What is Iboga?
When people say “Iboga,” they are actually referring to the second layer of root bark of the Tabernanthe Iboga Tree found throughout western Africa. The second layer of root bark is used because it has the highest level of active alkaloids found in the entire plant. Alkaloids are found throughout the plant but at much lower levels. There are over 30 active alkaloids in the plant. Sometimes, the Bwiti (will explain who they are later in the post) will also make a tea out of the innermost layer of the roots once the second layer is scraped off, but this is not something used outside of Gabon. The preparation of the medicine by the Bwiti (see below), is a very long process that involves a lot of beautiful singing and rituals before the finished product is ready to be used.
Iboga is now known worldwide as a highly effective Plant Medicine. Plant Medicines are growing in popularity throughout the world as powerful physical and spiritual tools for healing. As the Godfather of all plants, it can be used for physical healing, spiritual healing, and spiritual discovery. It is the only Plant Medicine that can help with all three of those things. Having both a masculine and feminine energy, it can also be flexible and adaptive to the experience each person needs.
What it isn’t
Iboga is not Ibogaine. Ibogaine, a much more well-known term, is actually referring to Ibogaine HCL, which is the completely extracted alkaloid, basically a prescription drug. Ibogaine is famous for being a highly effective treatment for drug addiction, particularly Opiate addiction. Ibogaine has the ability to stop opiate withdrawal completely, physically detox the person, and begin healing the things that led the person to be an addict in the first place. While Ibogaine comes from Iboga, all the other alkaloids have been extracted from the medicine. In addition, the spirit of the medicine is no longer present in Ibogaine HCL. For this reason, Ibogaine is only an effective tool for physical healing and detox but does not offer the spiritual healing that Iboga does.
Iboga is not like other plant medicines, entheogens, or psychedelics. The experience of this medicine is completely different. It is often compared with Ayahuasca since it is the most popular plant medicine in our time, but they are only similar in that they are plants that offer healing.
Outside of the physical and emotional healing and detox, it does not do the work for you. During the ceremony, it may show you how your mind works, review memories, and reconnect you with your own soul and personal truths. While it is mostly known as a plant healer, it is also a plant teacher, which of course means you get homework. The homework is simple, “just be.” It wants you to be yourself and to do what you want. It is your choice how to create the life you after your experience with the medicine, but it will stay with you after the ceremony to help you to see the choices and remind you.
What is does
Iboga is the most powerful and efficient healing tool on the planet right now (our biased opinion). As mentioned above, it is capable of physical healing, spiritual healing, and spiritual discovery. The experience is different for every person, every time. One person who does it multiple times may have a completely different experience each time. Two different people in the same ceremony will also have very different experiences. While it is difficult to find a general way to explain this, we can share some of the most commonly reported effects. First off, it does cause ataxia, so your body will not move like it normally does. When you try to move or walk, it is a varying degree of glitchy depending on the person. It generally takes anywhere from 15 mins- to 1.5 hours to start feeling the effects, and each person’s tolerance is different. Weight is not an effective way to determine tolerance. Someone who is 100 pounds may have a much higher tolerance than someone who weighs 300 pounds. As the effects begin to show, you may feel warm and fuzzy, have difficulty sitting still, be more easily distracted, feel a little disoriented, and you may want to lay down. When the effects are more pronounced, it may feel a bit like a dream. The visions people have can best be described in this way as well, like a clear vivid dream where memories are reviewed. Sometimes the effects may only be physical with no visions at all. Many people may say that their mind is continually racing, but this is actually one of the positive effects. What is actually happening is that Iboga is showing you how your mind works.
The effects are much longer than any other plant medicine. Generally, people feel the effects for 15-24 hours. Many people also report that it “stays with them,” in a helpful way, for months after their ceremony. Iboga is also scientifically proven to promote neuroplasticity, which is useful in the treatment of many ailments and helping people to build a new life, with positive habits after their treatment.
