Hacking Addiction with Ibogaine: An Interview with Patrick Kroupa
Patrick Kroupa, an early pioneer in the movement to medicalize ibogaine for opioid addiction with Howard Lotsof (right), the man who discovered as a young addict in 1962 NYC, that a “drug” from Africa called “ibogaine” had ended his addiction to heroin in just one trip. Lotsof made it his lifelong mission to spread the word about ibogaine’s effects on opioid addiction and decriminalize and medicalize ibogaine. They are standing in front of a painting by visionary artist Alex Grey another pioneer in the psychedelic renaissance.
Lakshmi Narayan Hi, Patrick, the thing I’m most interested in is, how you yourself quit your addiction to heroin. How did you encounter Ibogaine? Can you tell me what happened? Both in terms of external and internal, if possible, to whatever degree you feel willing.
Patrick Kroupa Sure. I had one of those toxic childhoods which is so popular. And I also had a lot of strange interests at the time because my father was, and still is, a physicist, and I had access to computers and an Apple II back in the late 1970s, when very few people had any idea what any of this was. So I was involved in the hacker underground when I was growing up. My parents got divorced, I ended up growing up as a white boy in Spanish Harlem during the 1980s, early 80s, when it was considerably different than what’s there now. Now, everything is beautiful and gentrified, and all traces of the past have mostly disappeared.
I grew up in a neighborhood where I was completely surrounded by drugs, five drug dealers on every block sitting on the stoop. And you know, you grow up and you see this around you and you’re familiar with it.
My introduction to ibogaine was quite random, and very unexpected. I was 13 or 14, somewhere in between there. And I started attending these meetings called TAP, that stands for the Technological Assistance Program, and it was actually this sort of Xerox copy newsletter that was started by the yippies. It was all about using technology to empower yourself. And my motivation for going to these meetings was I was a kid, and a lot of my friends were showing up there. We wanted to talk about technology and computer systems and networks. And what I discovered there instead, was that more than half the people there were these really weird older people who were rambling about the counterculture, and politics and rising up against the system. And all of this was very new to me. I had no awareness of it prior to that.
LN: You tapped into something there.
PK: It was an interesting world. They were fundamentally very different human beings. And all of them meant well; they wanted to change the world and make it a better place. And the first time I heard about ibogaine was there, and honestly, at the time, that was it.
It was basically a textbook definition of snake oil. This mysterious substance that comes from a distant land, which only a very small group of people have ever done. And it will magically cure every addiction that has ever existed. And by the way, it’s really expensive and always unavailable.
My thoughts at the time were, Okay, yeah, whatever. That’s fascinating. Just something that kept coming up at the TAP meetings, and at that time, I was experimenting with drugs, I was doing heroin. I was doing psychedelics, but it was nowhere near a problem. For me, it was just things that I was doing.
LN: So you were like a functional “addict,” if I may use that term.
PK: Yes, I was a high-functioning addict for many, many years. Okay, what ended up happening after that was during the very early 90s, a friend of mine named Bruce and I started a system called MindVox. And our reasons for doing that were just, we were playing with technology; we wanted to put up a system. And what happened at that point is the internet arrived for the public. And there was just this gigantic explosion of activity, we were the right people at the right place at the right time.
And we became the very first internet access provider in New York City. Wow. So I’m 21 years old, and everything in my life I ever wanted is coming true. This company that we founded is blowing up, becoming huge, we’re getting all this success, where everything is great, except for the fact that, again, during this entire process, I was a high-functioning heroin addict. And as I became more successful and business process was moving forward, I became more and more addicted.
And to make a long story much shorter. I was shooting speed balls, it’s very hard to remain functional when you’re doing that. If you’re doing heroin, it’s not exactly the impossible dream. You can go through decades of your life addicted to opioids and function. When you start mixing in cocaine, and you start mixing in methamphetamine and all these other things —-there aren’t too many high-functioning poly substance abusers who shoot speed balls.
LN: Were you coding at the time?
PK: Yeah. I wrote hacking programs, experimented with networks. I mean, if you’re doing heroin, it doesn’t mean you have brain damage; it just means that for the most part, you’re extraordinarily calm and at peace with everything. It doesn’t prevent you from succeeding at something or accomplishing things.
LN: Was it a part of that culture, the technology culture to do what you were doing heroin, speed, uppers, and downers, that kind of thing?
PK: Not really. A big part of the hacker culture is psychedelics. I mean, that is something that has empowered all of Silicon Valley since its inception. And that’s not a big secret. There’s many, many books written on the topic. John Markoff wrote a book specifically focusing on psychedelics (and technology), called What the Dormouse Said.
