What is Ibogaine, and why does Charlie Sheen’s ex want to do it?

A hallucinogen long used in shamanic and spiritual practices, Ibogaine is a non-pharma prescription for addiction

BY SOUL’S CODE — Brooke Mueller is the ex-wife of Charlie Sheen who called 911 a couple of Christmas holidays ago in Aspen claiming that the Two and a Half Men star he was threatening her with a knife (listen to the tape here). Since then, they have both done revolving doors through rehab — and Mueller’s latest attempts and failures at sobriety are a highlight reel on Paris Hilton’s new reality TV show on the Oxygen network.

Mueller’s latest stab at AA-style 12 Steps has apparently failed again, and the gossip site TMZ reports that she made plans to fly to Cancun to undergo Ibogaine therapy.

Ibogaine is intense. It strips one bare of psychological defenses. It is also illegal in the U.S., which is why American addicts fly to places like Mexico, Colombia and Brazil for treatment.

Does Brooke have the psychic resilience and self-awareness to take a deep-dive into an Ibogaine trance, or will she shut down and have a bad trip? Will putting Ibogaine in this woman be the equivalent of filling a VW Beetle with jet fuel?

UPDATE: TMZ reported that Charlie Sheen retrieved his ex Brooke from Mexico in a private jet because he thought Ibogaine treatment was so dangerous she might die. Note, the issue isn’t Ibogaine itself but Brooke Mueller’s emotional depth and resilience.

Perhaps the first time that Ibogaine (or “Iboga”) was put out there in American popular culture was in Rolling Stone magazine writer Hunter S. Thompson’s book, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72.

Thompson satirically suggested that a Brazilian doctor had gotten the Democratic front-runner for president that year hooked on the drug. “It is entirely conceivable — given the known effects of Ibogaine — that (Edmund) Muskie’s brain was almost paralyzed by hallucinations at the time; that he looked out at that crowd and saw gila monsters instead of people, and that his mind snapped completely when he felt something large and apparently vicious clawing at his legs.”

While Ibogaine is indeed a hallucinogen, Thompson got one thing wrong: it is not addictive. In fact, recovery circles across North America are now using it on the sly as a cure for addiction to drugs or alcohol.

The cutting-edge prescription for addiction currently promoted by the medical establishment is Topiramate, an anti-convulsion medication with questionable efficacy.

But Iboga is not approved by the U.S government.  It’s a free-growing plant that has been used in West Africa as a sacramental substance, and cannot be patented like a synthetic drug. No wonder it’s illegal.  “Ibogaine has really become notorious because it didn’t originate in a lab, but in the counterculture,” Stanley Glick, the director of the Center for Neuropharmacology and Neuroscience at Albany Medical College, told the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies Ibogaine alongside drugs like ecstasy and LSD with “high potential for abuse” and “no known medical value.” There are also reports that patients in Europe, where Ibogaine therapy is legal, died because it aggravated their heart conditions.

Both of those factors make it difficult for psycho-pharmacologists to win research grants. But a privately-funded research organization in Massachusetts, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Research, is currently conducting a long-term study of the effect of Iboga on heroin addicts.

Hunter S. Thompson got yet another thing tangled about Iboga: It’s from Africa not Brazil. In fact, it is processed into a brown powder from the bark of a root grown in Gabon (population: 1.5 million).

It has been used for centuries as a healing plant and in religious rites by the Bwiti people.  In 1962, Howard Lotsof, a heroin addict, got some Ibogaine from a chemist friend of his for a psychedelic trip.  He woke up from the Ibogaine miraculously devoid of any desire to use heroin.  His brain was apparently reset, and he reported no withdrawal symptoms.

The most popular proselytizer of Iboga in the West today — four decades after Thompson introduced it to a mass audience — is a British documentary filmmaker named David Graham Scott, whose “Detox or Die” is  YouTube viral phenom.

Hardcore scientists speculate that Ibogaine binds with the brain’s opiate receptors to pre-empt cravings.

But users argue that the underlying magic of the substance is spiritual: “Ibogaine allows one to ‘die’ of our former selves and be reborn clean and addiction-free,” one San Francisco Bay Area woman with a psychology degree who has tried Iboga told Soul’s Code.

How much does it cost? Has it worked for you?

