Ibogaine: A one-way trip to sobriety, pot head says

Marc Emery may not have made it to the mayor's chair, but the head of the B.C. Marijuana Party has plenty of other ventures to keep him busy. Besides running a seed-distribution business, the peace and pot activist has started a new project that he's especially passionate about, one he says can cure cocaine and heroin addiction at a low price.

He's the man behind the Iboga Therapy House, a place he has rented on the Sunshine Coast that overlooks the ocean and where drug addicts can go for ibogaine treatment.

Ibogaine comes from Tabernanthe iboga, a flowering African shrub that's related to the coffee plant. In some parts of West Africa, it's a hallucinogen used in male rites of passage. Iboga is said to induce wild visualizations, be nonaddictive, and have anti-addictive qualities.

Advocates allege that one or two doses is enough to cure addiction, whether it's to crack cocaine, heroin, alcohol, or nicotine. Unlike methadone, which is itself addictive, ibogaine does not produce painful withdrawal symptoms.

Emery, who started treating addicts from the Downtown Eastside two months ago, covers the costs, which amount to about $1,500 per person. He takes in up to four addicts per week and has administered oral doses of ibogaine himself to nearly a dozen people. It's the first such program in North America.

"This could be a very effective way of treating people at a very low cost," he told the Straight on the line from the Sunshine Coast. "People who have been through opiate withdrawal are amazed. They don't have a dripping nose, there's no nausea. This has been a revelatory experience. I'm hoping the government will pick it up."

Though not approved by Health Canada, ibogaine is not a prohibited product under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Emery noted. The substance is illegal in the United States, but it's available through an international black market, and there are private clinics in the Caribbean and Panama City. "It's an underground phenomenon all over the world," said Emery, who orders ibogaine from Ontario, Slovenia, and Holland.

One of the alleged benefits of ibogaine is that it doesn't cause the horrible flulike side effects that people withdrawing from heroin or cocaine typically endure, such as diarrhea, cramps, anxiety, and muscle twitches. However, some preclinical studies have indicated that the substance could cause lasting damage to the cerebellum, leading to loss of motor coordination.

The use of ibogaine to treat addiction got its first push from Howard Lotsof, an American who patented the therapy. He's credited with recording initial observations of the effects of ibogaine on heroin addicts who took the substance to get high in the mid-1960s. ( Lotsof was one of them. )

Lotsof tried to go beyond anecdotal evidence by conducting preclinical research. He approached pharmaceutical companies to back his efforts, but none responded--likely because of the lack of potential profit, since the medicine is usually taken only once. He pushed for the Food and Drug Administration's approval of clinical trials, but that plan fell apart in 1993, when a 24-year-old heroin user died about 20 hours after taking ibogaine. ( Two other addicts have also died following ibogaine treatment. ) The therapy has its critics, like American drug researcher Peter Hoyle, who, according to a recent High Times article, doesn't think there's enough evidence to warrant human trials--especially since the mechanism of ibogaine's action isn't understood.

Without any official stamp of approval, Lotsof continues research and treatment ( mainly in Holland ). He recently cowrote a revised Manual for Ibogaine Therapy: Screening, Safety, Monitoring & Aftercare, which cautions that "treatment providers and patients are solely responsible for their actions."

"The extremely costly regulatory approval process and the reluctance by major pharmaceutical firms to pursue regulatory approval in the West has led to the formation of non-medical ibogaine treatment," the manual says. "This document is intended principally for lay-healers who have little or no medical experience, but who are nevertheless concerned with patient safety and the outcome of Ibogaine treatments."

Lotsof urges caregivers to insist that people have a complete physical, including an electrocardiogram, before treatment. Emery has studied that document as well as others on the Ibogaine Dossier Web site ( www.ibogaine.org/ ), which has opinions and information related to the treatment.

Emery said he--or another of the "facilitators" at the Iboga Therapy House who are trained in first aid--observes people for about 24 hours after the administration of ibogaine and monitors their blood pressure and pulse regularly. Emery added that the hospital is a 10-minute drive away and that all candidates have to sign a medical-release form.

Anyone is welcome, Emery said, as long as they stop taking drugs for 24 hours before treatment. He said he recommends two doses, about a week apart, to prevent a relapse. "Typically the first dose cancels the physical addiction," Emery said, "and the second targets the psychological underpinnings of addiction."