LN: It’s even reflected in the Apple logo.
PK: Yeah, and Steve Jobs was quite open about that. I mean, he listed doing LSD as one of the most important things he’s ever done in his entire life. And he was not alone or unique in that regard. John Gilmore was one of the first employees of Sun Microsystems, which essentially powered the internet in the beginning. I mean, this predates Linux and BSD, open BSD, all these different things. He was a very strong proponent of psychedelics and regularly showed up at Burning Man and was very forthright about his involvement there. But you know, drugs and technology were very intermixed from the start. But this is psychedelic drugs; hard drugs— not so much. Anyway, it was the whole drug thing. It was a lot of fun until it wasn’t.
And then at that point in time, I discovered that there is no exit. I tried to detox using every conventional methodology, every paradigm that existed back then, which was the 90s. And all of them are remarkably similar to what we’ve got right now.
I mean, I was on methadone tapers. I was on methadone maintenance. I participated in ultra rapid opioid detox. I did that twice. I was under very early clinical trials for buprenorphine, and when they were trying to make it bioavailable sublingually, which they obviously succeeded with, because that became Subutex and Suboxone. And none of it worked for me. I mean, it was just okay, I’m clean, that’s great. I’m clean, except the only thing I can think about is just feeling normal. I feel like shit, I just feel absolutely terrible. I’m having a hard time functioning. This is awful.
And at that point, I started looking at alternate treatment methodologies. And at the time, one of the big things was something called a 10S unit. Which was essentially electronic acupuncture, and there was this guy named Dr. Richard Resnick, who was at Columbia. You go into his office and he’s got signed photographs of Pete Townsend and Eric Clapton on his walls. Unfortunately, it did not work for me in the TENS unit. So I kind of ended up looping back towards ibogaine. Oh, yeah, ibogaine….I keep hearing about that. And I know what it is; I can go look on the MindVox system we’re running, and there’s some crazy person from an organization called Cures not Wars, which is, of course, Dana Beal and number nine Bleecker Street and all that. And that person published a semi-incoherent, rambling message about ibogaine on like 15 different forums. I mean, we had a very active drug section, but they missed that altogether. And it was just like, why are you posting this crap all over everything? And they did. And I noticed that and I also knew well a person named Fred Gotbetter, who has a great name, but he never did get better. I was hanging out with him on the Lower East Side, and he was a guy I would see.
We’d be in the same shooting gallery, and he was a complete mess, and then he’d vanish for two or three days. He came back and he was completely clean. And to me that was like, “How the fuck did you do that? This is impossible. What are you doing?”
“It’s this ibogaine. Ibogaine really works. It’s great.” And you know, he kicked out the whole backstory, and adding it to the material I already knew about.
It was a very surreal comedy routine, watching this guy cleanup, get completely rebooted, and then go right back to doing drugs. And in his case, his motivation was he didn’t really want to clean up at all, he just had a trust fund, which was predicated upon him pissing clean into a cup in order to get his check. So his entire motivation was to stay clean long enough to get his trust fund check and then get right back to it. But nonetheless that made a huge impact on me, because what I was witnessing appeared to be impossible.
So I tried to get ibogaine, and this is the 90s. And so I connected with Howard Lotsof and started talking to him a lot. At that point in time, Howard was unable to offer treatments in Panama anymore. He was starting to deal with his own health problems with leukemia back then. And, you know, he passed me to another person named Bob Sisko, who was also involved with ibogaine. And, oddly enough, Bob Sisko connected me to Dr. Deborah Mash at the University of Miami.
What had happened was during the 1990s, the FDA was sufficiently impressed with existing anecdotal observations and pre-clinical data in animal models, that they took a very broad view of the available data and they actually green-lighted clinical trials and human drug-dependent subjects within the United States, which was an amazing accomplishment in the 90s because its a Schedule I drug. And subsequent to that, NIDA, which is responsible for minting grants—they’re the ones who fund the vast majority of research that takes place in academia—- shut it down and simply declined to provide funding and said not for further consideration.
What was amazing is that Dr. Curtis Wright from the FDA wrote a personal letter to NIDA urging them to at least give ibogaine a chance. And again, this is the FDA asking NIDA to do this. But NIDA still wouldn’t do it. And at the time, the director of NIDA a guy named Frank Vocci issued a public statement, which said,
“The people of America will think that everybody in Washington is completely off their rocker,” and that basically, they didn’t like it, because it has this side effect where you trip out after doing it.
