Human Testing of Hallucinogen Backed

The Washington Post

August 27, 1993, Friday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 324 words


HEADLINE: Human Testing of Hallucinogen Backed

SERIES: Occasional

BYLINE: Los Angeles Times

BODY: A federal advisory panel has recommended that the Food and Drug Administration allow limited human testing of ibogaine, a potent hallucinogenic drug believed to help some heroin and cocaine abusers overcome their addictions.

After strenuous debate, the committee on Wednesday voted to allow University of Miami researchers to begin testing the drug on as many as 12 human volunteers, according to a member of the research team that submitted the formal proposal to the FDA.

The panel, the Drug Abuse Advisory Committee, asked that the experimenters reduce the dosage from the levels originally proposed and requested that further experiments of the effects of ibogaine on monkeys be conducted simultaneously, said Deborah Mash of the University of Miami, who testified before the panel. The decision on the human tests will be made by the FDA, which generally follows the recommendations of its advisory committees.

Mash and other proponents of the drug cited recent reports from the Netherlands indicating that some addicts lose their craving for narcotics after a single treatment with ibogaine.

But the evidence is anecdotal, and the treatment controversial. Some researchers believe that ibogaine, derived from the root of a West African plant, may curb addiction by damaging cells in the cerebellum, a region of the brain they suspect may control addictive behavior. Mark Molliver of Johns Hopkins University told the panel that tests on rats showed that ibogaine destroyed 10 to 15 percent of Purkinje brain cells, large cells in the cerebellum.

Molliver said researchers have not determined whether the destruction of the cells was a toxic side effect or was responsible for breaking the addiction.

The potential for brain damage in humans has discouraged pharmaceutical companies from developing the drug and was the primary reason some of the panelists and FDA consultants were reluctant to endorse human testing.

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