Ibogaine: An Overview
A Comprehensive Look at the Ibogaine Alkaloid Based on Research
Table of Contents
What is Ibogaine?
Ibogaine is a natural alkaloid extracted from the root of the Iboga plant (Tabernanthe iboga), which is native to Western Africa. Iboga is a Plant Medicine that was first discovered by the Babonga in southern Gabon and continues to be used as a Sacrament in the Bwiti tradition. While Iboga and its many other alkaloids are a perfect healing tool, in this post, we will focus on the benefits of the Ibogaine alkaloid.
In small doses, Ibogaine is a mild stimulant, while in large amounts, it has more substantial oneiric-psychedelic effects. However, it is much different from other plant medicines and psychedelics.
Ibogaine research ramped up in 1962, with multiple case studies reporting successful treatments of addictions to heroin, cocaine, morphine, amphetamine, and alcohol (1).
Researchers have also recently studied its effects on attenuating addictions, improving mood, boosting neuroplasticity, and other health benefits. One of the most unique benefits of Ibogaine is its ability to suppress alcohol and drug-seeking behavior with just one treatment, which is very different from current recurring/dependency treatment models.
This article will cover Ibogaine’s benefits, applications, mechanisms of action, and risks utilizing the available scientific research.
Tabernanthe Iboga Shrub
A small perennial shrub native to West Africa, Tabernanthe iboga is used both medicinally and traditionally. Iboga plants have small, green leaves, yellowish-white or pink flowers, and orange fruits. Most often, it grows to a height of 4 meters, but under the right conditions, it can reach a height of 10 meters.
Tabernanthe iboga grows in lowland tropical forests and prefers moist soil in partial shade. It can be cultivated in similar environments. A cutting-grown iboga shrub may flower four months after planting and it often produces fruits throughout the year. It contains numerous naturally-occurring alkaloids in its leaves, stem bark, seeds, roots, and root bark. Its root bark contains the highest concentration of alkaloids.
What's the difference between Ibogaine and Iboga?
Ibogaine is the most prominent active alkaloid found in Iboga. Ibogaine is a pure substance, almost like a pharmaceutical. Whereas, Iboga is a plant medicine that has a spirit and many other beneficial properties and alkaloids besides just Ibogaine.
When it comes to choosing which substance is best for you it really comes down to the purpose of use. Both Iboga and Ibogaine are effective. Ibogaine is typically used solely as a treatment for addiction, Parkinsons etc, whereas Iboga is for a bigger range of things and is a more holistic spiritual and mental healing.
It is worth noting, however, that Iboga and its total alkaloid extract also contain the same benefits as Ibogaine. Research on Iboga and Iboga TA (Total Alkaloid extract) is much less extensive than on Ibogaine alone for a number of reasons, but some other alkaloids in Iboga, such as Tabernanthine, Ibogamine, and Coronaridine, have also been shown to possess potent anti-addictive properties (27). Ibogamine and Tabernanthine also appear to have an equally high affinity for the sigma 2 receptors in the brain as Ibogaine (28). Activating these receptors is thought to induce several benefits for the human brain.(29).
How does Ibogaine work?
Ibogaine has a complex effect on the brain that is not yet fully understood. It affects multiple signaling pathways and neurotransmitters in the central nervous system. The most notable ones are:
- Dopamine transporters
- N-acetylcholine receptors
- Serotonin transporters
- NMDA receptors
What are the effects of Ibogaine?
The Ibogaine experience is different for every person but always works in phases. During the first phase, patients may suffer from impaired coordination and an increased desire to rest or lie down. This can vary in intensity depending on their dose. Still, it is typically accompanied by physical sensations such as tingling, a feeling of warmth spreading throughout their body, and a heightened awareness of sounds and smells. Furthermore, they can experience visual distortions such as halos around lights, light waves, or enhanced colors.
