Copyright © 1995-1996, Paul De Rienzo, Dana Beal
and Members of the Project
All Rights Reserved
CHAPTER 5: The Staten Island Project
In 1981 the marijuana movement was divided between NORML (“the suits”) and a larger group of activists who did smoke-ins. Today’s Drug Reform Movement (the Drug Policy Foundation and its offshoots) was still a glimmer in the future. NORML was in eclip se, having lost its Capitol Hill clout when Carter Drug Czar Dr. Peter Bourne got caught writing a phony script for quaaludes. That activated a little tidbit about Bourne doing coke at a NORML party, planted with columnist Jack Anderson by NORML head Kei th Stroup. Stroup thought of this as insurance in his running feud with the White House; not realizing Bourne was the best negotiating partner he was going to get. (Some of his own judgment was missing due to coke.)
The DEA became the lead agency for U.S. drug policy for ten years until, exasperated, Congress re-established the Drug Czar office by statute in 1988.
When Reagan came in, federal agencies were forbidden even to deal with NORML. The other side wouldn’t appear on the same television panel with them. But the marijuana movement of the smoke-ins was unfazed. For five years, until Howard Lotsof started ND A International and achieved self-sufficiency in ’86-87, tremendous resources were secretly diverted from legalizing pot to Ibogaine. Like some Third World country developing nuclear weapons, up to half of the YIPPIE GNP went either to the Project or to c orollary organizing like RAR and the GREENS, in order to gain access and build support in the Black and environmental movements.
After Howard and Norma moved to Staten Island from Brooklyn, it was only a matter of time before people in the loop started calling it “the Staten Island Project.” And there was the same degree of secrecy as the Manhattan Project, based at first on as sumptions that forces within the government would once again stop it, and after Howard’s decision to go for patents, to protect it from being pirated and suppressed by corporate interests.
Initially, in ’81, Ibogaine was a research project tucked away in a RAR task force innocently called Citizens Against Heroin. Other activities included publication in OVERTHROW of a lengthy report on complicity of World Nazism and the Intelligence Comm unity in the rising heroin influx (“A New Heroin Conspiracy?”), and a demo against blatant police corruption in the Ninth Precinct. By April, however, Howard was already moving to put the Ibogaine Project on independent footing to spare it from intra-YIP PIE feuding. Then everyone ran out of money, at once.
As 1981 wore on, though, Howard found that a back injury made it imposible to continue as a film-maker, or to pursue his back-up gig as a plumber. His options were narrowing. In December, he landed the first large-scale contribution from an outside source: $4,000. At a Christmas party he ran into a woman he knew who said she had a boyfriend who was an addict, and she would be very interested in treating him. He told her he needed money for basic research, and she put him back at work in the libraries.
From the original RAR-sponsored literature search of NYU Library, Howard had several books and about two hundred articles on Ibogaine and Tabernanthe iboga. These he studied while he continued to scour other sources for additional materials mentioned in the footnotes. Thenfor about 6 months he again ran out of money. When he could resume, at end of 1982, his next move was get everything translated from French, and to document every paper ever done on Ibogaine. That took about 6 months, with the help of a research librarian. What he was looking for was a clearl y demonstrable relationship between the biochemical mechanisms of action of Ibogaine and the biochemical mechanisms of action of the opiates. So after he reviewed about a century of work on ibogaine, he reviewed the last twenty-five years of biochemical research on the opiates.
What he found was that every system the opiates work on Ibogaine works on –like the neurohormonal system in the brain, the central nervous system, the production of proteins relating to RNA templating. Virtually every system where the opiates were active, Ibogaine also was active. Additionally, he ran across the 1956 paper by Jurg Schneider, who was working at CIBA-GEIGY at the time, but went on to become President of Dupont’s Biochemicals Division. It said Ibogaine potentiates morphine analgesia. It wasn’t analgesic itself, but combined with morphine, it could reduce by fifty percent (!) the amount of morphine used to maintain a certain level of freedom from pain.
