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In 2016, I attended the Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance (GITA) conference in Tepoztlan, Mexico. I learned a lot about iboga, the “bois sacré” (sacred wood), a psychoactive plant used in traditional initiations and other indigenous practices in the west African countries of Gabon, Cameroon, and Democratic Republic of the Congo. I also found out about iboga’s powerful alkaloid, ibogaine, which is one of the most effective and natural treatments on Earth for addiction interruption and healing. As demand increases for iboga/ibogaine, we face the usual problems of sustainable supply and larger-scale farms developing fast enough to meet the demand so that the native populations who have been using it for centuries aren’t depleted and exploited.

The efficacy of ibogaine, particularly important during the current opioid crisis, makes it increasingly sought after by addicts and therapists. It also works well for curing alcoholism, cocaine, methamphetamine, and other addictions and may have additional therapeutic uses, including micro-dosing, that merit scientific research.

Legalization of iboga is the subject of our campaign called Iboga Saves. Iboga and ibogaine are currently illegal in the United States and that needs to change so that people struggling with addiction can get the help they need. Clinics have sprung up around the world, and the increasing use of iboga and ibogaine is putting pressure on existing plant stock growing in the jungles of western Central Africa. 

I spoke with several providers of ibogaine to ascertain the gravity of the iboga situation today.

Should we be concerned? The consensus is YES, particularly because of poaching and careless harvesting, which kills the native plants. African Bwiti practitioners now have to pay for iboga bark, which used to be easily foraged in the wild. Their traditional sacrament is now becoming expensive and causing hardship for those who are in poverty. As one African man said during the GITA conference, the western world should not steal once again from the African continent, this time plundering botanical and cultural treasures. Additional problems of environmental degradation, corruption, and climate change continue to affect the availability of iboga. More information can be found here on the ongoing problems of iboga sustainability in Africa.

Fortunately, new commercial farms are popping up in Cameroon, Ghana, Brazil, Mexico, Thailand, and DR Congo and are also being planned in India.

Iboga plants take eight years to mature, so full production will take time. There is a healthy global market for iboga root bark (the traditional African way to ingest the plant) and for its alkaloid, ibogaine. Ibogaine can also be synthesized from the Voacanga africana plant, which is widely used for healing by indigenous people throughout mainland tropical Africa. Use of Voacanga takes stress off of iboga, but large scale use of Voacanga by pharmaceutical companies makes this plant vulnerable to the same burdens that impact the sustainability of iboga. Another viable option for the use of Ibogaine as an addiction interruptor is the formulation of a synthetic version such as MC-18.

The long-term prospects for commercial growth

According to Adrian Macon, an iboga farmer in Ghana, “If iboga were to be commercialized industrially, the first step would be to identify the subspecies, their differences in alkaloids and growth cycles, as well as the best locations to cultivate. Then you could better design genetics to farm the highest output. For this first step to take hold, seed banks need to be established. This is more or less where we’re at now in cultivation. We are still expanding farms and intending to provide everyone with sustainably grown iboga in the future. The value of this plant is extraordinary and will probably continue to play a part in treatment and spiritual ceremonies for many years to come.” 

Research into faster ways of growing iboga, such as  experimenting with “hairy root culture” in a laboratory setting, is needed but has been stymied by legal issues and lack of funds. In spite of the setbacks, legions of former addicts and mystics swear their loyalty to this masterful plant teacher, which is indeed sacred to many around the globe. Let’s make sure we treat it well.

 

About Iboga 

Iboga Tabernathe is a woody shrub native to West Africa that matures in seven or eight years. Legend has it that its properties were discovered by a Pygmy couple who killed and then cooked a porcupine that had just eaten iboga and subsequently got very high from its flesh, and that was how its shamanic properties were discovered. The Pygmies passed it on to the Bwiti tribe in Gabon who have been using the root bark as a part of their rite of passage into adulthood for centuries. Its action on addiction was discovered in 1962 by Howard Lotsoff, a 19-year-old drug addict in New York City with the reputation of being someone who would “try anything.” A couple days after he took ibogaine, he noticed that his craving for heroin was gone. After this turning point, Lotsoff tried for decades to make iboga and ibogaine a legitimate medicine for addiction and helped to spread the word about it to the mainstream, but it remains a schedule 1 substance in the US and not legally available to the public.

 

About the Author

Ana Holub, MA, teaches forgiveness and recovery from addiction as a counselor, author, poet, and educator. She holds a BA in Peace Studies and an MA in Dispute Resolution from Pepperdine University School of Law. She is also a senior recovery coach with Being True To You. As an expert in the field of forgiveness and reconciliation, Ana was honored as a Champion of Forgiveness by the Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance (2018). She is a frequent speaker on the essential role of forgiveness in various settings, including during the use of entheogens for inner healing and deep spiritual liberation. Her books include Forgive and Be Free and The Edges Are Friendly. She has also created four online courses, including Forgive and Be Free of Your AddictionsWEBSITE

With America in the grip of an opioid epidemic, we need Ibogaine treatments to be made available in the United States.

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