The next phase is when the effects are the most pronounced and can have intense but clear hallucinations. Most people experience a more oneiric dream state with the core theme of reviewing their life, relationships, and behavior. This also typically involves vivid memory recall, and they may even communicate with deceased people (primarily ancestors).
Then the experience will shift into the reflection or processing phase, a profoundly introspective period of realizations and epiphanies about their life. This can be very emotional as stored emotions come to the surface and truths about their lives are realized. For some, this will be the most self-aware moment of their lives, with the clarity to see how they got where they are and how they can fix it.
The last phase is the integration phase, which begins after their first night of sleep. During this period, they will have a clean slate for creating a new life with old thinking patterns gone and a deeper trust in themself.
The Science of Ibogaine Uses & Benefits
The benefits of Ibogaine against addiction and withdrawal symptoms are likely due to its effect on dopamine and acetylcholine. Dopamine is the mediator that controls movement, but also emotional response and desire. Its levels are altered in patients with addiction.
Ibogaine research suggests that it blocks the dopamine transporters, which leads to an increase in dopamine levels and thus restoring them to normal levels (2).
The inhibitory effect on the N-acetylcholine receptors also intercepts the neurological mechanisms of addiction, and thus Ibogaine aids in maintaining normal acetylcholine levels (3).
Ibogaine benefits extend to anti-depressive and anxiolytic properties. These are likely due to its impact on serotonin transporters, which is similar to dopamine (4). By blocking them and increasing serotonin levels, Ibogaine improves symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Blocking the NMDA receptors leads to the psychedelic effects of the alkaloid (5).
Neuroplasticity and Neural Remodeling
The long-term effects on drug-seeking behavior can be explained by the impact of Ibogaine on neuroplasticity and neural remodeling. By rewiring the brain, Ibogaine can help patients overcome their addiction and manage withdrawal symptoms.
One animal study discovered that Ibogaine’s benefits on neural remodeling are likely due to its effect on some of the primary growth factors in the brain (6).
Those factors are the Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), Nerve Growth Factor (NGF), and Glial Cell-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (GDNF). Their main role is to ensure neuron survival and stimulate the formation of new synapses between them. According to the experiment, Ibogaine increases the activity of BDNF, NGF, and GDNF in different areas of the brain that contain dopaminergic neurons.
Further research has confirmed that BDNF and GDNF can induce remodeling in the nerve tissue (7). Therefore, the combined effect on the various nerve growth factors is likely the key to the long-term impact of Ibogaine on attenuating drug and alcohol addictions (8).
BDNF might also stimulate neurogenesis, which is the formation of new neurons in parts of the adult brain that still retain stem cells (9).
Attenuating Addiction and Withdrawal Symptoms
The main metabolite of Ibogaine is Noribogaine. Studies investigating the effectiveness of a single dose of Noribogaine up to 180mg have found a trend toward decreased total opioid withdrawal and a favorable safety profile (10). In addition, the main adverse reactions were only mild such as changes in light perception, headache, and nausea.
However, other studies suggest that Ibogaine itself is exceptionally potent in attenuating addiction to various drugs and substances. For example, it is reported to reduce cravings and symptoms of withdrawal in cases of opiate (oxycodone, morphine), heroin, amphetamine, cocaine, alcohol, and even nicotine addiction.
According to a small trial, a single dose of Ibogaine (200mg) was effective enough in suppressing symptoms of withdrawal in the long term (11). In fact, it completely eliminated addiction symptoms in some participants.
A larger trial on 30 individuals who had previously unsuccessful treatment for oxycodone and heroin addiction revealed that all participants had significantly reduced addiction scores that were sustained for 3-12 months after the therapy (12).
Another study collected data from 88 patients with addiction treated with Ibogaine, most of which were daily users. After the therapy, 54% of the cases abstained for at least a year, and 30% never took drugs again (13).