So that ended that. But anyway, at the time that I intersected with all this, I landed in St. Kitts, which is where this clinic was located. And I was on 200 milligrams of methadone daily, and I was doing about a gram and a half to two grams of heroin on top of that, every single day.
It’s a lot, I mean, that’s enough to kill about 15-20 people who don’t have tolerance. If you have tolerance, it’s not such a big deal. And over here in 2019, where you have people who are addicted to fentanyl, it’s not a big deal at all, because what people are addicted to right now is insane. The variants of fentanyl that are coming out and the amounts that people are doing it’s just crazy high.
Prior to doing ibogaine, you need to get switched over to a short-acting opioid. In my case they used morphine for that purpose. And before you get dosed, you have to be past the half life of the molecule and entering withdrawal.
So you start to go through withdrawal. So I’m sweating, I’m shaking, my entire skeleton feels like it’s being smashed in a vice, I’m really hot, I’m really cold, I feel like my skull is compressing my brain. I mean, you just feel terrible. It feels like pain, because you’re starting to go through withdrawal off an extremely heavy habit.
Then I took ibogaine.
And what happened is within about 30 to 45 minutes, it felt like there’s this ball of warmth in my solar plexus. And it’s kind of very slowly coiling up my spine. And as it does that the pain is letting go. And it kind of feels like being suspended in this ocean of warm energy. And right then, right there, that is the closest thing I have ever personally experienced to a miracle, because you’re going from completely strung out to, “Oh, hey, your habit just got non-existent.” And that was remarkable. There was no pain, there was no… there was nothing! It’s just like, you know, the God of biomechanics just passed their hand across you and lifted the sickness away.
And then immediately thereafter, I got very busy because that’s when you start tripping. Sure, you’re very occupied for the next, you know, six to 10 hours depending on what kind of metabolism you have. And I think you’re probably familiar with that part of it because as far as I know, you’ve done ibogaine personally as well,
LN: I have, but from what I’ve heard, everybody’s trip is completely different. And the “flood dose” given for addiction is different from that given for a psychospiritual journey, which is what I experienced. So I’m interested in hearing about whatever part of it is you’re willing to share about your trip. Not everyone trips on ibogaine apparently. But if you trip, that’s where a lot of reconciling happens.
PK: For me, my initial journey with ibogaine was, I basically went to hell and got killed over and over and over. It was not a lot of fun, I did not enjoy that. And it was probably highly reflective of my headspace and the life that I was living at the time. That was not a pleasant experience. But having said that, I was already very familiar with psychedelics, and ibogaine isn’t a classic psychedelic. It has very low affinity at 5-HT2A, which is the receptor where the vast majority of classical hallucinogens attach themselves. It’s more of an oneirogen, a dream-inducing substance. It personally did not really rock my world that hard. Doing two to three milligrams of LSD will give you ego death, no matter what, I mean, whether you want it, you don’t want it. You go past the bullshit sixty to 100 microgram doses, you boost it up, and you will experience ego death.
LN: Yes, definitely.
PK: However, having said that, again, my experience with LSD while I was strung out is, that’s all wonderful. You can have the greatest realizations in the world you can experience ego death, there is no separation between you and everything in the entire multiverse. You’ve attained Godhead, you are everything, everything is you and there’s love and there’s light and there’s freedom.
And unfortunately, as you glide back down to earth and reintegrate, what you discover with LSD is it has not done anything whatsoever for your habit. Your drug dependence is alive and well and Oh, hey, you need a fix. You see. That’s the part where Ibogaine was considerably different. The reset happens immediately before you start tripping. So you’re not going through withdrawal while you’re tripping.
LN: You can feel that? You know the moment you’ve been reset?
PK: Yes, because you’re in full-blown withdrawal which is basically like being tortured. Of course you can feel it! You go from a state where it feels like you just want to die because you’re experiencing so much pain to Hey! All of it just went away. Wonderful. Incredibly dramatic. That’s the end of my first experience with Ibogaine. I would rank it as my most important one because I entered it after 16 years of heroin use. And that did it, that reset me. I reintegrated, came back down. The visionary, spiritual part of my very first trip, like I said, was not that life changing. It’s like, Okay, this is a really bad trip to hell.
LN: About dying and going to hell — a lot of people have that experience of something really bad happening. And I just want to say, for the record, that sometimes it seems like you’re having a hellish journey, but what’s actually happening is that things are being released. And they’re being magnified in your consciousness while that’s going on, and you don’t even recognize it as a release, but you come out of it, and something has shifted.
