A close image of Iboga

Iboga is an indigenous plant medicine from West Africa, which contains the psychoactive substance ibogaine. Traditionally, iboga was used in religious ceremonies to facilitate healing and communal bonding through spiritual cleansing.

With the new scientific research of psychedelics, ibogaine has received new attention concerning its potential to treat mental disorders such as addiction. However, ibogaine also has severe side effects even for healthy users, especially when taken in the wrong dose.

Let us start by better understanding what ibogaine is and its effect on our body.

What Is the Difference Between Iboga and Ibogaine?

Iboga is a medicinal root bark of the plant Tabernanthe iboga, whereas ibogaine is the active substance that produces its psychoactive effects.

What is Iboga?

Image of Iboga
Image of Iboga

Iboga is the root-bark of the West African Tabernanthe iboga tree. Its leaves, bark, and root bark are used medicinally in its native regions in West Africa. Iboga is the botanical name for the tree Tabernanthe Iboga, but other plants that also include ibogaine are the Tabernaemontana undulata and the Voacanga Africana.

What Is Ibogaine?

Ibogaine's chemical structure
Ibogaine’s chemical structure

Ibogaine is the primary psychoactive substance in iboga. It is considered an atypical psychedelic because its effects are both dream-like and dissociative. Compared to classic psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD, it acts on many more neurotransmitter systems, including serotonin, acetylcholine, opioid, and dopamine. Because of this, ibogaine has various effects at different doses, and when compared to classic psychedelics, it has much more severe side effects at higher doses.

Other Names for Iboga

Eboka, Bois Sacré, Tabernanthe iboga.

The Psychopharmacology of Ibogaine

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Ibogaine has both mental and physical effects, including some critical side effects. As we shall see, some of the side effects like nausea and vomiting may be useful as a spiritual purging mechanism, but other side effects may pose serious risks for safety and health.

How Does Ibogaine Work?

Ibogaine binds to many more receptor systems compared to classic psychedelics. Compared to serotonergic tryptamines (e.g., psilocybin, mescaline, LSD), ibogaine not only binds to serotonin receptors but also to nicotinic acetylcholine and opioid receptors. Some of its brain effects also resemble that of classical serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants. Like SSRIs, ibogaine blocks the reuptake of both serotonin and dopamine and increases their concentrations at the level of neuronal synapses. This means that at mild doses, ibogaine can act as an antidepressant and a mild stimulant. But in other regards, it has similar effects to Salvia Divinorum and Ketamine.

Is Ibogaine Addictive?

There is no evidence to suggest that ibogaine is addictive, and its recreational usage is virtually non-existent. This is likely because ibogaine’s effects are considered unpleasant to most recreational users, so there is little motivation to become addicted to it. Most people only use it if they are severely addicted to something else in the first place.

Subjective Effects of Ibogaine

Because ibogaine affects many different receptors and neurotransmitters, it has many different effects. These include:

  • Auditory Hallucinations
  • Visions
  • Mental Imagery
  • Pseudohallucinations (e.g., visual distortions)
  • Intensified memory recollection
  • Intensified emotions (both negative and positive)
  • Emotional lability (e.g., sudden changes between positive and negative emotions)
  • Out-of-body experiences
  • Spiritual Experiences

Risks and Side Effects of Ibogaine

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Ibogaine affects many different receptors and molecules, so it also has various side effects. Let us review the negative side of these effects.

Bodily Side Effects of Ibogaine

Ibogaine causes unpleasant bodily sensations, but these are sometimes tied to meaningful visions, which potentially contribute to its effects on kicking bad habits like addictions. These include:

  • General discomfort
  • Nausea
  • Cramps
  • Dizziness
  • Cardiotoxicity

Cardiovascular Risks and Heart-Attacks from Ibogaine

Compared to other psychedelics, ibogaine poses a more serious risk of inducing a heart attack. Ibogaine causes irregularities in the heartbeat, known medically as cardiac arrhythmia, which are measured via electrocardiogram to see how long the heart needs to repolarize its electrophysiology with every beat.

Medical studies have shown that ibogaine elongates this time period, which poses a medical risk of heart failure and the reason why there may have been some fatal accidents while using it to treat addiction. People heavily addicted to substances like opioids are typically more vulnerable to these effects, especially because they use ibogaine during the withdrawal phase. Because of this, administering large amounts of ibogaine or other substances with such risks generally requires a medical professional to monitor the patient’s electrocardiogram in order to prevent life-threatening conditions.