Emery, who's never taken ibogaine himself, said the substance can cause intense visualizations lasting eight to 18 hours. He also said that because of the lack of withdrawal symptoms, ibogaine can help addicts address other issues. "Being an addict can be a great excuse in a financial or emotional crisis," he noted. "This gives them the strength and courage to face their problems without giving in to their weaknesses. They have an opportunity to reinvent themselves, so they need to stay away from triggers or temptation."

The Iboga Therapy House has fitness equipment, instruments, games like crib and chess, and a meditation room--anything that "gives people pleasure that doesn't involve drugs", Emery said--but no TV. Emery, who doesn't accept money from addicts unless they want to donate after they've been clean for at least three months, said he'd like to see the treatment made available to all Vancouver addicts, who can contact him via the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users ( 604-683-8595 ).

He added that he hasn't encountered any opposition to the ibogaine project yet. "I've never run into critics," he said, "because there's nothing to criticize."




Oct 27, 2008 at 7:43am

Although I am skeptical about the plant (only because Emery never tried it himself) I wonder why Ibogaine is illegal in US... Theoretically I want to believe this plant is a valuable option for thousands of addicts but practically I don't think we know the entire truth about it.

Shivas Deciple

May 31, 2009 at 10:09am

You better believe it works. I was on 105 mg of Methadone and although I did not have the opportunity to see Mark....I successfully came off Methadone with 1 Ibogaine treatment. No WITHDRAWL.....just chills, a little, maybe a small hot flash here and there....and a little restlessness. Other than that....I came off Methadone like i was Geting over a Horrible Hangover......Do yourself a favor.....and just go! Rather its Marks spot or Mexico!

Kyle Waal

Oct 26, 2009 at 6:00pm

Although after reading this article, I feel it was well done and fair to Emery - I take offence to the headline "Ibogaine: A one-way trip to sobriety, pot head says" - It almost seems an attempt to discredit the man from the get go.
I am now curious as to if this program is still ungoing, with the recent (and unfair) incarceration of Marc Emery by the American DEA.


Nov 4, 2009 at 7:12am

Ibogaine was used successfully on Law and Order SVU on Nov.3, 2009. If one can really come off addictions to cocaine, crack, opiates, heroin, methadone and alcohol with just one or two treatments - as many claim - then this is surely worth serious study ASAP.


Nov 4, 2009 at 7:14pm

gosh, how would the drug companies, proponents of private hospitals, and those giant celebrity rehab centres make money if they could cure people in a day. same reason why they don't use vitamin c therapy in place of chemo.
cheap simple cures with few side affects are not the aim of the harpists and bushists in our societies, they'd rather the masses suffer and spend all their savings before they die.


Nov 5, 2009 at 9:16am

where can i get some i live in london ontario


Nov 14, 2009 at 5:13pm

i live in nova scotia i know tons of ppl including myself that need this

Karen C

Nov 18, 2009 at 11:34am

I don't personally need it unless it is true that it cures cigarette addiction also but I know a lot of people who would love to be able to take their lives back from much more damning addictions and I am sure that, like myself, they have never heard of it before. (I heard about it on Law and Order also and am floored that it isn't widely available and pushed by the government. They do not seem to care much about drug addicts, do they?) They should - all drug addicts did not start out being big time losers and I am sure that many of them would like to get off that road. Maybe it is time for us to flex our vocal chords and speak up loudly and clearly about this option.


Nov 26, 2009 at 10:30am

i totally agree, and frankly, am floored that youvotedforemsuckitup knows about vitamin c treatment. Good on you. I recently heard about Ibogaine, and I would love to administer the drug to addicts. I would be grateful for the opportunity to help addicts in their decade of need.
Clearly the reason it is illegal in the states, and not readily available anywhere else in the world (except perhaps sweden) is because the 'higher-ups' don't give a damn about the health of 'normal' people, and only care about that jingle in their pocket. one or two time dose doesn't make money... addiction to methadone does.

Donald Mc Donald.....rezdog69@yahoo.com

Dec 19, 2009 at 10:12am

I am a long time Heroin adict who as of now am in the Methadone program. I feel that is Just a legal form of drug deeling. I have heard the wonders that Ibogaine has done for people like me. I wish to take the treatment but I live in central Sask. and have no way Ibogaine out here, could you please help me.Donald E Mc Donald 306-332-4256