PK: Absolutely, I agree very much with that. It provides you with a perspective shift on how you view yourself and the world around you and the situation that you may be in.
But anyway, so what happened to me after my first Ibogaine experience is that I was not going back to New York City. As you know, I met Deborah Mash there, and she kind of recruited me and pulled me into her world. And I flew to Miami instead. And on the flight there, there’s a handler, there’s a guy supposed to make sure that you make it to change your flight to go to some aftercare facility. And, you know, the first thing I did, as soon as I hit the airport in Puerto Rico was ditch the handler, go out the door, grab a cab, and go find heroin, which was ridiculously easy in Puerto Rico.
LN: That was what– the addiction? I thought you had beat it—- I guess you didn’t?
PK: Well, here’s the thing, Lakshmi.
So number one, as soon as your drug dependence is lifted off you everything that you have not processed during all those years of time comes crashing down on you all at once. And it’s like, oh, yeah, this is why I started doing heroin in the first place. And it’s overwhelming.
And, for me maybe it was being on autopilot. But it was just like, I need to make this noise in my head stop. I mean, to just sum it all up, I had PTSD, I had a variety of co-occurring disorders, I had all this material I had not processed at that point in time. So anyway, I went to Miami, and then I immediately went back as soon as possible to do it again. I mean, at the time, it wasn’t possible to just come back a couple of days or a week later, they had rounds, she had to wait like six weeks. So I did Ibogaine again the second time, about six weeks later. And what was different between the first and the second time was I understood that, okay, this is what Ibogaine will do, it will absolutely, unequivocally reset my drug dependence, my habit is gone, I will be free of that. But here’s the part where I have a lot of work to do. And I have to deal with all these things, I have to process and integrate all of them. And I’ve got to do something with myself.
And you know, I tried so many different detoxes and rehabs and I was just really completely fucking sick of the 12 steps. And none of it ever worked for me. It’s like, Okay, I have enough problems. I don’t need an imaginary disease, where I’m diseased and flawed and powerless. That’s bullshit. How about, I write myself a script that I am empowered, I am whole, I am complete, I am a human being. And based upon all that, my thought processes were just that going to an aftercare facility is not going to work out for me, because I already know what it’s going to be. It’s like, here’s a bunch of group meetings. Here’s this, here’s that.
And the 12 steps like to borrow a line from Einstein, which is “A reasonable definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and over again, and expecting different results.” And they also like to say, “Take what you find useful and leave the rest.”
So I did. I did something completely different.
LN: Yeah, I think that for someone like you who already has a lot of structure, because you’re into technology, structure is not what you need for integration. And that’s what a lot of those programs and group coaching and 12-steps offer is structure for people who don’t have it. But you needed something else, I guess.
PK: And in my case, what I did was I went to live in an ashram in Thailand. And I stayed there for for three months. And what I discovered there were people who were extremely open hearted. I mean, you can call it unconditional love, unconditional acceptance, they really had no judgment at all. They had never heard of the 12 steps, their opinions on Western psychology were. Okay, so you sit and talk about your problems forever. What does that do exactly? And you know, my answer to that is, I don’t know, that’s a good question. What the hell has it done for me, I mean, I know what my problems are, what I don’t have is a solution for changing.
I did LSD while I was there. (lol) I hung out with the Buddhists. And I actually processed and integrated all the events in my life that had led up to this moment. And it worked for me. It worked for me in an environment that was very strange, because they provide very limited structure. I mean, if you seem to need it, they’ll help you with structure. If you seem to provide your own structure for yourself, they don’t bother you. They have nothing to sell you. Right. And it was just very beautiful. And then I came back to the United States and I started working for Deborah in the Department of Neurology at the University of Miami, which was the Ibogaine research project.
And that was it, by the way. My second reboot worked. That was Halloween 1999. That’s my clean date, the last time I ever did opioids.
For me psychedelics, entheogenic compounds have had a significant lasting, and extraordinarily positive impact on my life. They sort of put the whole multiverse into perspective, they help you see yourself and understand what you are, and I believe they help you become a better person. I mean, I’m certainly a much kinder person. After psychedelics, I’m much more in tune with the whole world around me. Microdosing them certainly lends itself to creative thinking and finding solutions which are outside the box. You’re basically utilizing them to enhance your brain.
