Do the Risks of Using Ibogaine for Drug Rehabilitation Outweigh the Benefits?
Although it’s classed as a Schedule I drug in the United States, with a “high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use,” many American addicts go to underground clinics or other countries to receive ibogaine treatment for addiction. The substance is an alkaloid, extracted from the iboga root which grows in West Africa. The root has been used by the Bwiti believers for centuries, and has recently been used to combat addiction in high doses. Not only is ibogaine a psychoactive drug, there have also been 12 reported deaths of people using it for addiction. Despite this, several research projects are underway and people still seek it out as treatment.
How Does Ibogaine Treatment Work?
Individuals who are free from drugs or alcohol are given a therapeutic dose of the drug based on their weight. Its effects last between 24 and 48 hours, and the experience has been called as psychologically demanding as childbirth. It produces hallucinations in large doses, but individuals will also experience significant nausea and potentially vomiting. It also causes ataxia, which is difficulty standing and walking, and interferes with short-term memory and the perception of fear. This is said to give the drug a low potential for addiction (because there are a wide range of negative side effects), but the psychoactive effects can still produce a lasting change. It is most noted for its use in the treatment of opiate addiction.
Physiologically, the ibogaine is transformed into noribogaine, which binds to the opiate receptors within the brain (which are responsible for heroin addiction) for an extended period of time. This essentially causes cravings to abate and reduces withdrawal symptoms, and in combination with the significant psychological experience produced by the drug, can help people institute lasting changes in their lives. However, it’s absolutely essential to still receive psychological counseling after taking ibogaine, because it isn’t sufficient treatment in itself. There is only limited animal or anecdotal evidence to support its usage, so it isn’t an officially approved method of detoxification.
What are the Risks of Ibogaine?
The most immediately evident risks of ibogaine are those thought to be responsible for the deaths that have occurred under the drug’s effects. Bradycardia is one of the most severe (a potentially fatal slowing of the heart rate), so anybody who takes the drug should have their heart examined first and shouldn’t have a history of cardiac problems. Several medications cannot be mixed with ibogaine, such as most anti-depressants (because ibogaine has similar properties), and individuals addicted to benzodiazepines or alcohol have to be thoroughly detoxified before taking it.
It’s also important to avoid ibogaine therapy if you have liver or severe psychiatric problems, or a history of either. In the case of liver problems, the effects could be fatal, and it could cause a worsening of psychological conditions. Some physicians also claim that ibogaine therapy can cause brain damage in some individuals. Overall, the mortality rate for ibogaine treatment stands at one in 300, but this is likely to be an underestimation because of the illicit nature of the treatment in the US.
Do the Risks Outweigh the Benefits?
The lack of research into the effects of using ibogaine during drug detoxification on human participants means that it’s difficult to determine the true severity of the risks or the potential of the benefits. Studies are currently being conducted, and there is evidence of a positive effect of the treatment. The effectiveness of the drug is often reported by the participants, however, so it can’t be counted as objective data. More rigorously conducted clinical trials could show that ibogaine is effective and relatively safe, or it could stand in opposition to the anecdotal findings.
If you or somebody you know is considering ibogaine treatment, it’s extremely important to have medical supervision. A thorough medical evaluation should be conducted prior to treatment to ensure there is no risk resulting from existing conditions, heart problems, other medications or mental health issues. The proponents of the treatment claim that the risks can be managed effectively, as with any other medication, but a detailed evaluation is essential.
When the current sum of knowledge about the drug is considered, it seems that the potential risks of ibogaine do outweigh the benefits in most cases. There are a plethora of methods for drug withdrawal, and some do have objective clinical approval. Taking the risk on an unknown substance is unnecessary, but that doesn’t mean that ibogaine is definitely dangerous. It just means that you have much safer, more thoroughly understood options at your disposal. Perhaps ibogaine will become a reliable choice for opiate addiction in the future, but only time will tell.