Iboga vs Ayahuasca
A Comprehensive Comparison
Both Iboga and Ayahuasca are master teachers that ignite lasting, profound spiritual transformations. In addition, they are both Plant Medicines or Entheogens used for healing by indigenous groups for thousands of years.
However, apart from this, they are VERY different.
In this post, we describe each, their main differences, and then go into more depth for those who are interested.
So, let’s first define entheogenic plants and then discuss the notable differences between Iboga and Ayahuasca.
Table of Contents
Is Iboga Like Ayahuasca?
While both are powerful and highly beneficial Entheogens, Iboga and Ayahuasca have very different characteristics. The spirit of Ayahuasca is feminine; thus, it is known as Mother Ayahuasca, Grandmother Ayahuasca, or Aya. Iboga, on the other hand, is both masculine and feminine and is often regarded as Grandfather or Godfather.
Iboga & Ayahuasca also have distinct ways of conveying their messages, teachings, and effects.
Ayahuasca sends you out and Iboga brings you inward. While Ayahuasca takes you up into the cosmos, Iboga takes you down to the roots, grounding you into yourself, the earth, and reality.
Regardless of their unique approaches, these two Entheogens have much to offer humanity. But what are Entheogens?
What are Entheogens?
Entheogens are mind-altering substances used for centuries in religious and spiritual rituals. These substances are typically found in nature; however, some people include synthetic substances in this category. Entheogens can be consumed in many ways, including smoking, snorting, and ingesting. The effects of Entheogens vary depending on the substance, the dosage, and the individual. Some common effects include altered states of consciousness, changes in perception, increased heart rate, and enhanced spiritual experiences. Entheogens can be beneficial tools for self-exploration, deep healing, and personal growth when used properly. However, they should always be respected.
What is Ayahuasca?
Chances are, you’ve probably heard of Ayahuasca before. This psychoactive brew has been gaining much popularity in recent years as more and more people seek out its powerful spiritual and healing effects. But what exactly is Ayahuasca?
Ayahuasca is a psychoactive brew made from the leaves of the Psychotria Viridis plant, the stem of the Banisteriopsis Caapi vine, and some other ingredients. While Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria Viridis are the two most popular plants used in making the brew, traditional shamans each tend to have their own unique blends. These various recipes can include other plants, such as Datura, Nicotiana rustica & Justicia pectoralis, to optimize the brew’s effectiveness.
This powerful concoction has been used for centuries by indigenous peoples in South America for religious and spiritual purposes. More recently, Ayahuasca has gained popularity as a tool for healing and self-discovery among Westerners.
Traditional Ayahuasca ceremonies are often led by a shaman or ayahuasquero who has extensive experience working with plant medicine. The effects of Ayahuasca can last for several hours, and many people report having powerful visions and insights during their experience.
Although Ayahuasca is becoming more well-known in mainstream society, it’s important to remember that this is a powerful plant medicine that should be treated with respect. If you’re considering participating in an Ayahuasca ceremony, do your research and choose a reputable shaman or healer to work with.
Where does Ayahuasca come from?
Ayahuasca is indigenous to South Americans of the Amazon Basin, as they are the first tribes to formulate the brew. Unlike most other plants in ayahuasca brews, the ayahuasca vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) is not found in the entire Amazon. The ayahuasca vine is found in the Upper Amazon Basin countries of Peru, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador. The ayahuasca vine can grow up to 30 meters in length and has large green leaves on the top and purple on the bottom—the ayahuasca vine blooms with white flowers containing a strong scent.
There are various angles to the history of this ancient brew. Some writers believe it has existed for about 1,000 years, while some claim it is around 5,000 years old or older.
Regardless of the debate, there is a consensus that Ayahuasca is ancient, and it originated from the Upper Amazon Basin.
Popularity of Ayahuasca
The global popularity of Ayahuasca started in 1970 when Dennis and Terence McKenna traveled to the Colombian Amazon in search of a DMT-containing plant called oo-koo-he and wrote the famous book True Hallucinations. Their research findings, local and international speaking engagements, and books helped popularize Ayahuasca across the globe.