The motto for this site is everyone’s a guru. We mean that Soul’s Code is a community platform where people can share their personal solutions for self-growth and peak experiences. As we have virtually no in-house experience with Ibogaine, we invite you to share yours below — and unlike on Facebook, you can Comment anonymously:

If this spoke to you, here are five similar articles.


18 Responses to “What is Ibogaine, and why does Charlie Sheen’s ex want to do it?”

  1. Indeed there is a (tiny but growing) culture around iboga and ibogaine. There have been perhaps 7,000 underground and clinical treatments in the West. Spiritual awakening is a not-uncommon side effect to iboga experiences.
    See our website for more information. Wikipedia’s not bad either. There are a dozen clinics and lay providers out there, easily found on the web. Treatments are very difficult to go through, most would say unpleasant. And the medicine’s rarity makes the protocol very costly (2-10 thousand dollars).
    For me, a single ibogaine treatment 5 years ago completely alleviated 17 years of daily drinking. I have not relapsed since.
    Ibo is an addiction interruptor, not a magic bullet. Once the drug of choice has been removed, and the withdrawal and cravings addressed by ibogaine, it is up to the user to make it stick.

  2. Another good one is “Ibogaine – Rite of Passage” and explains the Bwiti religious tradition along with an opiate addicted man using ibogaine to get off drugs. There are many people that have been freed from their addictions with this drug. It’s also used for psycho-spiritual reasons. It’s a very powerful experience!!

  3. I have spent the entire summer studying this root. I’ve talked to a shaman, underground providers, and people that have been healed overnight from their years of daily drug use.

    It is also used to treat many other health problems, and as a psychological tool for self discovery.

    In all of my years of school and studying drugs and addiction, I never knew a substance existed to help heal addictions!

    I found out about it by watching that beautiful documentary by David Graham Scott called “Detox or Die.” His documentary inspired me on a summer-long, day-and-night study of everything iboga.

    So many people have been healed!!!!

    Yet, I’ve never even heard that this sacred plant existed! The stories that I’ve read are mind blowing!

  4. How do we know it isn’t just a placebo effect taking place? And to say it’s a drug that isn’t addictive? I find that hard to believe.

  5. Placebo effect will not interrupt the symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Period.

    Only few drugs have addictive properties, why is it hard to believe ibogaine isn’t addictive?

  6. @ Lee:

    To test a placebo effect: Find a junkie, give him a placebo and charge him a few thousand dollars for it… then see how long you live.

    This is a quote from Dr. Ken Alper at NYU School of Medicine on the ibogaine and placebo idea. The entire video can be viewed here: http://ibogavisions.com/dpa2009/6-alper/

  7. that’s a good response silk :) so i guess the idea of placebo and ibogaine isn’t new… @chris, sorry i don’t buy that only a “few” drugs have addictive properties…most i know do…booze, coke, weed…

  8. @ Lee: true, not a new idea…ibogaine has been researched for its therapeutic properties since 1901. See this for more info on the history: http://www.ibogatherapyhouse.net/index.php/about-ibogaine/history-of-ibogaine/48-historical-timeline-of-ibogaine-development

    Here are links to scientific published papers: http://www.ibogaine.org/science.html

    A bibliography (that needs to be updated): http://www.ibogaine.desk.nl/lit-ibogaine.html

    pretty fascinating stuff…

  9. I took iboga for psychological and spiritual healing. During the iboga process, I was shown my entire life and the way my actions have either helped or hurt others. It was a very difficult process of self reflection. It presented me with my true nature by giving me spiritual teachings. I saw the root of all of my addictions and fears. For weeks after the experience, I was able to integrate the the teachings that I was shown and move forward as a hopefully better person. I would do it again, but it is not an easy or fun process. Iboga holds up a mirror to your life, making one see clearly the truth of our behavior.

  10. Jim, thank you for sharing your experience, which is mirrored by the commentator’s testimonial in this BBC documentary you can see on YouTube:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRqZByUisD8

    For most American residents it seems that the closest source of Iboga is Canada, where the substance is not sanctioned but neither is it criminalized.

