individuals who take a flood dose (the dosage, which instigates a ‘full’ ibogaine experience, lasting more than 24 hours) of ibogaine are ‘cured’ and will not ‘relapse’. However, no other substance or therapeutic method has such a high rate of achieving abstinence from substance abuse within the first 30 days after finishing therapy. This is tightly linked to the removal of withdrawal effects and also an easing of drug craving for some time. Ibogaine may provide a window of opportunity in which an addict may approach the factors which made her/him abuse those substances in the first place and resolve their “bad habit” by recognizing its roots.
If an individual does resume using a substance it is viewed as a conscious choice, rather than an uncontrollable habit, an important difference to be made. Several presenters agreed that if an individual relapses more than once or twice, more ibogaine may not suffice. Instead, the person requires other means of psychological and/or spiritual guidance to change her/his attitudes and habits. This addresses how important aftercare can be; the process of integrating the ibogaine experience and carefully acknowledging the mental and physical triggers which may lead to subsequent substance abuse, but equally having a way or method to avoid or control these triggers. Additionally, it emphasizes a support system that will allow for one to continue on the path of personal and spiritual growth, which the iboga plant initiates. “Being true to you“, the name of one of the aftercare projects introduced at the conference, summarizes this very well.
Nonetheless, the conference heavily emphasized that ibogaine is not a wonder medicine and comes with its own set of risks. Most notably, ibogaine can lead to a QT prolongation, essentially meaning it can dysregulate one’s heartbeat, leading to arrhythmias, cardiac arrest, and even death. However, as much as it was emphasized that ibogaine carries these risks it was equally emphasized that nobody has to die from ibogaine. With the proper preparation, staff, screening methods and equipment, ibogaine can be used in a safe and highly effective manner. This leads to yet another point, which was heavily discussed throughout the conference – how to introduce global therapeutic standards, which will increase the safety of treatment, whilst still allowing for ibogaine therapy to be affordable. Currently, there are many ibogaine treatment centers around the world in Mexico, South Africa, New Zealand, and Afghanistan which have expert medical staffs on hand. However, in many cases, the treatment costs are disproportionately high, too high for those who need it most. Despite limited scientific research on the “perfect” treatment method, Howard Lotsof, Boaz Wachtel, and other contributing authors co-wrote a manual for ibogaine therapy and aftercare in the early 2000s. As with many other psychedelic substances, oftentimes individuals will value and trust their own experiences and therapeutic successes more. Ibogaine can also be very helpful for persons with Parkinson’s disease and although it’s not a cure, it can mean a great increase in life quality for affected people.
In summary, all agreed one should be well informed about which bodily systems are being affected by ibogaine and its metabolites (e.g. liver and heart) and let those be medically screened prior to any ibogaine treatment. One should share those test results with whoever will be administering the treatment and equally respect the dietary or medical recommendations a treatment provider will give you. Finally, under no circumstances should one use any opioids or benzodiazepines during, shortly before, or after the therapy. This is not only for the individual’s safety, as chemical interactions could have dire consequences, but also in order to reap the maximum benefits of the ibogaine experience, which will most likely be emotionally and physically taxing. Most, if not all people who spoke to us about their ibogaine experience(s) said it was one of the most important events in their life, however, they would prefer never to do it again because it was such an exhausting experience.
The question of sustainability of the iboga plant arose and views and opinions seemed to almost be antithetical, depending on whom you asked and where they conducted their research. Apparently, the plant itself is part of forests’ undergrowth, requiring surrounding trees to grow and flourish. Additionally, it takes a minimum of five years for the plant to mature and for the medicine to be extracted. Some traders sell “fake ibogaine“, which is produced by other plants from the same family, and although they are close relatives to the iboga shrub and contain many of the active alkaloids, these can have a much higher toxicity and therefore hold little medicinal value. Since even professional and highly trained experts can only distinguish between the real iboga plant and it‘s more toxic family member by chemical analysis, it is paramount for therapy centers and other buyers to have trustworthy suppliers, who really know where their materials come from and what they are.
Lastly, although iboga is still a relatively unknown plant medicine, incomparable to the fame of ayahuasca and psilocybin, it is slowly gaining more and more sensible media coverage. Most recently, to our great surprise, Fox News reported on the promise of ibogaine and although their liberal use of the word “cure” may be misleading, it demonstrates a step in the right direction. Similarly, a group of attendees, organizers, and speakers of the European Ibogaine Forum are collaborating to produce a documentary, The Ibogaine Stories. It will explore the origin of how ibogaine was first used for opiate detoxification and will provide an intimate look into the lives of those who made it their life mission to advocate for the safe, sensible and beneficial use of ibogaine. More information, including how you can help, can be found on the website, which launches November 5th, 2017. Finally, most of the presentations from the conference are available online and we have provided links to many of the aforementioned documents and websites below. It is important to remember that although it may oftentimes seem that our mission towards sensible drug policy seems far off in the future, the power truly lies with the people right now, to create and manifest long-lasting and beneficial change.
The European Ibogaine Forum was organized with support from Dana Beal, by a team of individuals from Germany, Austria, Great Britain and the Netherlands, centered around Joe Schraube, whom some readers may know as the organizer of the Entheo Science Congress in Berlin.
- Uwe Maas: Bwiti music in the context of indigenous sacred music and Q&A:
- Maja Kohek: The ibogaine experience – acute subjective effects
- Deanne Adamson :Being true 2 you – Ibogaine Aftercare:
- Patient D – How ibogaine has helped my Parkinson’s Disease (2 parts)
- Entheoscience youtube channel
- Second Edition of Ibogaine Therapy Manual (Lotsof et al., 2003)
- The Atlantic article
- The Ibogaine Stories Website (going live on November 5th, 2017)