The state of Howard’s understanding of Ibogaine at the end of 1983 can pretty much be seen in the original patent for treatment of morphine addiction (U.S. #4,499, 096), filed November 18, 1983, in the section reproduced here, with asides:
Ibogaine is one of at least twelve alkaloids found in theTabernatheiboga shrub of West Africa. The indigenous peoples have used the drug as a ritual, ordeal or initiation potion in large dosages and a stimulant in smaller doses. One of the first Europe an references to the drug was made by Professor Baillon at the March 6th, 1889, session of the Linnean Society in Paris during which he described samples obtained by Griffon de Bellay from Gabon and the French Congo.
Early isolation and identification of Ibogaine was accomplished by Dybrowski and Landrin (Compt. rend. ac. sc. 133:748, 1901); Haller and Heckel (ibid. 133:850); Lambert and Heckel (ibid. 133: 1236) and Landrin (Bull. sc. pharm. 11:1905).
Interest in the drug seemed to lie fallow until it was picked up by Raymond-Hamet and his associates. E. Rothbin and Raymond-Hamet published The Effect of Ibogaine on the isolated Rabbit Uterus in 1938 (Compt. rend. soc. biol. 127: 592-4). Raymond-Ha met continued to study the drug for twenty-two years. He himself published nine papers: Pharmacological Action of Ibogaine (Arch. intern. pharmacodynamie, G3: 27-39, 1939), Two Physiological Properties Common to Ibogaine and Ephedrine (Ibid. 134: 541-4, 1940), Difference Between Physiological Action of Ibogaine and That of Cocaine (Ibid. 211: 285-8, 1940), Mediate and Intermediate Effects of Ibogaine on the Intestine (Compt. rend. soc. biol. 135: 176-79, 1941), Pharmacologic Antagonism of Ibogaine (Compt. rend. 212: 768-771, 1941), Some Color Reactions of Ibogaine (Bull. soc. chem. biol., 25: 205-10, 1943), Sym-pathicosthenic Actions of Ibogaine on the Vessels of the Dog’s Paw (Compt. rend. 223: 757-58, 1946), and Interpretation of the Ultr aviolet Absorption Curves of Ibogaine and Tabernathine (Ibid. 229: 1359-61, 1949).
D. Vincent began his work on Ibogaine by a collaboration with I. Sero: Inhibiting Action of Tabernathe Iboga on Serum Cholinesterase (Compt. rend. Soc. Biol. 136: 612-14, 1942), [this effect is the key to “behavioral immobility” during the first 3-4 hours of treatment]. Vincent participated in the publication of five other papers: The Ultraviolet Absorption Curves of Ibogaine and Tabernathine (B. Brustier, D. Vincent and I. Sero, Compt. rend. 216, 909-11, 1943), Detection of Cholinesterase Inhibi ting Alkaloids (D. Vincent and Paul Beaujard, Ann. pharm. franc. 3: 22-26, 1945), The Cholinesterase of the Pancreas: Its Behavior in the Presence of Some Inhibitors in Comparison with the Cholinesterases of Serum and Brain (D. Vincent and P. Lagreu, Bull. soc. c hem. biol. 31: 1043-45, 1949); and two papers, which he and Raymond-Hamet worked on together: Action of Some Sympathicosthenic Alkaloids on the Cholinesterases (Compt. rend. soc. giol. 150: 1384-1386, 1956) and On Some Pharmacological Effects of Thre e Alkaloids of Tabernathe Iboga: Ibogamine, Iboluteine and Tabernathine (Compt. rend. soc. biol. 154: 2223-2227, 1960).
The structure of Ibogaine was investigated by Dickel et. al. (J.A.C.S. 80, 123, 1958). The first total synthesis was cited by Buchi et al. (J.A.C.S. 87, 2073, 1965 and J.A.C.S. 88, 3099, 1966).
In 1956 Salmoiraghi and Page elucidated Ibogaine’s relations to serotonin (J. Pharm. I. expt. ther. 120(1) 20-25, 1957-9). About the same time J.A. Schneider published three important papers. The first, Potentiation of Ibogaine on Morphine Analgesia, was done in collaboration with Marie McArthur (Experientia 12: 323-324, 1956) [and gave the earliest clue to Ibogaine’s unique interaction with opiates]. The second was Neuropharmacological Studies of Ibogaine: An indole alkaloid with.Central-Stimulant P roperties (Scheider, J.A. and Sigg. E.B. , Annals of the NY acad. of sciences, Vol. 66, 765-776, 1957) and third was An Analysis of the Cardiovascular Action of Ibogaine HCI (J.A. Schneider and R.K. Rinhard, Arch. int. pharmcodyn, 110 92-102, 1957 ) [which showed Ibogaine’s temporary cardio-vascular stimulant effect is independent of the central nervous system, the first indication that caution should be observed in giving it to people with weak tickers.]