In recent years, Ayahuasca has become increasingly popular, thanks to its exposure in popular media, such as books and documentaries. In addition, famous influencers and podcasters have been sharing their experiences publicly, and it is no longer taboo.
Ayahuasca tourism has become a booming industry, with people from all over the world traveling to Peru and other countries to drink Ayahuasca under the guidance of a shaman.
The use of Ayahuasca is so widespread that it is no longer limited to South America. You can now find Ayahuasca ceremonies in most cities of the world.
What is Iboga?
Chances are that you have yet to hear about Iboga, or at least you don’t know as much about it. While it has been growing in popularity in recent years with the boom of the entire field, it is still the least known of the Plant Medicines or Entheogens. So what exactly is Iboga?
Iboga is the inner root bark of the Tabernanthe Iboga plant, a small perennial shrub native to some West African countries and used for medicinal, ritual, healing, and ceremonial purposes.
It has small green leaves, yellowish-white or pink flowers, and an orange oval or round fruit. Its average height is 4 meters, though it can grow up to 10 meters in a favorable environment.
It has many naturally-occurring active alkaloids in its stem bark, root, leaves, and root bark. The inner root bark has the highest concentration of alkaloids and what is used for ceremonies.
Where does Iboga come from?
Iboga is indigenous to central west Africa, particularly Gabon, Cameroon, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Bwiti have used it as their sacrament for thousands of years. Bwiti is a spiritual tradition that started with the Babongo (also known as Bongo Pygmies) and is now practiced in many West African countries. Since Bwiti is an oral tradition, the actual date that Iboga use started is unknown, but it is very likely that Iboga is the first Entheogen to be used in human history.
Popularity of Iboga
Compared with other plant-based psychedelics, Iboga remains largely unknown to this day. However, in Gabon, it is known by everyone and even has the status of a National treasure.
Its first use in the west dates back to the 1900s after French explorers learned about its benefits from the Bwiti tribe and brought it to Europe. From this, a French company developed a short-lived medicine they called “Lamberene,” which was eventually discontinued. However, in recent times, researchers have started studying it and its medical benefits. As a result, its primary chemical derivative, Ibogaine, is growing in popularity in many western countries as an effective treatment for drug addiction and mood and anxiety disorders. However, Iboga (the source) itself remains generally unknown to many people. In addition to Ibogaine, the others alkaloids: voacangine, tabernanthine, coronaridine, ibogamine, and harmaline, still remain untapped for their medical benefits.
To get a more comprehensive understanding about Iboga, which is our wheelhouse, visit our "Iboga Page"
Differences between Ayahuasca and Iboga
The difference between Ayahusca and the Iboga experience
The primary difference between the two is the direction they take you, the way that they teach you, and the depth and clarity of the healing.
Ayahuasca takes you out. Iboga takes you in.
Ayahuasca is more of an ethereal experience that takes you up into the cosmos and teaches you through cryptic visions. You may need to spend time to decipher the experience and wonder about its meaning. For artistic or expressive people, this can be a beautiful experience. For those who want to understand the different planes of consciousness and existence this is a truly special medicine.
With Iboga, it is a deeply grounding experience, that takes you deeper into you, connecting you to yourself. The way it teaches you is incredibly clear and direct, to the point where you can get direct answers to your questions from your own soul. Iboga is like a truth serum that shows you the truth about your like, the way you think, your patterns, your behaviors, the way you treat yourself, and most importantly where you are being dishonest with yourself. This is what makes it such a deep and lasting healing, because when you truly know who you are and are honest with yourself about what you truly want in this life, that is all you need to be happy.
Number of Ceremonies
There is also a pronounced difference between the number of ceremonies people have with each medicine before reaching a point where they can stop.
To use the analogy given by Ram Dass when he famously said in reference to Psychedelics
“when you get the message, hang up the phone.”
The number of calls people tend to make with these medicines is significantly different.
Number of Ayahuasca Ceremonies:
Ayahuasca typically requires more frequent ceremonies, ranging from dozens to hundreds of times to experience lasting healing. While its teachings are profound, they can sometimes fade quickly, which is why it requires consistent maintenance. Its benefits typically last for 1-2 months. Finding people who have done 50-200 Ayahuasca ceremonies is not abnormal.