What Does Ibogaine Feel Like: Ibogaine Vs. Other Psychedelic Mind States

Researchers have analyzed the experiences of 22 addiction patients undergoing ibogaine and psychotherapy in Brazil, and that it has some similarities with other psychedelics, but overall there were a lot of essential differences.

Is Ibogaine a Psychedelic?

Unlike most psychedelics, ibogaine produces much more unpleasant physical effects, which many people experience as challenging.

While on ibogaine, in some cases, some users are likely to revisit their repressed memories and maybe even envision future simulations of themselves. As an example, drug addicts may take a future perspective on what their life will look like if they stop using heroin, or on the other hand, continue using it until the last day of their lives. This psychedelic effect can cause people to reevaluate their life and change addictive behaviors.Psilocybin Magic Mushroom therapy

Recreational Use of Ibogaine

While people who take psychedelics most often experience sensory delight, people using ibogaine typically report negative emotions and visions of things they do not wish to see. For that reason, ibogaine is rarely used recreationally, at least within the context of social entertainment.

Ibogaine is more typically used by psychonauts or people interested in finding personal growth through transformative experiences or deep encounters with their inner demons. In this sense, it is similar to Ayahuasca, although Ayahuasca has fewer unpleasant side effects.

Is Ibogaine a Hallucinogen?

Ibogaine produces both visual and auditory (pseudo) hallucinations, which include a buzzing motor-like sound at the onset of the experience. People who used ibogaine often report hearing voices later on in their trip.

Auditory Hallucinations of Ibogaine

Except for Ayahuasca, psychedelics typically only affect visual changes, whereas ibogaine is unique in its ability to cause auditory hallucinations.

Ibogaine and Visual Hallucinations

Ibogaine also induces visions (hallucinations, closed eye visuals) of people, animals, natural scenes, and landscapes. Mental imagery (e.g., memories) is intensified and becomes more visual and “real.”

Is Ibogaine a Dissociative?

Ibogaine can be a dissociative drug because it produces a state of detachment or an inability to fully experience your surroundings. People under the influence of ibogaine are entranced by physical sensations, visions, and memories and become somewhat disconnected from their surroundings. Ibogaine also blocks the NMDA-receptor just like ketamine, so its effects partially overlap, but unlike ketamine, it does not increase glutamate. It also has an activity on the kappa-opioid receptors, just like Salvia Divinorum, which is a dissociative hallucinogen. Kappa-opioid activity is known to radically disrupt acute drug cravings but is known to be unpleasant and also causes bizarre spatially distorted hallucinations.

Is Ibogaine Like a Dream?

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Ibogaine’s effects are commonly described as an ‘oneirogenic’ or ‘dream-like’ state. This is because it intensifies memories and the imagination of future possibilities, a common attribute of dreams.

Under the intense dream-like influence of ibogaine, people might relive difficult past situations (e.g., drug overdose experiences) and experience feelings about death and rebirth. When people envision their future self, they become more sensitive and introspective about their past and present. Life and death have been a common theme of dream-psychoanalysis, and people theorize that dreams are a way of simulating future threats in order to cope with them.

The theme of death and rebirth is also central to the Indigenous Iboga Rituals (see below).

Iboga (Ibogaine) Vs. Ayahuasca (DMT): Is Ibogaine Similar to Ayahuasca?

Although ibogaine has some similarities to Ayahuasca, there are several important differences worth mentioning.

N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT): The Ayahuasca molecule
N, N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT): The Ayahuasca molecule

While Ayahuasca heightens consciousness beyond normal senses, ibogaine draws you into the body and makes people acutely aware of the physical discomfort.

When using iboga, people experience a rapid heart-rate, constant nausea, ear grinding noise, and hear voices. All this can last for 24 hours. Some people do not sleep for days after. By contrast, Ayahuasca also brings out bodily reactions and causes people to vomit, but people also encounter serenity and delight after they pass the first hurdle. Ten hours after using Ayahuasca, most people experience peace and connectedness. This makes ibogaine, when compared to Ayahuasca, a far more challenging experience.

History of Iboga and Ibogaine

Iboga and ibogaine have a diverse history, from its native roots in Africa to its use as a Western drug for the treatment of addiction.

A Brief History of Traditional Iboga In Africa

Iboga is a sacrament of the Bwiti spiritual community among the Babongo and Mitsogo people of Gabon and the Fang people of Gabon and Cameroon.

