Copyright 1993 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
All rights reserved
SHOW: Day One (ABC 8:00 pm ET)
August 30, 1993
Transcript # 126-4
LOAD-DATE-MDC: December 21, 1993
LENGTH: 2811 words
HEADLINE: The Ibogaine Connection
HIGHLIGHT: Ibogaine is a psychedelic drug derived from the African iboga plant and the root is used in its native Gabon in sacred rites of passage. A former U.S. addict working in Holland says it can help stop drug abuse.
BODY: FORREST SAWYER: Here in America, dangerous drugs are blamed for epidemics of crime, disease and homelessness. In one way or another, it’s a problem that affects all of us. But now the government may be on to something completely new in its war against drugs, a substance called Ibogaine that just might cure addiction. In fact, last week government scientists met in Washington to talk about Ibogaine research, and if all goes according to plan, by this time next year they’ll be testing it on humans. That’s the good news.
Here’s the catch. Ibogaine is a psychedelic drug that puts its users on a three-day trip. It’s illegal in the U.S. and no one knows if it really works. Day One’s John Hockenberry tells how a drug from Africa came to the attention of scientists and addicts looking for a cure.
ANDREW FRIEDMAN: A hundred hits of acid at one time, that’s how strong this stuff is. it’s incredible.
MARK LAMANCIA [sp?]: I saw everything. I saw all the mistakes I made, all the drug mistakes, ripoffs, crimes.
IBOGAINE RECIPIENT: You travel through time, through space, you have visions. You have dreamlike visions, but they’re very real. It’s almost like you’re having an out-of-body experience.
JOHN HOCKENBERRY, ABC News: [voice-over] Ibogaine comes from the root of the iboga plant, and whoever was the first person to eat some of it got a big surprise. Ibogaine grows in Gabon, and in that African nation a whole tribal culture grew up around its properties. It is used to bond teenagers to the tribe in a kind of psychedelic rite of passage. The root and its rituals are sacred to the people of Gabon.
But 30 years ago it was hardly sacred to Howard Latzoff [sp?] who, at age 19 and already addicted to heroin and cocaine, was just looking for another way to get high.
HOWARD LATZOFF: I took the Ibogaine expecting sort of a party or euphoric experience, and 30 hours later I walked out of my house not only not suffering from narcotic withdrawal but with the desire to continue drug use completely gone.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I actually like to get high on cocaine, but it’s at the point in my life right now that I know if I continue to do this I’m either going to end up dead or end up in jail, one or the other.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Drug user Andrew Friedman wants to repeat former drug user Howard Latzoff’s experience. Last January, he hoped to end 20 years of drug dependence by taking Ibogaine.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I don’t even know what it looks like, I don’t know what it’s going to do to me. I’m saying a prayer it doesn’t kill me.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Two weeks later, we saw Andrew in Holland, after Howard Latzoff and his wife Norma treated him with Ibogaine.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I don’t have, really, any craving to do any kind of drug. I haven’t had a cigarette. I don’t even want to smoke a joint. And I mean, it’s- it feels good. And I just kept hearing voices saying, you know, ‘This ain’t it anymore. No, no more, no more, no more, no more, no more.’ And then I started going into like this whole God thing, like saying to myself, you know, like God would punish me, you know, if I ever did this stuff again.
Mr. LATZOFF: We want to get more information about Ibogaine out.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] For a decade, Howard Latzoff, with no medical expertise, has tried to convince the U.S. government that Ibogaine might be an important weapon in the war on drugs. He formed a company with his wife and some close friends to market Ibogaine. He’ll benefit only if the government takes this former addict seriously.
[interviewing] What does Ibogaine allow your mind to do, in your view, that it can’t do by itself?
Mr. LATZOFF: It releases repressed memories. It allows you to review your life’s decisionmaking history. It’s very important, because most addicts just cannot see past the next fix, and Ibogaine allows them not only to understand how they got to that position, but to understand that they can move beyond it and structure and create a life for themselves.
Dr. FRANK VACCI: And I thought it sounded too good to be true. That was my first impression. And I also thought that the proponent of this treatment is probably a commune.
HOCKENBERRY: Mr. Latzoff?
Dr. VACCI: Yes.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] The U.S. government isn’t sure it’s buying what Howard Latzoff is selling. Dr. Frank Vacci at the National Institute on Drug Abuse will decide whether Ibogaine has a medical use.
Dr. VACCI: Well, I think there is anecdotal evidence that Mr. Latzoff has that’s certainly intriguing evidence, and at the level of anecdote you can’t really say whether or not it works.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Howard Latzoff believes that this African root, refined into pill form and given to addicts, can change their lives. Ibogaine worked for some addicts living in the laboratory of Dr. Stanley Glick, of the Albany College of Medicine: rats trained to self-administer morphine.