    Here is a comprehensive CBC segment on Iboga and a ‘clinic’ on Vancouver Island:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mLk26wZS_1Q

  11. Dear Silk, thank you for the research citations.

    It seems that Ibogaine has mostly been a secret to a few of us at Soul’s Code :)

    Look what we turned up: Even Bill O’Reilly at Fox News — hardly a tribune of alternative healing — aired an approving segment on Ibogaine featuring Howard Lotsoff:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXOn5V_mnFI

    But despite sporadic mainstream media exposure Ibogaine remains obscure because it doesn’t have sustained distribution or promotion from the medical research-big pharma-insurance industry complex.

    Also, the psychological effects, not to mention nausea, make Iboga a more challenging oral treatment to stomach than allopathic medicine’s current menu for addiction and related afflictions: SSRI’s, Naltrexone, methadone, etc.

    Thank you again to all for sharing your knowledge and personal experiences.

  12. TOP 10 TV and MOVIE CHARACTERS WHO COULD HAVE USED IBOGAINE TREATMENT:

    10. Johnny Depp playing drug-dealer George Jung in “Blow”
    9. Al Pacino in “Scarface”
    8. Leonardo Dicaprio playing Howard Hughes in “The Aviator”
    7. Nicholas Cage in “Leaving Las Vegas”
    6. Johnny Depp playing gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”
    5. Kevin Nealon on the Showtime cable channel series, “Weeds”
    4. Everyone in Danny Boyle’s “Trainspotting”
    3. Meg Ryan in “When a Man Loves a Woman”
    2. Christopher in “The Sopranos”
    1. Everyone in “The Hangover”

  13. A close friend of mine works at an ibogaine clinic in Mexico. Ibogaine is illegal in the US.

    It’s very powerful; the patient can even die from the treatment. It causes extreme hallucinations and reliving events in your life for a couple of days. When you come out on the other side, addictions are gone, and it’s also used with great success to treat PTSD.

    It’s the most profound and dangerous drug trip you could imagine.It takes at least a week to recover.

  14. I feel that a Shamanic perspective (a Shaman who uses these medicines in practice) would be very educational for people to hear from in speaking of these medicines.

  15. Hunter S. Thompson’s 1958 cover letter for a newspaper job at the Vancouver Sun, posted on BoingBoing via the Ottawa Citizen:

    http://www.boingboing.net/2010/10/05/hunter-s-thompsons-1.html

  16. I just signed up to your blogs rss feed. Will you post more on this subject?

  17. It is very important to update the scientific explanation of ibogaine that was prevalent from 1994 to 2004 – that the actual anti-addictive effect came from a long-lived metabolite (nor-ibogaine) that elevated mood by lifting serotonin levels while weakly binding to opioid receptors “to pre-empt cravings”. Like many explanations this on was only partially true.
    In 2005 a University of California researcher, Dorit Ron, discovered the reason ibogaine is effective for the whole range of abused substance, including meth-amphetamine and cocaine. Within 6 hrs it causes a 12-fold increase in the expression of a growth factor, GDNF, that not only re-sprouts dopamine neurons but back-signals to cell nucleii telling them to make more GDNF, so that neural regeneration persists even after ibogaine washes out of the body, accounting for its persistent effect.
    So ibogaine’s effect go thru three stages:
    1) A combination of n-methyl-d-aspartate blockade (like ketamine), alpha-3-beta-4 nicotinic acetyl-choline blockade (like wellbutrin) and kappa opiate activity (like salvia divinorum, makes you feel yr own endorphins again) knocks out withdrawal in 30 minutes, craving in 45 minutes…too soon for noribogaine to really get going.
    2) Flood dose of ibogaine overpowers the liver and depots in body fat (being lipophilic, as the desmethylated, water-soluable nor-ibogaine is not) slowly leaking out and turning into the nor form thru the action of enzymes the blood, so the addict gets this great serotonin high for 6 to 12 weeks helping with mood.
    3) Within 48 hrs of taking ibogaine neurons all over the brain are growing new receptors so you don’t need artificially high levels of your drug of abuse to have normal dopamine function. This is the most important effect, since without dopamine, most addicts feel they can’t get anything started, and eventually relapse.

    Just wanted to clarify how ibogaine actually works. The metabolite explanation was an attempt to reduce ibogaine to being just another maintenance drug. Please reproduce this info widely.

  18. Thanks for the interesting read. I was addicted to prescription meds for 8 years and had the opportunity to do ibogaine a year and a half ago. It worked for me! There are many treatment places available, the one in Cancun this story is about is: http://www.clearskyrecovery.com