The use of iboga in these traditions is based on long-standing cultural beliefs and practices that are deeply rooted in the local communities. “Bwiti” means “ancestor” or “dead,” and the Bwiti use iboga as a rite of passage to adolescence and in healing ceremonies.

Indigenous Iboga Rituals

Iboga rituals last five days, whereby the individuals consume only iboga and water. During the indigenous ceremony, participants apply face paint and are surrounded by the members of the community, who accompany the ceremony with singing, dancing, and traditional music. The participants are told to prepare for an inner journey, and a confrontation with their inner demons is facilitated, for instance, by placing a mirror in front of them.

Through a ritualistic process guided by the community members, the participants embark on an inner journey to confront the nature of their true selves. The symbolic death of malice or adolescence gives rise to the rebirth of a healthy and holistic adult.

A Brief History of Ibogaine in Western Medicine

Ibogaine was first isolated in France at the turn of the 20th century and sold as an antidepressant and a stimulant for over 40 years.

In the 1960s, it re-emerged in the US as many people claimed that it could cure addiction to heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and nicotine. However, they were subsequently banned by the US as part of their “War on Drugs” effort, although scientific research could still be pursued to some extent.

Animal studies in the 90s showed that ibogaine could disrupt addictive cravings within rodents, which raised new interest in their clinical application. However, clinical research later showed that ibogaine causes irregular heartbeat, which poses considerable risk of heart failure. In line with these findings, there have been some fatalities with ibogaine in the Netherlands, where people being treated for addiction died due to heart failure.

In the current scientific era, researchers are most likely to investigate other treatments such as Ayahuasca, because they also have an anti-addictive treatment potential but without cardiotoxic side effects. It is typically the policy of clinical research to put safety first and circumvent any avoidable risk, which has halted further research into ibogaine. Some researchers, such as Dr. Deborah Mash, believe that the fatalities attributed to ibogaine are largely due to improper dosing of ibogaine by facilitators who are ill-prepared for the acute risks of undergoing heroin withdrawal. Meanwhile, other researchers such as Dr. David E. Olson at UC Davis are also developing new analogs of ibogaine to circumvent those side effects altogether.

Understanding Ibogaine Dosages

There is an ancient saying that “The dose makes the poison,” and this is especially true with ibogaine. While some doses might be harmless, others can cause heart attacks. In this segment, we review which doses of ibogaine might be considered relatively safe.

Please note that none of the following dosage estimates are intended as medical advice. They are simply the best estimates based on the available scientific literature and only serve the purposes of harm reduction at the user’s risk. Therefore, we advise anyone seeking to use ibogaine for addiction or any other reason to consult a health professional.

Which Dose Does What?

Ibogaine has many effects on the mind and body, and it is important to keep in mind that it varies a lot depending on which dose you use.

At small doses, ibogaine acts as an antidepressant or a mild stimulant. This is presumably because it increases dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. At large doses, it has more profound psychedelic-like effects and puts people into a dissociative dream-like state. At these doses, some people have found that it can also alleviate heroin withdrawal symptoms and stop their addiction cravings.

How Much Ibogaine is in Iboga?

The root bark of Tabernanthe iboga can contain various amounts of ibogaine. According to one report, the ground powder of iboga contains 7.2% ibogaine, but another report found that it only contains 2% ibogaine. The range of 2 – 7%means that one plant could contain 3.5 times more ibogaine than another. We recommend extreme caution and advise against using higher doses before trying a low-dose

Low-Dose Ibogaine

Doses between 10-30 mg work as a mild stimulant and antidepressant. According to the dosing concentrations above, an Iboga extract of 250 mg contains about 10 mg of ibogaine. This is considered a low dose.

Highest Dose

Doses above 12 mg/kg (900 mg ibogaine) are considered to carry a high risk of inducing heart attacks. We do not recommend anyone to take more than this, and we also do not recommend anyone to try a high dose for the first time without medical care.

Dosing for Addiction and Withdrawal

Addiction withdrawal is a serious medical condition that requires extra caution regarding dose. The safest conservative estimate is at 0.87 mg/kg body weight. An early FDA-approved study in 1998 also used a 1 to 2 mg/kg dose, which was well-tolerated.

By contrast, private ibogaine facilities administer 6 to 30 mg/kg body weight. This may have led to fatal accidents of patients dying from heatstroke. For that reason, we do not recommend anyone to take more than 70 mg of ibogaine (1.74g iboga extract) and recommend seeking out additional medical advice.