Ibogaine’s stimulant properties were further investigated by Chen and Bonner in A Study of Central Nervous System Stimulants (J. Pharm. and Expt. Ther., 123 (3): 212-215, 1958 [the first indication Ibogaine is ahealant; rats pretreated with Iboga ine recovered from electroshock twice as fast as those treated with saline (i.e., nothing).] Gershon and Lang published A Psychological Study of Some Indole Alkaloids (Arch. intern. pharmacodynamic, 135: 31-36, 1962).
In 1969, Claudio Naranjo reported on the effects of both Ibogaine and harmine in human subjects in his paper: Psychotherapeutic Possibilities of New Fantasy-Enhancing Drugs (Clinical Toxicology, 2(2): 209-224, June 1969).
H.I. Dhahir, in his 1971 doctoral thesis, published A Comparative Study of the Toxicity of Ibogaine and Serotonin (University Microfilm International 71-25-341, Ann Arbor, Mich.) [in which he established that Ibogaine is less toxic than the common n eurotransmitter serotonin]. His paper gives an overview of much of the work accomplished with Ibogaine.
Additional studies of interest include: The effects of Some Hallucinogens on Aggressiveness of Mice and Rats (Kostowski et al., Pharmacology 7: 259-263, 1972), Cerebral Pharmacokinetics of Tremor-Producing Harmala and Iboga Alkaloids (Zetler et al. , Pharmacology 7(4): 237-248, 1972), High Affinity 3H Serotonin Binding to Caudate: Inhibition By Hallucinogens and Serotonergic Drugs (Whitaker, P. and Seeman, P., Psychopharmacology 59: 1-5, 1978 Biochemistry) and A Common Mechanism of Lysergic Acid. Indolealkylamine And Phenethylamine Hallucinogens: Serotonergic mediation of Behavioral Effects in Rats (Sloviter, Robert et al. J Pharm. & Expt. Ther., 214 (2): 231-238, 1980).
While Howard harvested data, Dana was still looking for vindication. On St. Paddy’s Day, 1981, a small but real bomb had gone off outside 9 Bleecker in the faces of two bomb squad officers. The SOHO WEEKLY NEWS, already gunning for a felony conviction for the firecracker promptly ran a full page charging that if Beal himself hadn’t done it for the publicity, he should be locked up anyway as “the leader of a violent cult” and a danger to the community who “attracted violence.” They called him “Jim Jones on Bleecker Street.” The real perpetrators were never caught, although all indications are it was one of two people on the fringes of the SOHO WEEKLY NEWS itself. But coming after four days of mass media hysteria about the martyrdom of the two cops (who were not maimed, although one lost part of his eyesight), such character assassination made an impression that long outlasted the trial.
So in the summer of 1981, dead broke, Dana found himself handing John Spacely, ex-publisher of Punk magazine, $20 bills for info about the Marcia Resnick/Johnny Thunders/John Belushi connection which Bill Kunstler might be able to use during the firecracker trial. Spacely was maing a movie about punks on junk with Lech Kowalski, who’d already chonicled the fall of Sid Vicious in the film DOA: A Rite of Passage. Spacely was strung out, and when the junk need was in him, he’d talk freely. Kunstler never used most of most of Spacely’s information, however, because he firmly believed no one should be denounced for their private habits, not even to save a client.
