Iboga and Ayahuasca

Is Iboga Like Ayahuasca?

Iboga vs Ayahuasca

While both powerful and highly beneficial entheogenic plants, Iboga and Ayahuasca have very different characteristics. Ayahuasca has a feminine spirit; hence it is regarded as Mother Ayahuasca, the Grandmother, or Aya. Iboga, on the other hand, is both masculine and feminine and is often regarded as Grandfather or Godfather. Iboga & Ayahuasca have distinct ways of conveying their messages, teachings, and effects. While Ayahuasca sends you out, Iboga brings you inward. Iboga’s symbolism as a root could not be more perfect as it is the most grounding substance in the world that connects you back to yourself, the earth, and reality. Ayahuasca is more cryptic in its messages, using symbolism to get its point across. Regardless of their individual approaches, these two ancient medicinal and spiritual plants have much to offer humanity.

What are Entheogenic Plant Medicines?

Entheogenic plant medicines refer to the use of naturally-occurring plant source substances with mind-altering properties. These mind-altering (psychoactive) properties are characterized by alterations in perception, consciousness, mood, cognition, and behavior. Entheogenic plants include Iboga, Ayahuasca, Cacti, and Psilocybin Mushrooms. They have served spiritual and medicinal purposes for thousands of years and remain relevant to this day. The growing body of scientific work on these plants shows that they can be harnessed to treat many physical and emotional health challenges. Various clinical trials and anecdotal reports indicate that entheogens can help break the cycle of emotional and psychological conditions, including depression, anxiety, and addiction.

What is Ayahuasca?

Ayahuasca is an entheogenic brew commonly made from the stalks of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine and the leaves of the Psychotria Viridis shrubs and some other ingredients. While Banisteriopsis caapi and Psychotria Viridis are the two most popular plants used in making the brew, traditional shamans often add other plants, such as Datura, Nicotiana rustica & Justicia pectoralis, to optimize the brew’s effectiveness. 

Plants Used in Making Ayahuasca Brew

Banisteriopsis Caapi: Also known as caapi, yage, or ayahuasca, Banisteriopsis caapi is a woody vine and the only plant that is 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. One of its main alkaloids, harmala, acts as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). MAOIs contains 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.

Psychotria Viridis: 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.

Justicia Pectoralis: 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 main purpose is to make the ayahuasca ceremony easy for people to handle.

Nicotiana Rustica: 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.

Origin of Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is indigenous to South Americans of the Amazon Basin, as they are the first tribe to formulate the brew. There are various angles to the history of this ancient brew. Some writers believe it has been in existence for about 5,000 years, while some claim it is around 1,000 years old. Regardless of the debate, there is a general consensus that ayahuasca is an ancient drug, 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.  Instead, the two brothers found Psilocybe Cubensis (magic mushrooms) and performed “the experiment at La Chorrera, which involved “building a hyper-dimensional vehicle out of the 4D transformation of my own DNA interlaced with the DNA of a mushroom,” according to Dennis. They co-wrote two books on their La Chorrera experience. And after that, Dennis focused on ayahuasca and oo-koo-he research and worked with pharmaceutical companies. His research findings, local and international speaking engagements, and books helped popularize ayahuasca across the globe.

What is Iboga?

Iboga or Tabernanthe iboga plant is a small perennial shrub native to some West African countries and used for medicinal, ritual, 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 eventually grow up to 10 meters if in a very favorable environment. It has around 20 naturally-occurring alkaloids in its stem bark, root, leaves, and root bark. The root bark has the highest concentration of alkaloids.

Origin of Iboga

Iboga is indigenous to central west Africa, particularly Gabon, Cameroon, and Congo.  It has been used by the Bwiti as their main 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. The Bwiti treat Iboga as a sacrament because it helps them meet various spiritual and medicinal needs. Among other things, Iboga helps with pathological problems, stabilizes their community, and ushers in adulthood, all while promoting spiritual growth. As their main sacrament, Iboga is consumed in large amounts in what is known as “initiation

Popularity of Iboga

Compared with other plant-based psychedelics, Iboga remains largely unknown to this day. 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. In recent times, researchers have started studying it and its medical benefits. As a result, its main chemical derivative, Ibogaine, is growing in popularity in many western countries as an effective treatment for drug addiction, mood and anxiety disorders. However, Iboga (the source) itself remains generally unknown to many people. Apart from ibogaine, voacangine, tabernanthine, coronaridine, ibogamine, and harmaline are some other Iboga alkaloids that remain untapped for medical benefits.

