Table of Contents
What Is Iboga?
Iboga is a profoundly healing plant medicine from equatorial west Africa (Gabon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cameroon). It is known as the “Godfather of all Plant Medicines” and is the only one that can be used for physical healing, spiritual healing, and spiritual discovery. Iboga has both a masculine and female spirit and can be flexible and adaptive to the healing experience each person needs.
The term “Iboga” actually refers to the second layer of root bark found on the Tabernanthe Iboga shrub. The second layer of root bark is used because it contains the highest level of active alkaloids. Alkaloids are present throughout the plant but at much lower concentrations.
What does Iboga do?
Iboga is a deeply grounding medicine that uses the truth to heal. Its goal is to bring you back to your original true self and reconnect you to your soul. It does this by first clearing out (detoxing) anything it can that doesn’t belong physically and mentally. This is often experienced as random thoughts, images, and such flowing by as it cleans everything out, much like defragmenting a computer. Iboga will also show you how your mind works, revealing patterns of thinking that you may have picked up throughout your life that are not genuine or healthy. After Iboga restores peace to the mind, it reveals the origins of your suffering and continues to teach you by showing you the truth. In short, it helps you release patterns, memories, and traumas to free you from them – so you can be the true you. After the ceremony, Iboga continues to help you by improving mindfulness and promoting neuroplasticity so you can create a new, healthier life with ease.
That being said, the experience is different for every person every time. Therefore, one person who does it multiple times will have a different experience each time. Likewise, two people in the same ceremony will have very different experiences. This is because Iboga is a highly intelligent spirit that gives each person their own perfect healing experience to fit their specific needs – in the way they will best understand.
What are the effects of Iboga?
Compared to other plant medicines, its effects last much longer. The effects usually last between 15 and 24 hours. There are stages to the experience, which are:
Initially, you’ll feel warm and fuzzy, you’ll be more easily distracted, you’ll feel disoriented, and you may want to lie down. Generally, it takes 15 minutes to 1.5 hours for people to feel the effects, and each person’s tolerance varies. A person’s weight is not a good indicator of their tolerance. A 100-pound person may have a higher tolerance than a 300-pound person.
*Iboga causes ataxia, so your body will not move like it usually does. As a result, people experience varying degrees of glitchiness when moving or walking. Therefore, having someone to help you to the bathroom is essential.
The ceremony phase is when the effects are the most pronounced, and you will lie very still, focused deep inside. It may feel like a very lucid dream where memories are reviewed. In some cases, visions may not occur, but healing takes place using the other five senses. Even if someone does have visions, they will not be like other psychedelics or entheogens. Everything that happens to you has a purpose: to heal you and reveal the truth to you. The way this manifests is hyper-individualized to your specific needs and best means of understanding.
The processing phase is one of the most beneficial stages of the Iboga experience and happens the day after the ceremony. It can be a very emotional time because everything you have been storing mentally and somatically throughout your life is now coming to the surface and leaving. This is also a period where you will get powerful insights and revelations about your life – insights that will stick with you.
Iboga is both a healer and a teacher, which means you get homework. Many people also report that it “stays with them,” in a helpful way, for months after their ceremony. This manifests as enhanced mindfulness (awareness) of their behaviors and choices, coupled with a supportive reminder about what they learned. Moreover, Iboga promotes neuroplasticity, allowing people to more easily repattern their lives and cement better habits
Where does Iboga come from?
Iboga was first discovered by the Babongo people a very, very long time ago in southern Gabon. The Tabernanthe Iboga shrub grows naturally in equatorial west Africa, primarily in Gabon, Cameroon, and the Congo. However, some people have also begun growing it outside its natural habitat.
Ibogaine, found in Tabernanthe Iboga, can also be found in other plants, like Voacanga Africana. Therefore, many people have begun using this plant instead, as it is a more sustainable source.
How is Iboga Made?
The traditional preparation of the medicine by the Bwiti is a long process involving beautiful singing and rituals before the finished product is ready to be used. The process involves removing and discarding the first layer of root bark and then removing and separating the second layer of root bark for use. It is then ground up into a finer powder for use. In Gabon, it is typically stored in large glass bottles. Sometimes, the Bwiti will make tea from the discarded root bark.