But Dana’s trial and partial acquittal had so shifted the debate on heroin that by Christmas, when Dana was released from 35 days in prison on Riker’s Island–where he wrote much of “The Secret History of the ’70’s”– Abbie Hoffman was busily publicizing his own benefit for Veritas, a residential program specializing in treatment of heroin addiction. Benefit organizer Jill Seiden had convinced her friend DA Robert Morgenthau that Abbie was such an important counter-culture figurehead that having him publicly affirm that heroin was much more sious than grass, or acid, or even coke, would make a difference to millions of people. Such a difference, in fact, that Abbie’s sentence on the 1973 cocaine rap should be reduced. In January, 1982, Dana, Howard, Norma and and virtually everyone they knew attended Abbie’s first benefit for Veritas. All of a sudden, anti-heroin was hip. And so Abbie Hoffman succeeded in maintaining his radical credibility while securing a substantial reduction in his imprisonment.
Dana’s trial also caused SOHO owner Robert Maxwell to check into rumors that his paper had a heroin problem. He discovered a $1.2 million defici t, and folded the SOHO in 1982. Covering-up to the bitter end, one staffer wrote in the NEW YORK TIMES Op-Ed that the SOHO WEEKLY NEWS had been shut down by a bomb.
So Dana was motivated. He kept asking when there would be an Ibogaine story OVERTHROW could publish, and more to the point, when there would be some Ibogaine, since Spacely was only the most prominent of scores who it seemed had become strung out in the early 80’s. Spacely, a former member of the STP family, had no problem with a 36 hour trip, and volunteered repeatedly to do Ibogaine once the shooting of Gringo was finished.
But Howard’s experiences had led him to a somewhat different set of con-clusions. Most important–he realized the goal was not to treat a few hundred addicts, underground, only to be shut down again by the DEA. His goal was to make Ibogaine a viable alternative, and treat millions. He had to get patents, which could be challenged if any premature leaks in the press undermined his claims of originality. (Fortunately, when Dana tried to pull an end-run in mid-’83 by getting something in HIGH TIMES, now staffed with ex-SOHOites, D.A. Latimer was unsympathetic. His response: “Why would anyone want to quit drugs?”
High Times was interviewing respresentatives of the British, French and German marijuana movements, assembled for the ’83 World Cannabis March on the UN on the first Saturday of May-the first US appearance of the original hemp proponent , Dr. Hans-Georg_Behr, author of Von Hanf Ist Die Rede. But Latimer was unwilling to run anything new on the US movement, either Ibogaine or the pioneering work of Boston’s “Doc” Humes, whose Unidentified Flying Idea was successfully using black hash for heroin detox, in conjunction with accupressure massage at 45 minute intervals. Harold Humes’ views on the historic clash of Persian enlightenment and Babylonian obscurantism never got the exposure to the High Times audience they probably deserved.
That year Howard informed Dana he was resigning as producer of the annual May Central Park Rock Against Racism Concert to work full-time on Ibogaine. “With RAR, it’s fight the same battle every year. Your problem is that the Black and Jewish groups don’t want to work together,” he told Dana (who never again found anyone as competent to put on the concert). “I’d rather be a healer. I want to do something permanent .”
But Howard and Norma did come in for the publication party of Blacklisted News, held on the fifth anniversary of Tom Forcade’s wake.Jill Seiden had booked it at the Limelight, a new club which was supposed to be scandalous because it was in a de-consecrated church. Everyone was there, including John Spacely, who informed Dana he’d run out of patience waiting for the Ibogaine, and quit the old-fashioned way, cold turkey. Outside, a severe culture clash erupted between doormen and Yippies who didn’t meet the dress code. Mitch “the Bitch” Blotter, sometimes of David Peel’s band and several others were arrested before Ben Zippie came out and stopped everything by stripping naked.
Meanwhile inside the church, Howard Lotsof was engrossed with Hans Georg-Behr, himself a psychiatrist/addictionologist,swapping the most advanced secrets of the US and German undergrounds-the secret of Ibogaine for hemp information. Georg, who was back in the US trying to find a publisher,never succeeded in getting his book out in English. Instead, a summary prepared the next year for another publisher and several thousand dollars worth of research were turned over to Jack Herer of the California Marijuana Initiative to use to bring out a White Paper.
But Hans-Georg stayed at 9 Bleecker for another month and a half, sharing reminiscences with Les Ledbetter, who was in the process of quitting the New York Times after being found with two joints in his locker. This was unfair, since Les was being fired for the very credentials which got him hired in the first place, including being a White House page at age 18, in which capacity Les procured pot for John Kennedy, used it medicinally for back pain. Later, at the height of the Vietnam war protests, Les was hired by the Time because they had no one inside the counter-culture.Les soon became part of Forcade’s Capitol Hill “Underground Press Syndicate” network, around the time Tom pied the US Commissioner of Pornography. In twelve years, Les graduated from the youth beat to edit the night edition, until Times illegally searched his locker.
