Sunday, June 23, 2024

Can addiction be cured with ibogaine, a powerful psychedelic used in Mexican clinics?

One of the abiding quests of modern science has been the search for a substance capable of interrupting chemical dependency and ending addiction. Might that elixir be found in the psychoactive properties of the root bark of Tabernanthe iboga, an African shrub better known as iboga,? In the now-credible field of psychedelic research and treatment for mental health, ibogaine — a purified alkaloid extracted from the iboga root in labs —is not only proving successful, but represents a compelling alternative to expensive and lengthy rehabilitation treatments or opiate blockers like methadone, which can themselves become addictive. 

Medical providers from accredited clinics across Mexico confirm that ibogaine can ameliorate a broad range of physical addiction symptoms and cravings. Yet they also stress that maintaining sobriety requires a daily, continued effort towards a deep reorientation of self through consistent practices such as therapy, mindfulness, diet, exercise, sleep and healthy community. I delved into the history and usages of iboga, and the current rising popularity of use for treating addiction with ibogaine — especially in Mexico. What does clinical research show? How safe is it, and how best might you find a qualified, licensed facility and team of medical practitioners? And what exactly does this notoriously intense treatment entail? 

Talia Eisenberg, who alongside her partner Tom Feegel co-founded Beyond, an accredited clinic in Cancún, says many of their clients are also choosing ibogaine treatment to address not only chemical dependencies but other compulsive behaviors including sex, food, shopping and relationship addictions. Patients at Beond are also seeking deep soul-searching and human optimization and reset. Since the clinic opened in 2021, Eisenberg says, “we are trying to meet market demand. Addiction affects millions of Americans, as well as other countries like Mexico. Our facility has full time medical team members and 24/7 support — five physicians, an advising cardiologist, a dozen fifteen nurses, psychologists and a multitude of therapeutic coaches who work in different holistic modalities — who have decades of experience.”

“We created a new, holistic model that continues to evolve,” Eisenberg continues. “Alcohol, opiate and drug addictions can be very difficult to arrest, so our intention is to treat more than just the symptoms. We believe the core issue is often trauma, and recovery is only effective when there is a vital shift of perspective and purpose, healing of deeper trauma and a change in daily habits. The addiction crisis is a tragedy, but we have seen hundreds of people successfully recover and find happy, purposeful lives. Which is quite miraculous. It gives us hope for the future.”

A brief history of ibogaine

Chemical structure of ibogaine. (Wikimedia Commons)

The root bark of the Tabernanthe iboga plant has been consumed for hundreds of years by the Bwiti Indigenous peoples in Gabon for religious ceremonies and initiation rites. Bwiti practitioners cultivated the root bark specifically for radical spiritual growth, stabilizing family structures and community and the resolution of pathological conditions.  

Iboga was first described by Westerners in the 1890s, with the discovery of how to extract ibogaine coming a few years later. The drug was commercialized as a stimulant in the 1930s, but its anti-addictive value apparently went unnoticed until 1963, when Howard Lotsof, a young New Yorker with a heroin habit, first tried iboga Thirty hours after consuming the African root, Lotsof was amazed to realize that he wasn’t feeling the effects of his addiction. “For the first time in months, I did not want or need to score heroin,” he told The Independent in 1999. 

After much trial and error and underground reports confirming iboga’s effectiveness, Eric Taub, a former jeweler, finally managed to bring ibogaine treatment to an island close to the United States, where he started popularizing iboga. Claiming to have been prevented from setting up a clinic in Mexico by organized crime, Taub began treating patients on a boat in international waters. Lex Kogan, another avid proponent, had more success systematizing iboga administration in Costa Rica. It is only in the last few years that medically accredited clinics in Mexico, as well as the scientific data on iboga’s potential benefits, have caught the eye of the general public.

Mexico offers safe and effective ibogaine treatment for addiction

In the United States, ibogaine is a Schedule I controlled substance, placing it in the same category as heroin, cannabis and peyote. In countries including Mexico, Costa Rica and the Netherlands, however, it is unregulated, which has allowed clinics to flourish in Mexico. Over the last thirty years, clinical studies have attested to ibogaine’s medical benefits, and it is well documented that ibogaine poses higher risks — especially cardiac issues — than other psychedelics like psilocybin and ayahuasca.