Number of Iboga Ceremonies:
Iboga requires fewer ceremonies to experience long-lasting healing. Typically, 1-3 ceremonies are all a person needs. This is because it has significant lasting effects that are sustainable for two months to a lifetime. Iboga’s effects depend on your choice of provider and your behavior after the retreat. Reputable Iboga retreat centers have the personnel and facilities required to ensure that participants receive all they need to integrate what they learned as they move forward in life.
Comparing the Diet Requirements of Iboga vs. Ayahuasca
Iboga is more tolerant in its diet requirements than Ayahuasca. You do not have to do a specific diet before an Iboga ceremony. You just need to make sure you are eating healthy, nutritious meals leading up to the ceremony. On ceremony days, you don’t eat past 3 pm to prevent unnecessary nausea.
Some foods to avoid on the day of an Iboga ceremony are those associated with the inhibitor of Cytochrome P450 2D6 (CYP2D6) enzyme system – which can block some liver enzymes.
They include grapefruit and pomelo. These foods stop the breakdown of Iboga and can increase blood concentration to a dangerous level.
You should also avoid tonic water and bitter lemon drinks due to their quinine content, which contributes to a bitter taste and inhibits CYP2D6.
It is also a good idea to abstain from alcohol for at least 3-7 days before a ceremony.
Ayahuasca has a long list of food, medications, and other activities you must avoid. Many experienced shamans say it is best to eliminate those foods and medicines from your diet as early as 2-4 weeks before an ayahuasca ceremony.
Examples of these foods are:
– Red meat
– Aged cheeses
– Fermented foods, such as soy sauce, fermented tofu, and sauerkraut
– Nutritional supplements like protein powders
– Peanuts (in large amounts)
– Chocolate (in large amounts)
Other foods to avoid are:
– Salt (canned and processed foods)
– Spicy food
– Refined sugar (i.e. sweets and junk food)
In particular, people preparing for Ayahuasca should avoid food containing tyramine. This is because Caapi vine is an MAO-inhibitor – it temporarily blocks the activation of the monoamine oxidase (MAO), which is essential to the process of the amino acid tyramine. So, you should avoid food with a high content of this amino acid to prevent your body from reaching toxic levels that can cause headaches or hypertension.
Is Iboga like Ayahuasca. A deeper dive...
Plants used to make Iboga
The inner root bark of the Tabernanthe Iboga shrub which was explained above.
To make Ibogaine, there is a more sustainable option in the Voacanga Africana tree.
Some of the Potential Plants used to make Ayahuasca
Also known as caapi, yage, or Ayahuasca, Banisteriopsis caapi is a woody vine and the only plant present in every Ayahuasca brew. In other words, there can’t be an Ayahuasca brew without Banisteriopsis caapi. Caapi, on its own, doesn’t necessarily have psychoactive characteristics – instead, it has elements that make other plants with psychedelic properties become orally active. For example, one of its main alkaloids, harmala, acts as monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOIs). MAOIs contain antidepressant effects to neutralize the monoamine oxidase in the stomach, thereby allowing DMT (the main ayahuasca psychoactive ingredient) to pass through the stomach into the bloodstream to the brain.
Also called chacruna, amiruca or samiruka, Psychotria Viridis contains a high amount of dimethyltryptamine (DMT). Some studies suggest that endogenous DMT is present in the human brain, but the presence of MAO prevents it from having a psychological effect on us. However, when mixed with caapi, DMT breaks the barrier, crosses to the brain, and binds with serotonin receptors to create mind-altering effects.
Also known as tilo, Masha-hari, and Piri piri. Justicia pectoralis’ main compound is coumarin, which has an anticoagulant effect and can rid the body of uric acid. This makes it an effective option for treating certain circulatory disorders and gout.
Brugmansia or Datura:
Also known as toé or maikoa, Brugmansia or datura are powerful deliriants that can help reduce nausea, motion sickness, and stomach cramping. Its primary purpose is to make the ayahuasca ceremony easy for people to handle.