Ironically, Les died less than two years later, carried off by a flu because years of alcohol and cocaine (which he would do in the wee hours, after getting off work as night editor) had left him with only seven per cent of his liver. A victim of cocaethylene poisoning, butst for trying to use something less toxic, Les edited Overthrow for a couple of issues with Georg’s friend Tom Todd, who hung around after George left.
Behr went back to Germany a few weeks after the 1983 NORML Formal, where he met Eric Sterling, staffert of U.S. Congressm,an Robert Drinan, who was about to be reassigned to the House Judiciary Committee. Eric was able to arrange for Georg to “testify” about the Dutch system of separating cannabis and hard drugs–but only to two staffers, one of who only came to denounce the Greens a LaRouche.
By the end of 1983, Howard realized he needed help from real professionals. He made the first of many approaches to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), where he found that this part of the government, at least, was not about to shut him down. They just wouldn’t take him seriously. The ’60’s hysteria about psychedelics might be a fadin g memory, but everyone at NIDA immediately pigeon-holed Lotsof’s account of a twenty-year old Ibogaine experiment with the LSD claims of Tim Leary. And despite Leary’s statistical record of success treating prison recidivisim, NIDA-crats could fall back on the fact that the risk/benefit ratio with LSD had already been reckoned unacceptable by a higher authority–the U.S. Congress.
No one was paying any attention to Lotsof’s real point: the interruption of addiction was due to a distinct pharmacologic effect of the Ibogaine itself, and not–as with LSD–interaction with a good therapist. Now when he was reviewing the opiate literature, he came across a paper by Dr. Doris, Clouet, who had reviewed 256 other medical projects relating to opiates, and cla ssified and catalogued them. Howard ended up giving her a grant to study his data and explain it to him. For a number of years the other researchers laughed at her behind her back. They called Ibogaine “Clouet’s folly.”
In Clouet’s report to Howard she stated: “I am not certain…that one should expect or wish that Ibogaine should act like an opiate.”
And: “I will discuss some of my thinking about possible mechanisms of action… …I am not adverse to positive clinical studies…with certain precautio ns concerning Ibogaine toxicity, especially in “at risk” groups, clinical settings, double-blind tests, etc. because your invention is a new approach to the treatment of addiction…” “There is no data on toxicity in man… There is no information on the setting in which the trials took place and no information on the presence of a physician at the trials. The data probably does not exist in part because interest in the mechan-isms of action underlying hallucinogenic action has been desultory. Therefore, it is not possible…to make any definitive statement about the relationship between the opiates and [Ibogaine]. It should be mentioned that many therapeutic successes arise empirically and not as the result of a well-defined research program.”
Subsequently Clouet confirmed that the fact that Ibogaine abolishes tonic extensor seizure (Chen, Bonner: rigidity of the muscles, as during withdrawal); that it inhibits intestinal contractions; and that it’s a nor-adrenalin antagonist–all were specific mechanisms that might interfere with withdrawal.
To get Ibogaine to addicts, in 1983 Howard and Norma had begun setting up a charity, the Dora Weiner Foundation. Lotsof named the foundation after his grand-mother and put Norma in charge of fundraising. But when she went looking for funding for Ibogaine research, the response was more dismal than the at NIDA. They were up against “Just Say No!”
“Ninety percent of the anti-drug abuse foundations were only interested in education,” says Lotsof.
“When it comes to solving addiction I found no sympathy for any disease people think is self-induced,” Norma recalls. “The reaction was: `Oh, you’re a ddicted–serves you right, suffer!’ That’s what they said.”
Even if the eventual harvest of ignoring Ibogaine was more death and addiction, rehabilitation of an obscure drug didn’t square with the strategy of intolerance that was afoot in the land.
[It wa s also some time in mid-1983 that Dana remembers his upstairs roommate Mitch Halberstadt coming in “fuming about tales of a ‘Gay-Linked Immune-Deficiency Disease: “It’s blatant homophobia!” said Halberstadt. “They’re saying that just being gay causes a fatal disease.”