Mexico has a variety of fully accredited medical ibogaine facilities. Other ibogaine treatment locations may not include any medical personnel besides a local doctor who might have a relationship with the provider to verify a patient’s fitness for ibogaine treatment. Some facilities are run solely by people who have used ibogaine to get sober and want to help others do the same. Beond founder Talia Eisenberg, who healed her own opioid addiction fifteen years ago in a makeshift clinic in Mexico, does not recommend these. 

“Ibogaine is tremendously powerful; often it’s like someone is shown a review of their life and the root causes of their issues, choices and mistakes. It’s an intense personal transformation,” she says. Eisenberg’s own “wild west” treatment cured her where rehabs and 12-step programs had failed. While under treatment, she had a vision of building a holistic facility in Mexico, but with the correct medical and therapeutic protocols, as well as a beautiful, nurturing and safe setting. Fast forward, and Beond is the successful manifestation of that vision. The clinic is quickly gaining attention in the media. 

As recently as December 2023, former Beond client and recovered addict Bobby Loughlin was featured on the “Today” show, with NBC’s Katie Snow reporting that ibogaine has emerged as a potential solution for those battling opioid addiction and that advocates are pushing for more research and its legalization. 

Jordan Belfort, the former Wall Street stockbroker and namesake of “The Wolf of Wall Street,” attests to curing his addiction at Beond. Though skeptical — not even opiate blockers had worked for him, he says — Belfort describes treatment at Beond as an instant cure. “Wait a second, what happened to my withdrawals?” he remembers saying. Belfort reports having paid full price to attend Beond, meaning that what he describes was not free treatment in exchange for promotion. 

Eisenberg is seeing many people wanting ibogaine treatment for what she calls life renewal: achieving greater focus, direction or healing. “We offer ibogaine as a tool to help people reboot,” she adds. 

What happens during an ibogaine treatment for addiction? 

Advocates say that one treatment with ibogaine, which lasts between 12 and 18 hours, depending on each individual’s metabolism, experience and the dosage, can lead to patients walking out free from addiction — essentially an overnight change. 

“We see about an 80% success rate in the acute amelioration of immediate withdrawal symptoms at our facility,” Eisenberg reports. This stands in stark contrast to “traditional rehab facilities with much lower success rates and opiate alternatives such as methadone, or suboxone, which those with chemical dependencies can remain addicted to for years.” According to Benjamin Malcom, PharmD, MPH, Joseph Barsuglia, PhD and Martin Polanco, MD, 78% of opiate use disorder (OUD) patients did not exhibit objective signs of opioid withdrawal 48 hours after ibogaine treatment. In a longitudinal prospective study over 12 months, according to Geoffrey E. Noller, PhD, ibogaine provided a 75-85% remission in 12 of 14 OUD patients. Alan Davis, Director of the Center for Psychedelic Drug Research and Education at the Ohio State University  says, “we think ibogaine is having an impact on the reward center of the brain.”

A medically controlled environment which effectively monitors side effects is crucial, and the staff at Beond are Mexican and U.S. medics, mostly trained in trauma-informedsupport in hospitals, who have moved to Beond to learn a more holistic approach to healthcare. “We believe in providing ibogaine treatment as an alternative to the opioid, fentanyl and meth crisis,” Eisenberg says. 

Beond’s intake protocol is rigorous and includes filling out a compliance health form, lengthy discussions with one of the clinic’s physicians, a necessary screening to detect any cardiac issues and tapering off current contraindicated medications under a doctor’s supervision. Once approved, a therapeutic coach is assigned before admission, and patients have access to an app that offers guidance for diet preparation, what to pack and further coaching support. 

