Hallucinogenic Drug Ibogaine Can Halt User’s Desire To Take Heroin


September 5, 1993 Sunday, 3 STAR


LOAD-DATE-MDX: September 16, 1993

LENGTH: 671 words



BYLINE: Compiled From Wire Reports


BODY: He saw planets materialize in black space, then vanish. He saw his ancestors flee a European pogrom. He saw leaders felled by assassins, his young daughter looking hopeful.

In a darkened apartment in Holland, Adam Nodelman had taken a hallucinogenic drug called ibogaine, a plant extract used in Gabon, West Africa, to initiate people into a tribal religion. He was dreaming while awake, watching rapid-fire images replay the history of the world, the laws of nature, the events of his life.

When the trip ended, he discovered something more amazing than any vision – he no longer wanted heroin.

For a man who had smoked and snorted the brown powder for almost six years, this was a revelation.

“All of a sudden you have a reinvigorated sense of consciousness,” said Nodelman, 27, who now logs 50 to 70 miles a day as a bicycle messenger in New York. “I felt like I’d never done heroin before, and suddenly you want to eat instead of getting high.”

Nodelman is part of a small, vocal group of drug addicts, AIDS activists and entrepreneurs who want to see ibogaine legalized as a main weapon against drug addiction.

They have no scientific studies of their own, only compelling testimonials that ibogaine stems an addict’s desire for heroin or cocaine, even after decades of drug abuse.

If they are correct, ibogaine would offer a unique weapon in the war on drugs – an agent that ends an addict’s craving instead of producing a substitute addiction that can be just as hard to kick.

Critics of methadone, a heroin substitute used by thousands, acknowledge that it produces less euphoria than heroin and is less likely to cause an overdose. But they say it is abused by many addicts who sell it or use it with heroin. And scientists have yet to find a substitute for cocaine.

For now, ibogaine remains the only drug under active investigation that – at least in theory – allows the addict to leapfrog past physical withdrawal and live without the psychological craving that defeats most people who are trying to quit.

Scientists are tantalized by the notion that if ibogaine really works, and they can figure out why, they might finally understand the nature of addiction.

Advocates do not say the drug works for everyone or that its benefits last forever. Nodelman, for instance, said he backslid after six months and had to take a second treatment. When he slipped again, he said he gathered the fortitude to quit even without a third treatment.

“That was my last full addiction,” said Nodelman, who says he has been drug-free for eight months.

Among the advocates is Dana Beal, who joined the AIDS activist group ActUp when he became convinced that ibogaine could halt transmission of the AIDS virus through addicts’ needles.

At the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, two scientists have found evidence that ibogaine causes physical changes in the brain that interrupt the cycle of addiction.

After giving rats high doses of ibogaine, Dr. Mark Molliver and Dr. Elizabeth O’Hearn analyzed the animals’ brains. They found dead cells in a portion of the cerebellum that ordinarily controls repetitive tasks.

One theory is that the same brain cells that control repetitive tasks also control obsessive-compulsive behavior – the mental disorder that can send someone into endless hand-washing or eyebrow-plucking. If this is true, the drug might sever pathways in the brain that keep addicts reaching for their needles. “We don’t like brain damage – we need every nerve cell we’ve got,” Molliver said. “But we have to wonder: Could you compensate? And maybe the (cell) degeneration we’re seeing is responsible for the anti-addictive effect of ibogaine.”

Researchers at the University of Miami are planning a study of the drug using human volunteers. The study will test only the safety of the drug and not whether it is effective in curbing addiction, said Dr. Juan Sanchez-Ramos, an associate professor of neurology at the university.

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