Dr. STANLEY GLICK: We gave some of these animals various doses of Ibogaine, and much to my surprise some of them after once and some of them after two or three administrations of the drug reduced their intake of morphine for several days and, in some cases, several weeks thereafter. At that point I became hooked on the problem myself. This was a rather unexpected, unusual finding. I’ve never encountered anything quite like it. And I began to take it more seriously and to begin investigating Ibogaine in a variety of ways.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Scientists have seen some harmful effects of Ibogaine in rats, but none so far in monkeys. The question of toxic side effects was debated by government scientists in Washington last week. One of them, Deborah Mash, says there is no scientific reason not to proceed with human trials. There is one unscientific reason, though: Ibogaine is an illegal psychedelic drug.
Ibogaine was banned in 1967, along with LSD and mescaline. The Drug Enforcement Agency says Ibogaine has a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use in treatment.
DEBORAH MASH: Either Ibogaine is going to be effective, or it’s not, but it needs to be studied. It’s something that holds a lot of promise and, given the dimensions and the magnitude of drug dependence and addiction in our society, I think we as a scientific community need to look at every option. We can’t leave any stone unturned.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Addicts have few treatment options. There’s methadone for heroin addicts, nothing at all for cocaine addicts, and methadone is no cure. It’s a substitute for heroin. Ibogaine is not an option unless you go overseas. Those who have report that Ibogaine works something of a miracle. It allows addicts to stop using heroin without experiencing the pain of withdrawal. That’s a miracle to drug addict Mark Lamancia who thought he could never shake heroin on his own.
Mr. LAMANCIA: I tried cold turkey. I did once, but what I did was, is I got off heroin and went onto cocaine. But as far as trying to go straight without anything, no, I could never do that.
HOCKENBERRY: What’s withdrawal like?
Mr. LAMANCIA: Withdrawal is- it’s like taking your muscles, twisting them into the most incredible tight knot you can, and putting that in a vise, and taking your bones and having a beaver eat them from the inside out.
HOCKENBERRY: So you’re afraid of withdrawal.
Mr. LAMANCIA: Yeah.
HOCKENBERRY: You’re scared to death of withdrawal.
Mr. LAMANCIA: Yeah. I’m not alone in that. I mean, most people are who in the situation.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Last January, Mark went to Holland and took a trip on Ibogaine.
Mr. LAMANCIA: It was a very good feeling, then slowly I started to see things, and I’d see things like- I saw- I looked up on the ceiling and I saw a woman come out of the ceiling and float around my room. She was a clear glass woman, stand up, wave at me, and go on into bed. I saw images from as far back as my second grade, to when I was maybe three years old, to when I was 14 years old, to I was 17 years old, and it was like my life came like- it was like a film, kind of.
I saw why I did my addiction, and I think I got my innocence back, and that’s what I think I really like about Ibogaine, is it gave me back my sense of self and spirit, you know.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] And what about Mark’s biggest fear? Did he experience the pain of withdrawal?
Mr. LAMANCIA: No. No. Just a- no, not at all. No.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] In March, we saw Mark again in New York. He was in group therapy, off of heroin, and no longer needing methadone. Mark’s Ibogaine experience had changed him.
Mr. LAMANCIA: It reminded me that I’m a human being, that yes, I do count, I can love, I can do all these things. ‘Cause when I was drugged out, I didn’t think I was normal. I thought I was an animal.
SANDY ACKERMAN: I kept saying, ‘It’s not working, I don’t feel anything.’
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Thirty-seven-year-old Sandy Ackerman isn’t sure Ibogaine ended his eight-year cocaine habit.
Mr. ACKERMAN: I can’t honestly tell you that I’m out of that grip, but I haven’t taken anything, either.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Before Sandy left Holland, Howard Latzoff had to give him two additional doses of Ibogaine. When we saw Sandy in March, back home in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, he had started working for the local butcher. It was the first job he’s had in five years. But working during the day didn’t keep Sandy from partying at night. He went on a few cocaine binges and started to miss work. Sandy’s boss, Nathan Goldfisher [sp?], isn’t so sure about Ibogaine.
NATHAN GOLDFISHER: The drug did a little bit for him, it calmed him down, but it definitely did not cure him of this. He still has a problem.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Sandy’s father is the rabbi of the neighborhood synagogue. Even though Sandy used cocaine again, the rabbi is convinced Ibogaine changed his son.
Rabbi ACKERMAN: He’s calmer, he’s more rational. He’s not annoying as he was. He understands more now than ever before what he has to do with his life to turn it around completely, to be a whole, complete human being.
Mr. LATZOFF: What we have is the elimination of withdrawal which, to the addict, is an immediate blessing, and we couple this with the interruption of craving, and you have an window of opportunity created.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Is Ibogaine medicine, or is it more like LSD- psychedelic, controversial, a ’60s flashback?
Dr. VACCI: I think that the bad press that LSD got in the 1960s is not going to help Ibogaine, because I think the American people will expect that this is something that’s gone awry, that the people in Washington are really off their rockers, and they’ve really lost it.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] But it’s the ’90s, and in the ’90s, some scientists like Deborah Mash are ready to take the risk.