Comparing Iboga vs Ayahuasca

Both Iboga and Ayahuasca are master teacher plants that ignite lasting, profound spiritual transformations. They enter the body with the sole aim of healing and awakening, leading to the holistic healing of the body and mind. However, outside of this, they are VERY different. 

Some of the notable differences in Iboga vs Ayahuasca are as follows:

Diet Requirements

Iboga: 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 don’t eat past 3pm on ceremony days. Some diets and medications must be avoided if you want to make the most of the drug and prevent an unpleasant experience. Foods to avoid when going for 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 types of foods stop the breakdown of iboga and 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 bitter taste, and also inhibits CYP2D6. Drugs to avoid include antidepressants, especially SSRIs, antiarrhythmics, cannabidiol (CBD), antacids, antipsychotics, antibiotics, antifungal, anti-HIV, quinine, opioids and methadone, beta-blockers, and diuretics. You must also avoid alcohol for at least 3 to 7 days before an iboga ceremony.

Ayahuasca: Ayahuasca has a long list of food, medications, and other activities you must avoid. In fact, many experienced shamans believe that it is best to start eliminating those foods and medications from your diet as early as 2-4 weeks before an ayahuasca ceremony.

Food to Avoid

In particular, food containing tyramine must be avoided. 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.  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)




Medications to Avoid include:

      Antidepressants like SSRIs



      Sleep medications

      Alpha- and beta-blockers

You must also avoid street drugs such as:








Length of Duration. Iboga vs Ayahuasca

Iboga: Iboga ceremonies last 8-12 hours, and its effects last for 12-36 hours. It causes ataxia making it difficult to move around and you may also purge.  While not necessary, this can be an essential part of the holistic healing process that leads to the clearing of that which you have been holding in your body.  On Iboga, you will most likely not get sleep until the following evening, which is why the day after an iboga ceremony is mostly spent as a “processing day.” The processing day is the day after the ceremony where deep introspection and insights happen. This processing experience can often be more enlightening than the ceremony itself.

Ayahuasca: Average duration for an ayahuasca session is 4-6 hours. It takes 20-60 minutes to kick in, and its strongest effects can last for 3-6 hours. There is often a cathartic purge of energy, such as diarrhea, vomiting, yawning, and crying. There is a relatively quick recovery time, as you are able to sleep once the ceremony ends and most likely recover by breakfast. The following day is usually filled with the feeling of a loving, warm afterglow.

Number of Ceremonies Required: Iboga vs Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca: Ayahuasca typically requires more frequent ceremonies, ranging from dozens to hundreds of times in order 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.

Iboga: Iboga requires fewer ceremonies in order to experience long-lasting healing. Typically, 1-3 times. This is because it has great and lasting effects that are sustainable for 2 months to 1 year. 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 that they need in order to integrate what they learned as they move forward in life. 

Iboga vs Ayahuasca Effects on the body from a science and research perspective

Ayahuasca is a psychoactive tea produced by the combination of 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 content of beta-carboline. 

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 Effects on the Human Body

Effects on the brain and the 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 and Healing Effects of 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.

Iboga’s Effects on the Body

Effects on the brain and the body

Ibogaine affects multiple neurotransmitters in the brain. For example, it increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin by blocking their transporters (11, 12).

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).

Apart from its benefits for brain health, preliminary studies suggest that Ibogaine has antimicrobial effects against bacteria, viruses, and fungi (16, 17, 18).

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 Healing Effects 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).



  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26973523/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27683542/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7522265/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5144684/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27918874/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5952178/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25806551/
  8. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29903051/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5895707/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27230395/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22451652/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11303040/
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11906717/
  14. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2019.00193/full
  15. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165247820303977
  16. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9626931/
  17. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15386189/
  18. https://cdnsciencepub.com/doi/10.1139/W08-029?mobileUi=0&
  19. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15947429/
  20. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30272050/
  21. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00952990.2017.1310218
  22. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11085338/
  23. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/2470547020939564

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