These days most people have heard of ayahausca; the ceremonial, psychedelic jungle brew that sends users into powerful altered states of consciousness. Lesser known, however, is another powerful mind-altering plant medicine called “Iboga”.
With online reports of dark, sinister hell realms to eyes open, photo-real, lucid nightmares, to say iboga is swan diving into the murkiest end of the psychedelic spectrum is an understatement and should only be attempted by the most experienced and courageous psychonauts.
Whereas ayahuasca experiences are largely reported as technicolour, soothing, feminine encounters, iboga is its yang reflection and counterweight. Visions are often described as dark, underground or earthy, existing in an undeniably rough, masculine dimension.
With reports of heroin addicts successfully using Iboga to get clean, and powerful, personal journeys into the depths of one’s own psyche; one thing is abundantly clear – iboga is a very powerful substance. Not one to baulk at the opportunity to dig a little deeper and find out more about this plant medicine, I began to research and came up with some fascinating findings.
Some of the things I found were quite astonishing:
Iboga resets the brain when it comes to addiction and the success rate of addicts kicking their habit after iboga is extremely high.
In some ways iboga is more powerful than ayahuasca with trips lasting from 12-24 hours.
Iboga is a very masculine medicine. If ayahuasca is the “mother” then iboga is definitely the “father”.
Iboga stays in the bodily system for a long time after and can have an antidepressant effect.
Many questions popped into my head as I began looking: “Are there any risks?”, “What is iboga’s mechanism of action?”, “Is iboga legal?”
Let’s take a closer look and answer some of these questions –
The full name for the iboga plant is “Tabernanthe iboga” . It is a perennial rainforest shrub, native to western Central Africa. The roots of the plant contain a number of indole alkaloids, most notably ibogaine, which is found in the highest concentration in the root bark. Iboga also contains the psychoactive alkaloids coronaridine, ibogamine, tabernanthine and voacangine.
Iboga is a powerful stimulant when taken in small doses and induces intense hallucinations in larger doses. In parts of Africa where the plant grows, the bark of the root is chewed for ritualistic purposes, specifically the Bwiti religion held by the peoples of Gabon.
How does Iboga work on the brain?
The pharmacology of iboga is complex and poorly understood. While largely behaving as a serotonergic psychedelic, similar to LSD, DMT and psilocybin, ibogaine interacts with numerous brain systems including transporters, opioid receptors, sigma receptors, glutamate receptors, and nicotinic receptors.
Ibogaine is believed to produce its psychedelic effects from its power of binding at the 5-HT2A receptor. However, the role of these interactions and how they result in the psychedelic experience continues to remain elusive. With all that being said ibogaine is of the tryptamine class of alkaloids putting it in the same category as DMT (Dimethyltryptamine).
Ibogaine is rapidly metabolized in the human body and turned into noribogaine. Noribogaine acts as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor working in the same way as the common antidepressant medication. This antidepressant effect can last for a long time after iboga is taken. So it seems the exact mechanism of action of iboga not fully understood.
The plot thickens….
How is iboga taken?
Iboga can be taken in different ways. Traditionally the root bark is chewed “as is” or it’s powdered and eaten from a spoon. This is how it is taken by the indigenous Bwiti tribes. Also iboga can be taken as a full spectrum extract where the active alkaloids are extracted from the root bark and capsulated. This would be similar to the traditional method except a much smaller amount of material needs to be ingested. Lastly iboga can be taken as pure ibogaine. Here the ibogaine is isolated and the other alkaloids discarded. Each way of taking iboga will have a slightly different effect.
Another interesting thing about iboga is the taste. It is reported as being incredibly bitter, the most bitter thing one could taste – “Like sawdust laced with battery acid”. So much so that it causes anaesthesia in the mouth and tongue. Many iboga aficionados say that it’s very important to taste it, even if only briefly, so one can connect with the spirit of the medicine.
What are the effects of a large dose of Iboga?
Referred to as a “flood dose”, a large dose of Iboga produces a long, profound and intense psychedelic experience. After taking it, one of the most immediate effects one will feel is ataxia, or an inability to properly coordinate muscle movements. This is combined with a very intense dizziness. The dizziness is reported to be so strong that any movements of the head result in strong nausea and vomiting. It is always advised to lay down while under the influence of Iboga and to try and keep as still as possible.