Ibogaine Legal Status Around the World

Let us examine the legal status of ibogaine in various countries.

USA

Ibogaine is illegal and classified as a Schedule I drug, which is considered to have a high potential for abuse and no medical purpose.

Canada

Ibogaine is on the Prescription Drug List (PDL), which means it can only be obtained legally via medical prescription.

UK

This is a Grey zone – Although ibogaine is technically illegal to possess under the Psychoactive Substances Act, as of now it seems that nobody has been prosecuted for this up to date.

Netherlands

Ibogaine possession is not prohibited per se, and there are several unlicensed treatment centers in the Netherlands. However, the Dutch government is not shy of prosecuting underground practices.

New Zealand

Ibogaine is considered a non-approved prescription medicine in New Zealand. This means that it is possible to receive Ibogaine treatment in New Zealand.

Mexico

Ibogaine is an unscheduled substance in Mexico. This means there are no legal regulations that prohibit its use, but also that there are no regulations to ensure safety controls from facilitators.

Brazil

Ibogaine is legal for prescription use, and researchers have access to medical-grade ibogaine for clinical research. Ibogaine has not been approved as a regulated pharmaceutical substance, but there are now Phase 2 clinical trials underway to treat alcoholism with ibogaine in Brazil.

South Africa

A licensed medical professional may now prescribe ibogaine, and certain conditions apply regarding its prescription, manufacture, import, and export. This means that it is possible to receive ibogaine therapy in South Africa.

Ibogaine Treatments: Medical Potential of Ibogaine

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Ibogaine has immense treatment potential. However, most of what we know about ibogaine comes from user reports, animal studies, and observational data from private clinics. There is still very little that we know about the optimal dose and best practices to avoid medical risks. None of this information should be regarded as medical advice!

Addiction Treatment

The anti-addictive properties of ibogaine are the most promising line of research, so let us review the evidence.

Animal Studies

When given to addicted rats, ibogaine has been effective in disrupting the intake of morphine and heroin. Ibogaine also showed potential to treat withdrawal symptoms of morphine-dependence withdrawal.

Human Studies

An open-label study (without randomized placebo control) showed that ibogaine administered within a safe dose range could effectively diminish opioid and cocaine cravings and improve withdrawal symptoms. Around half of the participants entered a dream-like state, felt a connection to a higher power, and encountered it as a type of spiritual rebirth.

Holistic approaches To Healing Addiction Trauma with Ibogaine

Ibogaine has helped individuals overcome addiction through holistic practices, most notably applied by the Hungarian-Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Gábor Máté. Through several years of treating patients with Ayahuasca and Ibogaine, he has developed a theory of addiction that is at odds with the standard disease model. He believes that addiction is the result of trauma and the way the brain deals with it. His work also highlights how substances like ibogaine can be integrated to address the root causes of addictive behaviors, such as deeply rooted personal trauma. A part of why ibogaine is effective is due to the therapeutic context and the way people integrate their experiences.

Future Directions and Next-generation Ibogaine

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Compared to other psychedelics, ibogaine is less pleasant and has more risks and side effects. Currently, ibogaine is mostly sought out by people suffering from heroin addiction with no other treatment option.

Ibogaine Metabolites: Noribogaine

Noribogaine is a metabolite of ibogaine that is created by the body’s detoxification system after being ingested. Noribogaine is presumably less toxic, stays longer in the body than ibogaine, and shows similar efficacy for treating addiction in ratsResearchers also want to investigate whether Noribogaine can be a safer alternative to ibogaine, although Noribogaine does not produce the characteristic psychoactive effects.

Ibogaine Without the Side Effects: Tabernanthalog

Researcher David E. Olson at UC Davis and his team are amid developing next-generation psychedelic substances to utilize as medicines that promote neuroplasticity. They recently created a new analog version of ibogaine, which they called Tabernanthalog, which does not exhibit any cardiovascular risks, at least within mice and zebrafish models. Tabernanthalog has proved to be even more effective than Noribogaine. With time, this new version may become available for clinical research with human subjects to find safer drugs to treat addiction.

Conclusion

Ibogaine is a powerful atypical psychedelic compound that shows a great deal of promise in treating addiction. Although it is not without its risks, it may offer a more effective alternative to traditional treatments for addiction but imposes some serious cardiovascular risks. Newer analogs of ibogaine may offer a safer alternative without sacrificing efficacy.

It is not recommended to use ibogaine for recreational purposes since only a reason such as curing a long-lasting addiction might outweigh its potential life-threatening risks.