Outside of Gabon, there are other varieties of use for Iboga. Iboga TA (total alkaloid extract) is created by extracting the active alkaloids from the root bark via a chemical process. There is also Ibogaine which is the single extracted alkaloid done by an even more extensive chemical process.
What Iboga Isn't
Iboga is not Ibogaine. In reality, Ibogaine refers to Ibogaine HCL, which is a fully extracted alkaloid, basically a prescription drug. Ibogaine is famous for its effectiveness in treating drug addiction, particularly opiate addiction. A person who consumes Ibogaine can prevent opiate withdrawal completely, detox physically, and begin healing the things that made them an addict in the first place.
Ibogaine is found in Iboga but is just one of the active alkaloids. Iboga also contains other alkaloids that are effective for healing. Ibogaine HCL also lacks the spirit of Iboga, so it is only beneficial for physical healing and detox, not spiritual healing.
There are also many differences between Iboga and other plant medicines, entheogens, or psychedelics. The experience is entirely different. It is often compared with Ayahuasca since it is the most popular plant medicine in our time, but they are very different. We will expand upon the experience below, but essentially Iboga roots you deeply back into yourself while other psychedelics/entheogens take you outward on a visionary journey to heal.
Bwiti is a spiritual tradition in Gabon, Cameroon, and the Congo that uses Iboga as their sacrament. It originated with the Babongo people of southern Gabon, who were also the ones who discovered Iboga.
Since they discovered Iboga long ago, everything in the Bwiti tradition has come from it. Bwiti music, rituals, temples, fashion, spiritual practices, etc., were all given to them by the spirit of Iboga. Generally, Bwiti ingest “the medicine” in initiations, ceremonies, or microdoses throughout the day.
The Bwiti have been the shepherds of this sacrament since they discovered it, keeping it safe from potential abuses from the outside world. There have been periods when they shared it with others and times when they had to pull back because these people were misusing it. For example, when the French and French missionaries came to Gabon, the Babongo and Bwiti people tried to keep it hidden until it was safe to share. However, not all went into hiding from the French. Some Bwiti adopted the missionary’s Christian beliefs into their practices, blending the two. This form of Bwiti is the most heavily represented by the literature and online, but it is just one version. There are still branches of Bwiti that practice it in the traditional way before the influence of Christianity.
To learn more about the Bwiti tradition, please visit the Bwiti page.
What is an Iboga Retreat
Outside of Africa, people typically consume Iboga in a retreat setting. Some retreats follow their own protocols, while others adhere to the Bwiti tradition. An Iboga retreat is usually very different from an Ibogaine clinic, which tends to be a more clinical/medical setting. Taking Iboga on your own can be dangerous, so it is recommended that you do your own research and find a retreat center or experienced guide to help you.
What is the history of iboga use
Iboga was discovered by the Babongo people of southern Gabon very long ago. Yet, since the Bwiti tradition is oral, the specific dates were not recorded by anyone.
As is traditional, the story of its discovery is best told around the fire. In summary, Iboga was discovered when a Bwiti Babongo woman ingested a porcupine that had eaten some Iboga roots. A different Babongo woman also did the first intentional ingestion of Iboga shortly after this. From this point on, Bwiti and Iboga became connected, and everything in the Bwiti tradition was given to them by the spirit of Iboga. As their sacrament, they have continued to use it for physical and spiritual healing for thousands of years. It is also used to strengthen the tribe’s community, promote spiritual growth, and perform initiation rituals to guide young men and women into adulthood.
Iboga was brought to Europe at the end of the 19th century, and research into its benefits soon began. A prescription drug named Lamberene was also on the market in France for a period.
Eventually, Ibogaine’s anti-addictive benefits were discovered by Howard Lotsof when he ingested it and noticed that his desire to use heroin was gone, and the withdrawals never happened. After this discovery in 1962, there has been much scientific research and many Ibogaine treatments.
More recently, Bwiti practitioners have begun sharing their beautiful traditions with the outside world, which has led to Iboga being used more in this traditional context.
Currently, there is more and more research regarding the benefits of Iboga and its alkaloids. Many options are also available for people who want to work with Iboga or its alkaloids for healing. Retreats are offered in Gabon with the Bwiti, Ibogaine Clinics, Traditional Bwiti Iboga Retreat Centers, and more today.