Mitch was a member of Gay-Lesbian Anti-Discrimination (GLAD); in the late ’70’s #9 Bleecker functioned for a couple of years as a back office in putting on annual GAY PRIDE DAY. Many of the kids whom Dana tried and failed to keep from t urning on to heroin at Studio 10 were bisexual or gay. He ran into them again later in ACT-UP.]
The Dora Weiner Foundation managed in just under two years of activity to accrue $4,000. Howard continued to be dependent on handouts from friends and suppor ters in the movement. But he did get one thing: On February 12, 1985, the U.S. Patent Office granted him patent protection for the use of Ibogaine interrupting narcotic dependency.
Described as “an improved method for interrupting the physiological and p sychological aspects of the heroin addiction sydrome,” Howard’s invention was said to consist in “its high degree of success, the absence of great pain or discomfort accompanying earlier treatments, the ease and convenience of application, the absence of undesirable or persistent side effects and the persistent effectiveness of the treatment.” It was “based on the discovery…that Ibogaine hydrochloride and other non-toxic salts of Ibogaine, possess the unexpected unique ability to disrupt…all the sympt omology demonstrated by addicts in their use of and search for heroin.”
The patent covered the method of treating heroin addiction via oral administration of between 6 mg. and 19 mg. per kg. body weight, or between 400 and 1,000 milligrams, either once or more than once, but with successive doses being separated by a number of days. In other words, the claim was that it wasn’t a maintenance drug.
Howard was ecstatic when he heard his patent had been reported in THE NEW YORK TIMES. Imagine his distress wh en he learned that the Times patent reporter, a genial drunk, had gotten it wrong, and said the ENDABUSE procedure involved intravenous administration–a method that is 10 times more toxic than the proper oral route Lotsof uses.
Howard quickly followed u p on this by filing for U.S. Patent # 4,587,243, for the rapid interruption of cocaine and amphetamine abuse syndromes. And he did one thing more: He furnished an excellent story to OVERTHROW. In the fall of ’85 the paper published a world scoop, informa tion known to YIP’s inner core but only the inner core until that time. (See illustration, opposite page.) Ibogaine, a psychedelic drug from the African rainforest, had been secretly developed by the movement as a miracle cure for hard drugs.
Now Lotsof was in a position to approach major drug companies. But when he and Norma approached Dupont, Lilly and CIBA-GEIGY, once again they were met with crashing indifference.
“While the indication for narcotic addiction withdrawal is almost certainly worthwhile, it has not been identified as a strategic commitment for our company,” wrote Gerald F. Sieschio, licensing manager of CIBA, which held a patent for Ibogaine as a “tonic stimulant” up until 1970. They were so uninterested, in fact, that they turned ov er all their files (the equivalent of a million dollars in research) to Lotsof, gratis. That’s how he got the Isbell letter.
That same year Du Pont’s associate director of product licensing, Hermann S. Weissman, told Lotsof, “Our Research and Marketing gro ups have come to the conclusion that Ibogaine does not fall within the priorities of our developmental pharmceutical program.”
Lotsof learned the majors had no interest in developing a natural alkaloid they could not call their own. “The type of patent pr otection the pharmaceutical companies prefer is one in which they actually own the molecule,” he says.
“Our patent protection is use protection–we own the rights to use Ibogaine pursuant to drug dependency. They could earn a million dollars distributing it but their board of directors would say, ‘What’s a million dollars to us?’ That’s why our company has its own special niche. “The second reason they’re not interested is the stigma of drug dependency, and I’ll give you an example: clonidine. A group of researchers at Yale discovered that clonidine, an anti-hypertensive, was useful in ameliorating withdrawal. They got a patent for that use, and Boehringer-Ingleheim, which was the initiator of clonidine, bought up that patent and sat on it. The last thin g they wanted was for the middle-class hypertensive to walk into the pharmacy with a clonidine script and be pegged as an addict. They don’t consider that profitable.
“The third reason is that Ibogaine is a Schedule I Drug. It takes three to six months for the paperwork to clear the DEA just to move it around the country.”