Iboga was first discovered by the Babongo people (also known as Pygmies, which is the name that was given to them by the French but is considered a derogatory term today) thousands of years ago. The story of its discovery as a sacrament and plant teacher is best told around the fire as it has been for a very long time, but I will share a little bit about it now. Basically, it was first ingested by two different women. The first woman unknowingly ingested a porcupine that had eaten the roots of the Tabernanthe Iboga Tree found all over Gabon. The second woman was the wife of the Chief (who was too scared to eat it himself, but too curious to let it go) who had asked her to do it for him. This time she ingested the actual roots and during her experience, a Tabernanthe Iboga Tree appeared to her and told her that it had seen them running all around looking for answers, and instead, whenever they had questions, they should ask “the medicine.” It was from that point on that everything Bwiti began to come from the sacrament itself.
Iboga is the sacrament of the Bwiti or “the medicine,” as they often call it. Since their discovery of it, everything that is Bwiti has come from the spirit of “the medicine.” Bwiti music, rituals, temples, fashion, spiritual practices, etc. all come from Iboga. When the Bwiti, ingest “the medicine,” it is generally done in what is known as initiations, or as part of traditional coming-of-age ceremonies.
The Bwiti have been the shepherds of this sacrament since they discovered it, keeping it safe from the potential abuses from the outside world. When the French and French missionaries came to Gabon, the Babongo and Bwiti people tried to keep it hidden from them. Some of the Bwiti did not and actually shared it with them, merging the Christian beliefs with their own. This group is known as “the Fang,” and are the most well-known because of their openness to the French and the missionaries. Of course, since most other sects of Bwiti were trying to keep it safe from the colonial aims of the western world, there is less known about these groups. Additionally, everything Bwiti is passed down from “breath-to-breath” or word of mouth, leaving very little literature for research, only that of those who have had direct access to them. The destiny of Iboga is married to the Bwiti, and both have been very elusive until this day. Some Bwiti Shamans, like the well-known Moughenda Mikala, have begun to share Iboga and the Bwiti practices with the western world.
Typically, Iboga is ingested within the retreat setting. Some retreats follow their own protocols, while others stick to the Bwiti tradition. Many people have been traveling to Gabon, to have the true “initiation” experience, as well. An Iboga retreat is generally very different from an Ibogaine clinic, which tends to be a more clinical/medical type of setting.
Iboga is a healing plant medicine that can offer physical healing, spiritual healing, and spiritual discovery. It has both masculine and feminine energy. It is not the same thing as Ibogaine, which is a treatment for Opiate addiction. It is not like other plant medicines, entheogens, or psychedelics. It is very different from Ayahuasca. It was first discovered by the Babongo and has been shepherded, cared for, and protected by the Bwiti for thousands of years. It is generally done in a retreat setting, but others may take it on their own (DO NOT DO THIS), or travel to Gabon for an initiation. If you have any questions or are interested in learning more about our retreats, please reach out at any time.
How and Why Iboga Works from a Scientific Perspective
How does it work on the body and the brain?
Ibogaine works on the brain by affecting several neurotrophic factors and neurotransmitters.
Neurotrophic factors are molecules in the brain that support the function and survival of brain cells, as well as the growth and development of new ones. Besides, they also stimulate the formation of new connections between the neurons (1).
The activation of these neurotrophic factors, and especially GDNF plays a key 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 which boosts their levels into 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. Simply put it makes it challenging to move and walk.
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.
What is it used for?
For the Bwiti, Iboga is the main sacrament of their tradition. They have used the shrub for physical and spiritual healing for thousands of years.
The Bwiti practitioners have also used Iboga to strengthen the tribe’s community, promote spiritual growth, and perform initiation rituals to guide their young men and women into adulthood.
The shrub was brought to Europe at the end of the 19th century and eventually reached the U.S. After the discovery of its anti-addictive properties in 1962, several studies and numerous experiments have been performed.
Currently, Ibogaine is available as a medication in several countries, including Portugal, New Zealand, Mexico, and Canada, where it is successfully used to treat symptoms of drug and alcohol addiction.
There is still a lot more research to be done regarding Iboga. Yet, the available scientific evidence clearly shows that Ibogaine has multiple benefits on mental health and brain function.
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 4 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.
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 main 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 has anxiolytic-like effects as well (11).
The evidence we have so far from human trials also supports that Ibogaine has anxiolytic properties.
There are reports revealing that anxiety, as well as symptoms of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder), were significantly reduced after Ibogaine therapy in 51 US Veterans (12).
Potential Future Applications
There is plenty of indirect evidence that Iboga has future potential in the treatment of 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 in attenuating 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).
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