One can expect to be immobile in bed for at least the first 12 hours of the experience and quite possibly a lot longer. A few hours after taking iboga most report a “panoramic”, visual experience that can include past memories. Described as a “waking dream” state with differing experiences that can include contact with entities and beings and fully immersive, photorealistic hallucinations that appear like real life with the user forgetting they have taken iboga.
People often report being placed in or entering situations and visual landscapes, rather than experiencing more classic psychedelic visual or auditory hallucinations. That being said not all users experience visual phenomena.
After the initial 6-12 hours of the experience, the intensity of the hallucinations can start to subside and many users report a more neutral and reflective emotional tone. Evaluation and reflection become the dominant factors at this point with users uncovering truths about themselves and finding answers to important personal questions.
As the user moves into the 12-24 hour phase of the experience, attention shifts back to the external environment and some of the strong psychoactive effects begin to fade. The time it takes to “come down” from the experience varies from person to person with some reporting still experiencing strong hallucinations 48-72 hours after ingestion. This is rare though with most users able to get out of bed and do basic tasks at around the 24 hour mark. Some report a reduced need for sleep for several days to weeks following treatment.
After the experience a period of heightened introspection will last for several days to weeks allowing the user to gain more insights and integrate these new perspectives into their daily lives. Becoming more conscious of emotional experiences and reactions of which you were previously unaware allows you to take more control in your life and to grow emotionally and spiritually.
Another interesting thing is that many users anecdotally report that iboga feels very “masculine”, much like a stern father. It doesn’t “beat around the bush” in showing you your shortcomings and whereas ayahuasca might show you things in an indirect way to allow you to figure out what it means, iboga is reported as being much more direct.
I found a fascinating article about the difference between ayahuasca and iboga by the experimentalist and human optimizer Aubrey Marcus –
How does Iboga work with addictions?
One of the most incredible and fascinating things about iboga is the addiction reset that it gives users. Heroin addicts that are going through withdrawal report that upon taking iboga all of their withdrawal symptoms disappear immediately as if by magic. This effect is a temporary reset of the brain where all addictions are cleared. It is not considered a “cure” for addiction, but rather is often called an addiction “interrupter”.
What iboga does is give the user a window of time from the moment they take it where they are free of cravings and this can break the momentum of an addiction. The window of time is approximately 4-6 weeks. As long as addicts don’t go back to using the substance and use this as an opportunity to “get clean” then often they can break free from addiction.
It seems that iboga works partly by physically resetting the brain to clear the addiction and partly by allowing a deep introspection during the experience to help the user deal with trauma and attain true spiritual growth. Some people experience a virtually permanent eradication of withdrawal symptoms after a single treatment session, but more often, cravings and other symptoms return after a few weeks or months, but at greatly reduced intensities.
Are there any risks?
With such a powerful substance that has an overwhelmingly strong physical aspect to the experience I started to consider there may be some risks associated with it. I found that in rare cases iboga can have adverse effects. Between 1990 and 2008 there have been 19 deaths associated with Iboga. These incidents were attributed to a number of factors that include pre-existing cardiac conditions, seizures resulting from acute withdrawal of alcohol or benzodiazepines or in other cases administration of another drug while under the influence of iboga. The main cause of death with iboga has been pre-existing cardiac disorder.
Iboga increases the heart rate and inhibits particular gene channels that affect cardiac action, making cardiac arrest the most common cause of iboga related death. Of the 19 deaths reported, 6 were related to cardiac complications. It seems more research is needed to fully understand the role of iboga in cardiac action.
Is it legal?
The next thing on my mind was the legality of it. Is this powerful substance legal? Well, it really depends where you are in the world. Iboga is completely illegal in the following countries: USA, Belgium, Denmark, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and the UK.
It’s legal in Brazil, Costa Rica, Gabon, Guatemala, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand and South Africa. In the countries where it’s legal there are providers and treatment centres where one can go and take Iboga safely.
There’s no doubt that iboga is one of the most powerful and profound plant medicines out there. A huge physical and mental undertaking, with trips lasting 24 hours or longer, iboga is not for the faint hearted. But with intense voyages like this into the depths of one’s own psyche there is an incredible opportunity for a life changing experience.
As always, one must do their own research and come to their own conclusions about whether taking iboga is right for them.
That’s all from me for this one.