Ibogaine to Treat Heroin Addiction

Ibogaine to Treat Heroin Addiction

Heroin addiction is a terrible disease and one that requires serious and dedicated treatment. Many types of treatment have been used to try to help these addicts kick the habit, but success is always limited. The hold that heroin has on its users is powerful. Researchers and addiction caregivers are always interested in new treatment techniques that may be able to help. Some have turned to a hallucinatory drug, ibogaine, in a controversial ritual designed to help cure heroin addicts. 

Heroin’s Hold

Heroin is one of the most addictive substances known to man, and, according to some, the most addictive. It was originally created as a medicine, as it is a potent painkiller and cough suppressant. Soon after it was created in the laboratory, it was made illegal for its serious side effects and extreme addictiveness. Today, users take it to get a high, but soon become dependent on it just to feel normal. When an addict stops using heroin, the withdrawal symptoms are so severe that staying clean rarely lasts long.

Use of heroin has become a major public health problem in recent years. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of new users of heroin doubled from 2007 to 2012. In 2012, nearly half a million people were addicted and that number continues to grow.

What Is Ibogaine?

Treatment for heroin addiction ranges from 12-step programs to intensive rehab, to medicated detox, maintenance therapy with other drugs, and harm reduction. And yet, nearly 90 percent of people trying to quit a heroin habit end up relapsing. Researchers are beginning to take note of a drug called ibogaine, which some claim can help heroin addicts get clean.

Ibogaine is a naturally occurring drug that comes from a native African plant called iboga. Shamans have long used ibogaine, which causes hallucinations, in religious rituals and to cure people of everything from evil spirits to medical illnesses. The drug may have first come to the U.S. in the 1950s when, according to legend, CIA researchers cured 10 men of morphine addiction.

Research on how the drug can help addicts is limited, but the work that has been done is promising. Those who take it experience a trip that lasts 36 hours to three days and claim to wake from it with no desire to use drugs. Currently, ibogaine is being used in the Netherlands, but it is illegal in the U.S.

The Ibogaine Ritual

Americans may not be allowed to use ibogaine here, but that doesn’t stop desperate addicts from trying the ibogaine cure. Many travel to other countries to experience either a clinical type of treatment with ibogaine or an African-style ritual of ibogaine use and ceremonial healing. In the Netherlands, ibogaine clinics treat heroin addicts in a medical manner, administering the drug under a doctor or nurse’s care.

In Costa Rica, a man who underwent the ibogaine cure in the Netherlands decades ago now performs neo-African rituals to help cure heroin addicts. Although the success stories are numerous, it is important to remember that ibogaine is a serious and powerful drug. There are important risks and side effects including nausea, vomiting, poor muscle coordination, arrhythmia, respiratory difficulties and even seizures.

While the evidence for ibogaine as a valid treatment for heroin addiction seems promising, there are hurdles to getting it approved for use in the U.S. So far, few pharmaceutical companies have been interested in researching it. Almost all use and research has been conducted in other countries. Still, the idea of a one-time cure for heroin addiction is exciting and may be developed more in the future.

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