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  • Writer's pictureDr. Martin Polanco

Ibogaine therapy for drug addiction

Ibogaine is a psychoactive alkaloid extracted from the root bark of the Tabernanthe iboga plant that grows in West Africa regions. Ibogaine in small doses produces a mild stimulant effect while in large doses it induces a profound psychedelic state.

In the 1960’s Howard Lotsof discovers the anti-addictive properties of ibogaine. While being a teen drug user, he inadvertently discovered that after a several-hour trip he had not used any heroin and had no withdrawal symptoms. Lotsof then administered doses of ibogaine to about 20 people, seven of whom were heroin addicts, and five of the 7 addicts reported that they did not use heroin for 6 months or longer. He began encouraging researchers, public officials, and pharmaceutical companies to study ibogaine’s potential as an addiction interruptor.

The US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) started developing Phase I and II clinical trial protocols for ibogaine but decided to end this project in 1995. Exact causes for the cancellation remain unknown, but rumored reasons range from contract disagreements, fear of unproven neurotoxicity, the pharmaceutical industry’s alleged lobby against it, and NIDA’s supposed bias against the psychedelic aspects of ibogaine.

Lotsof still believed in ibogaine’s positive results, he continued to push for research. He produced research protocols, created safety guidelines, searched for funding, and joined with partners interested in ibogaine research and treatment facilities. As an ex-addict, Howard knew that drug addicts had very few choices or medications to treat their addiction, and here there was a substance with such profound positive results that he needed to pursue ibogaine therapy development.

Since the 1980’s, ibogaine has been used therapeutically for the detoxification to drugs like heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, methadone and alcohol. Both scientific studies and anecdotal reports suggest that a single administration of ibogaine has the ability to remove the symptoms of drug-withdrawal and to reduce the drug-craving for a period of time after administration.

The effectiveness of ibogaine for drug addiction treatment is based on how it works in multiple receptor sites of the brain, having effects both physiologically and psychologically. Ibogaine resets the neurotransmitter receptors to a novice state and has demonstrated neuroprotective effects on dopamine receptors, dopamine is the ‘feel good’ chemical. Iboga adjusts the brain chemistry so that the drug addict does not experience withdrawal symptoms or cravings after a treatment. Scientists exploring the potential of this drug in addiction treatment do not believe ibogaine completely ends addiction; instead, it interrupts the process.

Studies show that ibogaine increases levels of glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), a protein that promotes the growth of new neurons in the brain, providing neuroplasticity and facilitating for new habits to be developed. GDNF is found in reward regions of the brain linked to drug addiction.

While ibogaine can ease withdrawal and prevent cravings, the process is more like a detox than ending an addiction. There are still steps to be taken after a person no longer physically needs or seeks out their drug of preference. Ibogaine therapy for drug addiction is a detox treatment that includes the administration of ibogaine, within a safe and controlled environment, providing alternative therapies to support the drug addict in the detox process.

Dr. Martin Polanco’s experience in providing ibogaine therapy for drug addiction includes a strong focus on safety and effectiveness, the treatment should be done in a fully clinical setting with proper medical screening and therapeutic support. Through his work he has seen how some individuals stop using drugs and alcohol permanently after a single ibogaine addiction treatment, while others need an aftercare rehabilitation program post-treatment.

Medical professionals who have used ibogaine to treat drug addiction report a 50%-80% success rate, though long-term recovery and relapse depends on the patient going to aftercare or rehabilitation program after ibogaine therapy. When patients return to the same environment after a detoxification treatment with ibogaine then the risk for relapse is about 80%. For an ibogaine therapy to be successful long-term the patient needs to have an after care plan, that includes therapy support, group support or a community and healthy environment.

An important part of ibogaine therapy for drug addiction is the aftercare recovery provided by medical professionals, therapists, counselors and others who work in rehabilitation programs. An ibogaine clinic should work with their patients to ensure they have a plan for their recovery. For long lasting recovery the patient needs to learn new behaviors, understand the root of their addiction, learn to manage emotional experiences and have support from family, friends, therapist and group support.

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