Nicotiana rustica or mapacho or rapé is ceremonial tobacco with higher nicotine content than the common cigarette. It helps stimulate your blood flow, boost your awareness and attention during the ceremony. The main purpose is to ensure you are sensitive to Ayahuasca’s psychological effects
A Science and Research Perspective
Iboga’s Beneficial Effects on the Human Brain and Body
These effects contribute to attenuating drug-seeking behavior and symptoms of depression. Besides, Ibogaine also inhibits the N-acetylcholine receptors in the brain (13).
The alkaloid can activate multiple neurotrophic growth factors in the brain such as BDNF. Most notably it upregulates the glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) which stimulates neural remodeling, and similarly to BDNF increases brain cell survival (14).
GDNF can stimulate the formation of new dopaminergic neurons which may have potential in the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s.
Ibogaine activates the Sig1R as well, making the neurons more resistant to stress and inflammation (15).
Most notably it has antifungal activity against the strains of Candida albicans. Ibogaine was found to significantly reduce mortality in infected animals (19).
Potential Medical Uses and of Iboga
Ibogaine is successfully used in the attenuation of addictions and drug-seeking behavior for opioids (heroin, morphine, oxycodone), cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol, and nicotine.
One of the largest trials with addiction patients investigates the effect of Ibogaine therapy on 88 participants. The alkaloid helped 30% of the participants completely eliminate their addiction and 54% were abstinent for more than a year (20).
Patients with addiction are commonly affected by mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Studies report that symptoms of depression are also significantly reduced or eliminated after Ibogaine treatment (21, 22).
One of the trials with PTSD patients reported that the alkaloid also alleviated symptoms of anxiety, cognitive impairment, and suicidal thoughts in all 51 participants (23).
Ayahuasca is a psychoactive tea produced by combining two components – N, N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). The source of DMT is usually the Psychotria Viridis shrub, while the Banisteriopsis caapi vine is the most commonly used source of MAOI due to the beta-carboline content.
The beta-carboline acts as MAOI and increases the bioavailability of DMT, thus potentiating its psychoactive properties. The combination of the two alkaloids has multiple effects on the brain, its receptors, and various neurotrophic factors.
Ibogaine is also a naturally occurring alkaloid with psychoactive properties that can be extracted from the root of the Tabernanthe Iboga shrub. Iboga therapy has powerful effects on attenuating addictions but also may provide benefits against depression, PTSD, and neurodegenerative disorders.
Ayahuasca’s Beneficial Effects on the Human Brain and Body
A recent literature review reveals that Ayahuasca activates the sigma-1 receptors (Sig1R) (1). Triggering those receptors is associated with reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain.
DMT appears to be the main activator of the Sig1R and also increases neuron survival by making the brain cells more resistant to hypoxia (2).
Furthermore, the effect of DMT on the receptors might stimulate the formation of new neurons and improves the mental performance of test animals (3)
Beta-carboline is also found to induce the proliferation of new brain cells (4). According to a review of the currently available preclinical studies, the MAOI upregulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels (5).
BDNF is known to increase brain cell survival and stimulate the ability to grow new neurons. Furthermore, beta-carboline improved memory/learning in several animal models.
Apart from its effect on the brain, Ayahuasca can also modulate the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body (6). That is considered to be one of the benefits of tea for patients with depression.
Potential Medical Uses for Ayahuasca
Ayahuasca appears to be quite effective in attenuating symptoms of depression. Apart from its effects on cortisol, the alkaloids in the tea have strong serotoninergic effects which were found to reduce symptoms of depression by 82% in human studies. (7).
A randomized trial with 29 patients with depression reported that even a single dose of Ayahuasca was enough in attenuating the symptoms of the condition. (8).
The tea is also hypothesized to have the potential to improve symptoms of PTSD in those affected (9).
A literature review has reported that 4 human trials and several animal studies have also reported anti-addictive properties of Ayahuasca (10). Those effects are likely a combination of the MAO inhibition and the serotoninergic effects of DMT.