How and why Iboga works from a scientific perspective
How does Iboga work on the body and the brain?
Ibogaine works on the brain by affecting several neurotrophic factors and neurotransmitters (Dopamine, N-methyl-d-aspartate, kappa-opioid, sigma, and nicotine).
Neurotrophic factors are molecules in the brain that support the function and survival of brain cells and the growth and development of new ones. Besides, they also stimulate the formation of new connections between the neurons (1).
The molecules affected by Ibogaine are the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), Glial cell-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (GDNF), and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) (2).
The activation of these neurotrophic factors, especially GDNF, plays a crucial role in Ibogaine’s long-lasting anti-addictive properties (3).
Furthermore, studies report that the alkaloid may be able to repair some of the damage done by long-term drug abuse (4).
The most notable neurotransmitters affected by Ibogaine include dopamine and serotonin. The alkaloid blocks their transporters, boosting their levels in the brain (5).
These effects have a beneficial potential for conditions linked to low dopamine and serotonin levels, such as addiction, anxiety, depression, and even neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s.
Due to the effects on certain neurotransmitters and their receptors, Ibogaine may also lead to transitory side effects such as ataxia and dry mouth. Ataxia stands for a disturbance in muscle coordination.
Another side-effect is that Ibogaine blocks some of the ion channels in the heart that control its rhythm. Therefore, cardiovascular diseases are an absolute contraindication against Iboga therapy.
Iboga for Addiction Treatment and Detox
Ibogaine is successfully used for attenuating the withdrawal symptoms of heroin, morphine, oxycodone, amphetamine, cocaine, alcohol, and nicotine addictions.
In one study, 80% of 88 participants reported a significant reduction in withdrawal symptoms after at least four years of drug abuse history (6). Furthermore, many achieved complete cessation of drug use.
In another study, a single dose of 200mg Ibogaine was sufficient to suppress drug-seeking behavior in all patients – in some cases for longer than 12 months and possibly permanently (7).
As a secondary outcome, the alkaloid also reduced the symptoms of depression in all participants.
Iboga as a therapy for Mental health Problems
Thanks to its effects on brain neurotransmitters, Ibogaine appears to improve symptoms of diseases related to chemical imbalances in the brain.
For example, animal experiments report that a single dose of Ibogaine has significant antidepressant effects (8). These benefits are likely owed to its principal active metabolite called noribogaine, which increases serotonin levels in the brain (9).
Clinical trials in humans also support the anti-depressive effects of Ibogaine, in addition to its anti-addictive properties (10).
Another animal study suggests that the alkaloid also has anxiolytic-like effects (11).
The evidence we have so far from human trials also supports that Ibogaine has anxiolytic properties.
There are reports revealing that anxiety, and symptoms of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), were significantly reduced after Ibogaine therapy in 51 US Veterans (12).
Potential Future Applications of Iboga & Ibogaine
There is plenty of indirect evidence that Iboga has future potential in treating autoimmune and degenerative neurological conditions like Parkinson’s.
For example, Ibogaine is a potent activator of GDNF. The neurotrophic factor is actively investigated for its potential to treat Parkinson’s by stimulating the formation of new brain cells.
Studies in patients report about 40% improvement after GDNF therapy, but only when the brain tissue is infused directly via invasive procedures (13).
Iboga may offer a less invasive alternative since it reaches deep into the brain’s tissues even after oral use and may stimulate GDNF activity exactly where it is needed in Parkinson’s (14).
A recent study also suggests that psychedelics like Ibogaine may have the potential to attenuate autoinflammation in neural tissues (15). For example, the alkaloid can reduce inflammation by activating the sigma-1 receptors (Sig1R) in the brain.
Preliminary research has shown that Ibogaine may have some antimicrobial potential. For example, one in vitro study reports that the alkaloid has anti-viral activity against the virus causing AIDS (HIV) (16).
Another experiment suggests that Ibogaine effectively kills the bacterium of tuberculosis (17).
Yet, the shrub appears most potent in treating fungal infections caused by Candida albicans.
In one animal experiment, it prevented 50% of fungal adhesion and significantly reduced the risk of complications when used early on during the infection (18).