Derived from the opium obtained from the opium poppy, heroin is a distant and more powerful cousin of morphine, but is known for being several times more powerful and even faster acting. Some forms of heroin can be smoked and it’s even possible to eat heroin or take it as a suppository, but the most common means of administering heroin are insufflation or inhalation through the sinuses and intravenous injection. Because of the drug’s accessibility, some are considering ibogaine treatment as an option to fight heroin addiction.
As an incredibly powerful opiate, the effects of heroin are comparable to the effects of abusing painkillers, which include euphoria, full-body warmth and tingling, numbness, drowsiness, and other effects common to opiate depressants. When a heroin addict ceases heroin use, he or she will experience acute withdrawal in as little as six hours after the last dose.
Withdrawal from heroin and many other opioids—described by many addicts as being incredibly unpleasant and painful—includes anxiety, depression, intense cravings, sweating, insomnia, chills and cold sweats, bone and muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, cramps, spasms in the limbs, and a number of other symptoms. Additionally, the post-acute withdrawal can last months or even a year or more beyond the period of acute withdrawal.
It’s widely accepted that we’re in the midst of a major international heroin pandemic. Even many addicts who preferred prescription pills and painkillers have begun to use heroin instead after a number of laws and formula changes that made the abuse of pain medication more difficult or even impossible. Due to the addictiveness of heroin and the high rates of heroin abuse worldwide, many addiction experts have been researching more effective ways to treat addiction to heroin and other opioid drugs.
To date, some of the most common methods of detoxing and recovering from heroin abuse include quitting heroin use suddenly and completely (“cold turkey”), replacement treatments using methadone or buprenorphine as well as inpatient treatment and residential treatment programs. However, none of the treatment methods that are widely used today have much of an effect on heroin addiction on a physiological level. In other words, current therapies serve to either treat heroin addiction or help individuals to manage it, but they don’t really treat the addiction with the intent of reducing or curing the disease of addiction.
Ibogaine Treatment: a Most Unconventional Method
Of the many unconventional and experimental treatments that have been studied, a substance called ibogaine has shown promising results. Ibogaine is a natural psychoactive substance that’s found in certain species of shrubs and trees that are indigenous to African rainforests. According to reports, the psychedelic is known to have been used for ritual and medicinal purposes by African pygmy tribes as well as other tribes who likely learned these techniques from the pygmies. Although it was first recorded by French and Belgian explorers in the 1800s, ibogaine wasn’t closely studied by Western scholars until it was synthesized in the mid-twentieth century and subsequently banned from most markets shortly thereafter, reported to put users at risk of physical dependence on the substance.
In the 1960s, there were clinical trials conducted to observe the direct effects caused by consuming ibogaine. Researchers found that rats who were chemically dependent and addicted to cocaine or heroin experienced a marked decline in self-administration of cocaine and heroin respectively after they were given ibogaine, which indicated that the substance diminished the effects of withdrawal symptoms. Despite evidence that ibogaine could treat narcotic addiction in animals, it wasn’t until 1990 that the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) funded and renewed research on the ability of ibogaine to treat addiction.
Though the results of the research were promising, the research was discontinued by NIDA in 1995. However, a separate study conducted in 2000 tested ibogaine on heroin-addicted human subjects and confirmed much of the prior research, stating that the psychedelic was able to attenuate heroin addiction and opioid withdrawal. Over the course of several separate research studies on ibogaine, it’s been found that the substance can be used to effectively treat addiction to heroin, methadone, alcohol, cocaine, steroids, methamphetamine, and many other drugs.
Most recent analyses of ibogaine as a form of treatment compare it to those studies some decades ago that proposed the use of LSD as a means of therapy. As such, the experience of using ibogaine as an addiction treatment is somewhat spiritual in context. Used as a form of interruption therapy, ibogaine treatment induces dream-like visions while the individual is awake in which it’s been reported that they experience instructive replays of pivotal life effects that contributed to their addiction or are confronted by fears and negative emotions that drive the disease of addiction.
It’s been suggested that, if ibogaine is used as addiction treatment, supplemental treatments such as therapy, intensive counseling, and aftercare would be required in order for the ibogaine treatment to have an optimal value.
Will Ibogaine Treatment Be Used for Addiction Rehab in the United States?
Though ibogaine has also been implicated in the treatment of many types of addiction in numerous studies, it’s a psychedelic with dissociative properties and produces a number of negative side effects that would be concerning in medicinal use. As such, ibogaine has been banned in the United States since the 1960s. One of the most prominent effects of ibogaine at significant doses is a loss of fine and gross motor coordination, which makes it difficult for individuals to walk or even stand without assistance.
Other common symptoms—which tend to last a long time at between 4 and 24 hours—include nausea, vomiting, and dry mouth, which can be so severe that it’s common for ibogaine to be administered as a suppository so the individual doesn’t expel the dose by vomiting. What’s more, ibogaine has many adverse effects with psychotropic medications, which would make it inadvisable for dual-diagnosis patients—those individuals who receive treatment for a mental or emotional disorder alongside addiction—to receive ibogaine treatment for addiction. There has also been evidence that ibogaine has agitated certain heart conditions and can have a potentially fatal reaction to certain foods, particularly citrus foods and any food that contains bergamot oil.
In order for ibogaine treatment to make it to the United States, there would have to be sufficient proof that ibogaine treatment is more helpful than it has the potential to harm, which presently requires continued research and clinical trials. However, preliminary results as developing ibogaine into a medicinal, clinical, therapeutic treatment are promising. Current studies have identified the potential of ibogaine to break destructive habits.
According to research, ibogaine has a way of resetting the dopamine uptake pathways in the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, which is a feat that no other known substance has been able to accomplish with such accuracy and to such a magnitude. If ongoing research continues to reinforce the notion that ibogaine is a uniquely effective way of repairing the damage and changes that substance abuse causes in the brain and in the behavior of addicts, it’s likely that ibogaine treatment will be officially recognized and offered in the United States.