The big drug companies were not interested, but Howard had one more move before he started his own company. He called the Director of Clinical research at NIDA, Barry Brown, who gave him introductions to Herb Kleber, Richard Resnick and Arnold Washton–all prominent drug researchers. He managed to get several of them to serve on his foundation’s advisory board: Doctors Kleber, Resnick (one of the developers of naltrexone), and Robert Milman (director of the Substance Abuse Unit at New York Hospital.
Next he contacted various persons within the government: Charles Rangel, the Chairman of the House Select Committee on narcotics; Nancy Reagan, Al-phonse D’Amato, Guy Molinari, Cuomo and K och. Rangel was the first to respond, asking NIDA Director William Pollin to evaluate the procedure. Howard followed this up with a letter asking Pollin how he intended to evaluate it, and if he had the money to do so.
Pollin’s reply cited Doris Clouet’s conclusion that there was no evidence in the existing literature that Ibogaine could act as a substitute narcotic–without her point that this wouldn’t be desirable in an interrupter anyway.
“She further expresses concern about toxicity. She refers specifically to changes in blood pressure, but we would in addition worry about longer term neurological and psychological effects, including the potential for Ibogaine like other hallucinogens becoming a drug of abuse. …”
“Perceptual problems, visual hall ucinations, motor difficulties…” suggested to Dr. Pollin a “potential for brain damage.”
In his next letter Pollin mentioned the need for FDA approval and sufficient funding to carry out the research, suggesting that Lotsof submit an application for a g rant from NIDA. Lotsof replied that in designing an investigational new drug application (IND) for the FDA, he’d come across data “relating to the ‘potential for brain damage’…” in Dhahir’s 1971 paper: “No brain damage was evident after 30 day chronic studies at fifty milligrams per kilogram day. The average dose for our proto-col is about nine per kilogram day in a single-administration treatment.”
What Howard did next was to write to Rangel and say, “Look, I’ve got Herb Kleber, Richard Resnick and Robert Milman, the top people in the field, ready to evaluate this.” When he sent copies of all this correspondence to Kleber, Milman and Resnick, they resigned. They resigned because he was using them not for research, but to attract money to do research.
“He said money was not an issue,” Kleber recalled recently. (And Howard truly believed money would not be an issue, once he made his case.) “Then I got calls from across the country. Howard was using my name to raise money to do this research.” Kleber was interested in keeping tabs on Ibogaine, but all three experts wanted $110 an hour apiece just to meet–$2,000-a-day, which Howard didn’t have. And when the advisory board names were used in a letter to Rangel to get that funding from Congress, Kle ber, Resnick and Milman all resigned from the board. Kleber told Howard he’d crossed the line by using the names “pro-actively,” i.e., in a way that undermined his reputation for scientific objectivity.
Howard wondered what the Hell an advisory board is g ood for, if you can’t put it on the letterhead of your foundation. But Herb Kleber had mixed motives. He was working closely with Yale University psychiatrist Dr. Thomas R. Kosten, who has called Ibogaine “snake oil! It works for everything–nothing works like that.”
They were deep in preliminary studies of their own drug, buprenorphine, an opiate “agonist/antagonist” that seemed to show promise as a treatment of crack. That promise didn’t hold up in subsequent studies. Ibogaine does work for crack (a big problem in ’86), and unlike buprenorphin, it’s not a maintenance drug. Buprenorphine is somewhat useful as a maintenance, or as a de-tox, for opiates (withdrawal is mild compared to methadone). But as a euphoric psychoactive, it seemed a much safer be t to pass the regulatory hurdles than Ibogaine–even if it didn’t ultimately work out. And if Ibogaine worked, it would obsolete buprenorphin before it got off the ground.
“My issue is not with Ibogaine but with Howard Lotsof,” says Kleber, who later b ecame Bush’s Deputy Drug Czar for Demand Reduction, his treatment expert. “I don’t want to tar a chemical with the personality of the person pushing it.”
Today buprenorphine is near completion of Phase III trials–the last stage before approval. The Medications Development Division of NIDA didn’t really start evaluating Ibogaine until Kleber was on his way out of the White House New Executive Office Building Annex to head up the Substance Abuse Division at Columbia University.