It’s a sad but indisputable fact that the U.S. has an opioid epidemic on its hands. By 2017, 1.7 million people had substance use disorders from taking prescription opioids and another 652K had heroin addictions. Something that ibogaine treatment may have helped prevent for many.
Addiction to opioids of any kind severely impacts productivity and shortens lives. In one study, male heroin addicts had a seven times greater chance of dying than men in the general population. For female addicts it was worse—women were 17 times more likely to die.
Clearly there is so much at stake. Conventional treatments for opioid addiction have low rates of success with an expectation of relapse as a natural part of the recovery process. The problem here is that for addicts, relapse is too often deadly.
Fortunately there is another option that has the potential to put addicts on the road to full recovery.
Ibogaine, a psychoactive indole alkaloid that comes from the root bark of the West African iboga shrub, gives addicts a different way to approach recovery. A way that offers real healing in place of the ongoing damage control of standard Opioid Replacement Therapies (OTRs) like methadone treatment. True healing—instead of mere symptom management—gives people the chance to live full lives instead of simply controlling chronic symptoms for life with OTRs.
The Problem With Conventional Recovery
Conventional treatments for opioid addiction generally involve a stay at a rehabilitation center, plus a combination of OTR, 12-step programs and therapy.
These interventions—commonly touted as being the best therapies available for opioid addiction—do not do enough to keep addicts clean, functional and healthy. Some experts have even gone so far as to suggest that conventional rehabilitation centers have success rates that are on a par with spontaneous recovery rates.
Many addicts in recovery spend much of their energy maintaining a mediocre status quo. On tough days when cravings get especially intense, either because of challenging human experiences like breakups or job losses—or because having intense urges to use is just a part of addiction—the best solution can be to attend multiple 12-step meetings.
While it’s great for human beings to form supportive communities, this intense focus on maintenance doesn’t leave nearly enough room for a full life. A full life means meaningful work, quality time with family and time for rest and play. These are the perks of being human that we all deserve and enjoy. They are an essential part of a healthy, balanced life, and an addict always focused on recovery does not have the luxury of balance and joy.
Why Ibogaine Treatment is a Better Option
Addicts who have recovered with ibogaine report that they feel “distance” from their addictions and that it “fast forwards” recovery through the longer period of withdrawal that follows detox know as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).
PAWS symptoms include cravings, depression and the feeling that nothing but the drug of choice can restore feelings of normalcy. In a single session, ibogaine treatment can have an addict’s brain “functioning as though [she} has a few years of sobriety.” This is a benefit that no other addiction therapy can boast. In addition to these remarkable advantages ibogaine can:
- Break an addiction, essentially “interrupting” it.Ibogaine is unique in that it can return addicts’ systems to pre-addictive states of functioning. This disruption of the addiction breaks the feeling of connection and dependence to a drug long enough for addicts to get a foothold in recovery.
- Greatly alleviate symptoms of withdrawal. Ibogaine removes the first big obstacle that addicts face in recovery by virtually eliminating withdrawal symptoms for many who receive treatment. It can vastly reduce the length of time it takes to go through initial detox so that it lasts only about a day instead of several days. Some longtime addicts reported feeling intense relief and comfort only about 45 minutes after taking ibogaine.
- Give addicts insight into themselves and the nature of their addictions.Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson famously had a “white light” spiritual awakening while undergoing the belladonna cure at the Towns Hospital alcoholic ward in 1934. That experience changed him from a hopeless alcoholic into a man who never took a drink again for the remainder of his life.
Bill considered this spiritual element to be foundational to successful recovery, and tools for bringing about this kind of transformation were subsequently built into the 12 steps of AA.
Addicts who have undergone ibogaine treatment report an experience similar to Bill’s. Ibogaine’s hallucinogenic properties can give patients what amounts to a life review—it can be described as watching a movie of your life. During this ‘movie’ patients gain deep insights into what makes them who they are, and what drives their addictions.
The Big Catch: For Many, Ibogaine is Not Easily Accessible
Ibogaine treatment is by no means failsafe and relapses happen just as they do with conventional therapies. But the mechanism of addiction “interruption” offered by this amazing therapy is an unprecedented opportunity in the world of addiction recovery.
This break from intense cravings gives addicts the gift of time, so they can get a strong head start on rebuilding their lives. In the words of one longtime Suboxone addict, “…it took the emotional part, the spiritual part, the mental part and the physical part and [of me] and it healed them all.”
In the U.S. and many other parts of the world ibogaine remains illegal, making it necessary for those few who are fortunate enough to know about this potentially life-saving treatment spend voluminous energetic resources traveling to places where ibogaine is either legal or unregulated to undergo treatment—all at a time when they are already exhausted from grappling with a potentially deadly health emergency.
The misguided assertion that ibogaine is addictive and has no therapeutic value keeps it subject to severe regulation and prevents thousands of addicts from accessing their best hope for recovery. But that doesn’t stop ibogaine from being the addiction solution we are searching for; now it’s just a matter of making it more accessible to those who need it most.