LN: I totally agree with you about the benefit. But just so that people don’t think that its all a rosy stair-step to feeling better and better….there’s a lot of work involved in journeying with psychedelics, a lot of integration work, don’t you agree, over your lifetime. It’s like you do go into dark places, and you do have to sort things out, but it just gives you more tools and more vision to be able to do that.
PK: Oh, absolutely. Entheogens don’t produce enlightenment. Okay, you have ego death, you’re resonating with truth, you have ceased to exist, you’re experiencing God, there is no more you, but then you come back down, you glide down to earth, you reintegrate, and you know you’re still “you” and you have to work on yourself and do something, you have to significantly change your behaviors in a lot of different ways, which is why aftercare with Ibogaine is so important.
LN: You yourself went to an ashram for aftercare, and that was what ended up being the thing that you needed to do. And there are probably other individuals like you, who have some spiritual philosophy or some practice they’re attracted to and making that philosophy or practice a part of your life or having a “framework” inside of which you can explore this chaos that’s been let loose in your skin is a really good idea.
PK: I absolutely agree. I, personally, believe in God, however you want to term that, or whatever that means to you. Everyone who can reconnect with spirituality has a significant source of strength that helps them move past all these obstacles and continue on their journey. It does make things a lot easier. But on the other hand, I know a lot of people who are atheists, who are still atheists after doing psychedelics, it’s like, okay, that was interesting. I tripped out, there’s all this stuff. It’s like being on the holo-deck, and they come back down, they believe in, well, pretty much the same things in the world they did beforehand, and they managed to stay clean too! It really is very individual dependent. And what worked for me may completely fail for somebody else, and just to be real, the 12 steps do work for a lot of people, I just was not one of them. You need to find something, it’s incumbent upon you to find what you have resonance with, and follow through with that.
The Medicalization of Ibogaine
After spending 7.5 years working at the University of Miami with Dr. Deborah Mash and studying the neuropathology of the brain, Patrick was one of the original founders of the Clear Sky Ibogaine clinic in Cancun Mexico, where it has been operating successfully since the 2000s.Today Patrick Kroupa is on the board of GITA, (Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance) and is involved in an effort to make ibogaine treatment medically available in Canada and Europe.
According to Patrick, “It can take a few more months, or it can take another year. But I strongly, strongly believe that ibogaine will be available to Canadian citizens in the very near term future. To put it into perspective, Canada has heroin maintenance, they give away free heroin to people in the hopes that they will stop dropping dead on fentanyl. Now that says two things. Number one, what it says is the government no longer knows what to do. They’ve run out of options. It’s just you keep dying on fentanyl, have some free heroin, please take it and stop dying. And number two, they’re very open-minded and actually care about their citizens and are trying to keep them alive. Canada has a very enlightened attitude. And up until 2017 Ibogaine was a completely unregulated molecule within Canada. In 2017, a certain company marketed ibogaine and essentially mixed it in with some vitamins and made it available over the counter and health food stores. And after some underground clinics without adequate medical supervision had adverse events and critical incidents, (critical incidents is the politically correct way of saying dead bodies) that made Health Canada wake up. And they added Ibogaine to the PDL, which is the prescription drug list.
The Psychedelic Renaissance
The one significant change that has happened, and it’s taken decades, is that for the first time since Timothy Leary scared the shit out of everybody, we’re in the midst of a psychedelic renaissance. Rick Doblin with MAPS has managed to get MDMA into Phase 3 clinical trials. The FDA has also fast-tracked psilocybin for treatment-resistant depression and have allowed nose-spray ketamine for depression. For the first time in history, the United States government is actually looking at what benefits these molecules could provide that no other medication addresses. In the case of ibogaine, there is a huge public health problem—the opioid epidemic—which is reaching pandemic status. It did not come solely from drug cartels smuggling drugs into the US; Purdue Pharma and other legal drug manufacturers played a huge role in addicting people. And there’s no legal solution to the epidemic. However, at this exact moment, psychedelics are on the cusp of entering mainstream life. Ibogaine is the one psychedelic drug that directly addresses opioid addiction. It works. So finally ibogaine actually has a chance to become accessible to people who need it worldwide.
About the Interviewer
Lakshmi Narayan is the founder and editor of awake.net, a non-profit collective wisdom blog about the inner journey with entheogens, and founder and creative director of Awake Media a digital media company offering media products and services to clients in integrative health, transformational technology, and mind-body-spirit healthcare. She has a decades long interest in the cause of repositioning psychedelics in the public mind, and educating people about the benefits, cautions, best practices and timeless wisdom that can be had from these experiences.
Editing: Eric Swenson Music rights: Sound Of Picture