Landing in Cancún, patients are picked up and driven to the clinic, which is located twenty minutes from the airport. Once there, the medical team oversees EKG and lab work on-site, and each patient has a private room. “Our priority is to stabilize each patient medically if need be, and help prepare them emotionally for the experience,” Eisenberg tells me. After multiple hours of treatment where single oral doses of ibogaine are administered, patients are monitored for 7 to 14 days, with medical staff tracking biomarkers and maintaining a complete blood count and liver enzyme levels, which are essential for safe ibogaine processing. Staff also administer magnesium concurrently with treatment in order to protect the heart. 

In a 2009 book chapter, University of Arizona researcher Emily Richer, MPH, reports that ibogaine is usually taken in capsule form, which can then induce an initial state of panic, mental and physical alterations, including ataxia, for up to twelve hours. “Excessive sweating and nausea that may lead to vomiting is not uncommon throughout the experience, especially in the first 4–6 hours,” Richer writes, but is then often followed by a powerful experience in which patients vividly recall key memories, such as the first time using drugs, significant life experiences and intense “storms of vibrant colors and unusual textures.”

Bobby Loughlin’s 2023 interview, on the “Today” show matches Richer’s description of ibogaine’s mental effects and testifies to the drug’s effectiveness. Loughlin reported having heard a “strong, masculine voice” yelling at him during his treatment, telling him that his decisions were the reason he was having the experience. He has never used heroin since or felt the desire to use. “It’s very intense to reconnect with yourself again after having been so far removed from yourself; it’s like getting to know an old friend,” he recalled. There’s an old adage in medical and spiritual traditions that knowledge is half the cure.  That seems to apply pertinently to treatment with psychedelics. Previous anecdotal evidence of rare cases of heart failure, psychosis and disturbing hallucinations does necessitate highly responsible professionals and a carefully designed program.

Ibogaine, Talia Eisenberg explains, stays in the system for up to three months, converting to a metabolite called noribogaine, which presents a window of opportunity where the brain is still in its greatest state of neuroplasticity. During this time, the staff at Beond encourage their clients to arrive at a “level of willingness to acquire new positive behaviors, in lieu of old, destructive ones.” Beond offers cold plunges, yoga, art therapy, breathwork, guided psychological workshops, healthy food, massage and myofascial release.

“We are also seeing more Mexicans arrive for addiction treatment,” Eisenberg says, mentioning that the Beond staff do their best to provide financial assistance for underserved Cancún locals. “There is still a stigma around mental health in Mexico, and it’s good to see the tide turning. We try and offer therapeutic support for loved ones and families also.”  

The future of ibogaine treatment has recently developed dramatically

Exciting developments occurred on January 5 of this year, when Stanford Medicine researchers discovered that ibogaine, combined with magnesium to protect the heart effectively and safely reduced PTSD, anxiety and depression and improved functioning in veterans with traumatic brain injuries — this is precisely the protocol that Beond uses. Dr. Martin Polanco made this discovery 10 years ago, but Stanford was the first to publish a data set of this size in “Nature,” which includes data on 30 veterans of U.S. special forces and is unique in that post-treatment MRIs showed PTSD and depression reduced by around 88%. 

“No other drug has ever been able to alleviate the functional and neuropsychiatric symptoms of traumatic brain injury,” Nolan Williams, MD, told the Stanford Medicine News Center. “The results are dramatic, and we intend to study this compound further.”

According to Research and Markets, psychedelic therapies are projected to grow into a nearly US $12 billion industry in the next five years. Ibogaine could offer enormous hope for alleviating the current opioid crisis in the U.S.

“This problem is rooted in long-term institutional inequality, including the unethical practices of large pharmaceutical companies,” Talia Eisenberg says. “It’s time for radical new thinking and policy change, led by a public benefit corporation or companies seeking to make a sincere and positive social impact, not just to fatten their profit margins. I envision a future where ibogaine treatment is affordable, safe, and accessible. We believe Beond is a model for what could be achieved on a much larger scale with ibogaine treatment.” 

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal or medical advice. The writer and Mexico News Daily assume no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content on this site. Individuals should always consult with qualified professionals regarding the use of ibogaine or any other substance for medical purposes, as well as consider their jurisdiction’s applicable laws and regulations.

Henrietta Weekes is a writer, editor, actor and narrator. She divides her time between San Miguel de Allende, New York and Oxford, UK.

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