Chem 227 – Spring 1996: Ibogaine
by: Dr. Rusay Andrew J. Schuknecht
Throughout the world, morals vary from culture to culture. What one culture may view as being “right”, another may view as being “wrong”. Today in the U.S. one of the most strongly felt morals is that which is placed on substance abuse and the use of “drugs”. Even if there is a proven therapeutic value to a drug, many people may find it unacceptable to use “drugs” because of these in bred morals. One such drug is ibogaine. Ibogaine has been used for hundreds of years by tribes in West Africa as a means to improve hunters’ awareness yet allow to them maintain a perfect stillness for very long periods while waiting for game on the African plains. Ibogaine is also used in tribal rituals, where higher doses produce hallucinations. However, in the U.S., ibogaine is a controlled substance and viewed as being a “wrong” kind of drug. Some researchers claim that ibogaine is a compound that can offer a cure for addiction to several highly addictive and destructive legal and illegal drugs: heroine, nicotine, and alcohol. Even though these therapeutic claims have been made for many years, ibogaine has only just recently begun to be tested in clinical trials.
Ibogaine is classified as a hallucinogenic substance. It is derived from Tabernanthe iboga, a shrub found in western Africa. It can also be isolated from the roots of Ervatamia yunnanensis. The first reported synthesis of this substance was published in the Journal of American Chemical Society in 1966.
Tribes in the Congo and the Gabon region of West Africa have been using ibogaine for many years. Chewing the Tabernanthe root by tribal hunters is very common on hunting trips which last many days. It reportedly allows them to remain motionless for many hours while waiting for their prey. The root is also used in a tribal ritual in which boys pass on to men. This ritual usually lasts for three days during which the boy does not eat or sleep. It is believed that the supplicant has a near death experience.
Due to it’s hallucinogenic properties, the Tabernanthe root managed to find it’s way out of Africa and into modern day drug culture. In 1962, a former heroin addict named Howard Lotsof took ibogaine looking for a new way to get high. After a 36-hour hallucinogenic experience, he no longer craved heroin. Most remarkably he did not experience any of the severe withdrawal symptoms that are normally observed with heroin. Lotsof shared the drug with six other addicts, five of whom lost their desire for heroin. These amazing results prompted Lotsof to secure patents on the use of ibogaine for treating drug and alcohol addiction. Although about 40 addicts have been treated in the Netherlands since 1990, ibogaine has not yet been approved for use in the U.S.
Howard Lotsof, now president of Staten Island based NDA international, just recently persuaded several U.S. researchers to investigate the potential uses of ibogaine. One of these researchers is Stanley Glick, chairman of the Pharmacology and Toxicology Department at Albany Medical College. Glick and other scientists noticed that in rats treated with ibogaine before being injected with morphine the release of Dopamine was partially blocked. In other tests, Glick found that after an ibogaine injection, rats with free access to morphine reduced their narcotic intake. He also noticed that ibogaine alleviated withdrawal symptoms of rats hooked on morphine.
Based on Glick’s and other scientists’ promising results on rats, FDA advisors approved ibogaine to be tested on humans in 1993. The FDA approved these studies even though researchers at Johns Hopkins found that in tests on animals ibogaine led to the degeneration of nerve cells in the cerebellum. However, ibogaine was found to be toxic at both high and low dosage levels, and further studies would be needed to find a safe and effective level for humans. Unfortunately, in a case study on humans in 1994, one of the patients died during the treatment and to this day ibogaine remains banned as a therapeutic drug in the United States.
In the case of ibogaine, I feel that the potential of a cure for such addictive and destructive substances as heroin, nicotine, and alcohol far out weighs the negative image that being a controlled substance puts on it. While it is important that a safe and effective dosage must be found, I think that ibogaine is a possible miracle drug that may help thousands of victims regain control of their lives and once again become productive members of society.
Ervayunine: a new indole alkaloid from Ervatamia yunnanensis. Liu,Gui; Liu,Xin; Feng, Xiaozhang. Planta Med. 1988, 54(6), 519-21
FDA advisers OK human testing of hallucinogen. Greg Miller. Los Angeles Times, Aug. 26, 1993 v112 pA15 col1.
Ibogaine found toxic in lab tests Anon. Alcoholism & Drug Abuse Week, July 12, 1993 v5 p5(1)
The Mystery of Ibogaine: can an African psychedelic cure addiction? Steve Nadis. Omni, July 1993 v15 n9 p14(1)
The psychedelic cure. (Using ibogaine to treat drug addiction) Alexis Jetter. The New York Times Magazine, April 10, 1994 p50 (1)
The Total Synthesis of Iboga Alkaloids. G. Buchi, D.L. Coffen, Karoly Kocsis, P.E. Sonnet, and Frederick E. Ziegler. Journal of American Chemical Society, 88(13), 3099-109 (1966)