Mood, Depression, and Anxiety
Historically, Ibogaine has also been used as an antidepressant. The antidepressant effects of Ibogaine therapy are likely caused in part by the activity toward the transporter of serotonin (14). This leads to an increase in serotonin levels which is similar to the effect of certain antidepressants.
Studies investigating the effect of Ibogaine on patients with addiction also reported that symptoms of depression were significantly reduced (15, 16). The mood and depression symptoms improved even in non-successful detoxification cases. Interestingly, 2 out of the 3 addiction patients who were on antidepressants were able to discontinue their treatment after taking Ibogaine.
Depression and anxiety are relatively common among addiction patients. Often drugs and alcohol are a way of coping with their symptoms. By targeting these symptoms, Ibogaine provides a complex approach to the management of drug-seeking behavior.
These benefits are likely more prominent for depression, anxiety, or other related psychiatric problems. (17).
Trauma & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is estimated to affect about 8% of all Americans (18). It is a debilitating psychiatric disorder that is usually treated with antidepressants, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Ibogaine might offer a novel approach to treating PTSD, thanks to its effects on the transporter of serotonin and the following increase in serotonin levels.
Only one study has investigated the effect of Ibogaine on the condition. It involved 65 US Special Operations Forces veterans, 51 of whom completed the final survey. The trial revealed that Ibogaine treatment led to major reductions in suicidal tendencies, cognitive impairment, depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms (19). Besides, the participants reported the psychedelic experience of Ibogaine as something extremely significant and spiritually insightful.
Anti-Microbial and Anti-Viral Properties of Ibogaine
Ibogaine’s benefits are not limited to the central nervous system and the brain. The alkaloid may provide benefits against some of the most common pathogens, including fungi, bacteria, and viruses.
In vitro studies have reported that Ibogaine has anti-bacterial activity against Tuberculosis (20). In addition, laboratory experiments with human immune cells revealed that Ibogaine could also block the replication of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in these cells (21).
Furthermore, scientists have investigated the antifungal activity of various alkaloids in vitro. For example, they discovered that Ibogaine could inhibit the enzymes that Candida albicans use to infect cells (22).
When tested in mice infected with Candida albicans, Ibogaine significantly reduced mortality in the tested animals compared to the controls (23).
Unfortunately, the evidence for anti-microbial effects is mostly coming from in-vitro studies. Therefore, more clinical trials are required to confirm the benefits of Ibogaine and investigate its impact on humans in regard to treating infections.
In Parkinson’s disease, neurotrophic factors can be used to protect dopaminergic neurons against cell death. GDNF (Glial Cell-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) plays a special role in protecting dopamine neurons. In addition to ensuring neuron survival, it stimulates the formation of new neuronal synapses.
Multiple studies have indicated that GDNF has multiple benefits for the midbrain’s dopaminergic neurons, and it’s being investigated as a potential therapy for Parkinson’s .
Human trials have reported almost 40% improvements in symptoms after induced Parkinson’s and no side effects . It also showed it stimulates the formation of new dopamine neurons in the human brain . As a result, the Parkinson’s patient experienced significant clinical improvements.
GDNF can only be administered through direct infusion into the brain which is risky and invasive. The midbrain cannot be reached through other methods, such as via blood flow or spinal fluid.
Ibogaine, however, is a well-known potent stimulant of GDNF. According to animal studies, the alkaloid upregulates GDNF expression in the central nervous system  .
This upregulation also appears to occur specifically in the midbrain, a site of Parkinson’s disease pathology . In these areas, GDNF can both protect and stimulate dopaminergic neurons.
In spite of the lack of further evidence, it is likely that Ibogaine could be an effective alternative therapy for this debilitating illness.
An agonist of the Sig1R, ibogaine may reduce inflammation in the brain and help the treatment of autoimmune neurological diseases .
Brain sigma-1 receptors (Sig1R) could be activated in order to reduce neuroinflammation and treat autoimmune disorders such as Multiple Sclerosis.
