With the opioid addiction in the U.S. reaching troubling highs, officials and medical experts continue their search for a solution. One solution may lie in a form of therapy that many former addicts say helped them overcome their addiction when all else failed.
The treatment uses ibogaine, a plant-based substance derived from native African plants. The substance is commonly used in shamanistic rituals, but is not recognized as a medicine in much of the world.
With the substance illegal in the United States, a number of Americans are traveling to other countries, like Mexico and Canada, to get treatment. In these areas, ibogaine is legal and unregulated.
Many who have received the Ibogaine treatment state that they no longer have any desire for opioids. Some claim to lose their desire for drinking and smoking as well.
Ibogaine offers a wholly unique addiction treatment in that the substance causes an intense psychedelic experience that can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. This effect is what makes the treatment so controversial.
The anti-addiction effects of Ibogaine were discovered by Howard Lotsof, American scientific researcher, in the 1960s. After becoming addicted to heroin, he accidentally discovered – through his own recreational use of the substance – that Ibogaine had eradicated his dependence on opiates.
Some users have experienced heart-related complications or seizures after taking the substance. These side effects may be linked to underlying heart conditions or taking an excessive amount of the substance.
Clinics in regions where the treatment is legal often screen patients for cardiac problems and other variables that may put them at high risk of these side effects.
Many in the psychiatry and medical fields have been pushing for the U.S. government to at least take a serious look at the substance through controlled studies.
The Liberty Root treatment center in Canada, founded by Trevor Millar, has successfully treated more than 250 people under medical supervision. Millar says he is pushing for more serious clinical trials of the substance.
Millar said that between half and three-quarters of his patients see a “100 percent detox from opioids.”
Ibogaine is currently available in Norway, Canada, Germany, the Bahamas, Brazil and several other countries.
According to the Avante Institute, the treatment provides a “full detox by resetting the brain’s neurological addiction receptors and returning it to a pre-addiction state.”
The stigma associated with the psychedelic effects of the drug may be holding back progress. But there is still hope for this potential treatment.
The NIH, several years ago, funded a preclinical study of a chemical derived from ibogaine. The chemical thus far seems to have the anti-addiction components without the psychedelic effects.
Millar notes that ibogaine is not a magic wand, and it does not work the same way for everyone. Some patients can stay clean without any additional formal assistance. Others require the help of support groups after they stop using. Former addicts can also stay on the right path by moving away from toxic environments and sources of temptation.