Dr. MASH: We feel optimistic now from our preliminary studies that we’ve conducted in animals, as well as our post-treatment evaluation of subjects that have been treated in the Netherlands, that Ibogaine is, in fact, safe.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Safety is not the only issue. Ibogaine gets you high, so using it as medicine makes the government nervous, much more nervous than when marijuana was approved for use on cancer patients in the 1980s.
RESEARCHER: I have a problem with the fact that Ibogaine, as it’s touted to be used in humans or as Mr. Latzoff claims it’s used, produces hallucinations, and at this point in time, at least, the FDA has never approved a drug for use in humans that produces hallucinations as a routine effect every time you take it.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Even if the FDA begins human trials of Ibogaine, it would start people at less than half the dose that Howard Latzoff gives to his clients. Even at high doses, though, the people who’ve been able to take Ibogaine have found it a struggle to remain drug-free. This summer, Sandy Ackerman went as far away from drugs and New York City as he could, to a kibbutz in northern Israel.
Mr. ACKERMAN: I’m clean, I don’t have any cravings for cocaine, and it feels real good to wake up in the morning and go to work and be functional again. I mean, it really does. I’m open now to change and to new horizons and new responsibilities, and new constructive ways of life.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Andrew Friedman says he’s used cocaine a few times since taking Ibogaine, but drugs are no longer the focus of his life. Andrew has started his own business.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: We set up a little thing called Toys Are Nuts, is the name of the company, and we’ve pretty successful at it. We get a nice crowd of people to come.
The energies that I put into running around chasing drugs I’m putting into the toys, and it’s paying off a thousand times more and I’m having a good time doing it. And it’s strange, but for the first time in my life I feel like I’m free.
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] And what about Mark Lamancia? He’s enrolled in art school and hopes to become a professional illustrator. But Mark is having the hardest time staying drug-free. He’s used heroin a dozen times since taking Ibogaine.
Mr. LAMANCIA: Understanding why I want to get high is a very complicated thing, and I still haven’t figured that out. I just get an urge and it’s incredibly strong, so strong I have to walk and pace the floor, and it’s something I can’t control, and I couldn’t control it that time.
HOCKENBERRY: And then you used?
Mr. LAMANCIA: Mm-hmm.
HOCKENBERRY: What did it feel like?
Mr. LAMANCIA: It felt good, but at the same time I felt, like, really stupid. Like why was I doing this? Like, I mean, what’s the point, you know?
HOCKENBERRY: [voice-over] Despite the relapses, Ibogaine has given those who’ve taken it a chance to change their lives. It has given them an unmistakable glimpse of what it’s like to be drug-free. In Belgium, Howard Latzoff has a factory ready to begin turning out medical-grade Ibogaine to sell to addicts all over America. But unless the U.S. government takes the testing of Ibogaine out of Latzoff’s hands and allows scientists to test it on humans, Ibogaine will remain just a magical African potion, and we may never know whether Ibogaine could be an effective treatment for drug addiction in America.
SAWYER: John, as you pointed out, the drug addicts in your story did have relapses, so why are researchers so optimistic?
HOCKENBERRY: This drug, Ibogaine, appears to accomplish what no other treatment has ever been able to duplicate, and that is it takes the addict to a pre-addictive state. It resets the brain in some physiochemical way that they’re investigating now. If that were to be the case, if that’s borne out, it would be a very, very important tool.
SAWYER: All right, let’s say the researchers’ best hopes are realized, this is a good drug. How long before it’s actually available in the market?
HOCKENBERRY: Over the next five years, as the FDA approval process proceeds. We will know a lot more about whether this actually is a cure or just some kind of anecdotal evidence. By then, by five years, it will be approved, if all goes according to plan, and then be widely available.
SAWYER: John Hockenberry. Thanks very much, John. We’ll be back in just a moment.
SAWYER: We have a quick update now on Hurricane Emily. Thousands of people living along the East Coast are keeping a close watch tonight on the hurricane. A hurricane warning is in effect along much of the North Carolina coast, and forecasters say it could hit land by midday tomorrow. Now, as the evening wears on, things certainly could change, and Nightline will have an update later tonight. Here’s Ted Koppel.
TED KOPPEL: Forrest, Hurricane Emily is just miles from the Carolina coast and wherever she hits, we’ll be there. The only question left unanswered is when. Just one year after Hurricane Andrew, we’ll bring you a view from the eye of the storm. Forrest?
SAWYER: Thanks, Ted. That is Nightline, after your late local news. Of course, ABC News will keep you up to date on the storm tomorrow as events warrant.
But that’s our broadcast for tonight. I’m Forrest Sawyer. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.
The preceding text has been professionally transcribed. However, although the text has been checked against an audio track, in order to meet rigid distribution and transmission deadlines, it has not yet been proofread against videotape.