This receptor type regulates neuroinflammation and has shown potential for managing several neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s, brain injury, stroke, and sclerosis. (36)
There is some risk of cardiac considerations in high doses of Ibogaine, which can be easily prevented and screened for by professionals. This is because it slows the heart rate by blocking the potassium ion channels and thus slows down the heart’s electrical impulses (24). For this reason, people who are considering taking Ibogaine should have an EKG/ECG reading evaluated by experienced professionals who know what to look for in advance. It should also be taken with the proper supervision and an experienced team.
There are also some exclusions for who can take it. Ibogaine is not suitable for patients with certain preexisting cardiovascular conditions, liver problems, and those on certain contraindicated medications. It is important to make sure you work with a provider who knows how to screen for these things and/or develop a specialized treatment plan.
Fear and stigma around Ibogaine
There is a lot of fear and stigma around Ibogaine. This is due to the fact that there have been some deaths associated with it. All of these deaths could have been prevented with proper screening and care. Most of them were do to easily identifiable cardiovascular conditions or the introduction of other drugs.
Since Ibogaine is used to treat drug addiction, it attracts a very different group of users than other psychedelic drugs. People are often in rough physical shape and have damaged their organs and system. These people are also much more likely to take contraindicated drugs in treatment, which is a primary cause of incidents.
The truth is that the safety of Ibogaine is completely dependent upon how it is used and by who.
The heart and liver considerations can be identified in a proper screening, but for drug users, the safety profile varies. Of course a person who has been a polydrug user for decades and a person who has been healthy will have different safety profiles.
Working with an experienced professional or team that knows how to screen makes it much safer. Most professional centers (like ours) will also have a medical team and providers who have the experience to prevent and manage situations.
Iboga is actually even safer than Ibogaine for a number of reasons, primarily because it does not require as high a level of Ibogaine in your system for desired effects because of the other alkaloids present. However, it is also because the spirit of the medicine is still with it which helps to guide the person and regulate them.
Sustainability of Ibogaine
With the increasing use of Ibogaine, there are some serious concerns about the sustainability of the Tabernanthe Iboga shrub it originally comes from.
Lucky for us though, there is a more sustainable plant called Voacanga Africana that can be used for Ibogaine extraction. Thankfully, many of the Ibogaine clinics around the world have been switching to the use of this.
Ibogaine Legal Status
Psychedelic substances, including ibogaine, were strictly restricted under the UN 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
Globally, psychotropic substances have been mostly illegal until recently, but attitudes and prejudices are changing as well. Decriminalization is becoming more popular in countries like the United States, as well as Canada, Australia, Brazil, Denmark, Hungary, Portugal, and South Africa, which allow it with certain restrictions. UK law is somewhat different from most other countries in that Ibogaine is not included in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, but is included in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016.
What's the Future of Ibogaine
Overall, Ibogaine is a promising drug in the treatment of addictions due to its potential long-term effects even after a single dose. It also has exciting potential to help with depression, PTSD, trauma, anxiety, mental health conditions, Parkinson’s disease, Autoimmune diseases, bacterial infections, viruses, and memory. However, Ibogaine is classified as a Schedule I substance and banned in the USA, Australia, and some European countries. This restricts research and makes it difficult for people to access its healing potential.
There is also some new research being done with Ibogaine analogs like 18-Methoxycoronaridine (18-MC) and Tabernanthalog (TBG) (25, 26). However, we hope that people will not have to rely on newly patented medicines in order to get the benefits we have listed.
Decriminalization of drugs, including Schedule I Psychedelics like Ibogaine, will lead to greater acceptance, research, understanding, and healing around the world.
It must be noted, however, that the decriminalization of psychedelics has not been easy – there have been countless advocates, researchers, and campaigners who have fought for both access to the benefits psychedelics offer, as well as the ability to have an open dialogue. Are we likely to see a mass decriminalization or ibogaine legalization movement as a result? To us, the future looks promising, but only time will tell.