The complex ways in which Ibogaine work and affect brain function are not well understood. This is largely related to the lack of long term studies that have examined its mechanisms of action, along with the disinterest of the pharmaceutical industry to investigate it. However, scientists have a couple of theories about how does ibogaine work in the brain.
Ibogaine originally comes from the iboga plant native to Africa, and historically, used in initiation ceremonies by the people of Gabon and Cameroon. It was believed that extracts from the plant produced unusual psychedelic or hallucinogenic effects by activating a user’s long term memory. Users recalled visual scenes from their past, followed by a long period of intense reflection of those memories and how it affected their lives (Jetter, 1994).
In the long struggle against drug addiction, scientists and medical researchers are constantly on the lookout for new treatment options. Although opiate and heroin addicts can and do find freedom from their addictions, they must go through the dreaded withdrawal symptoms that accompany them. Once those withdrawal symptoms have subsided, addicts may still struggle with cravings and, worse, the chance of relapse.
Experience Ibogaine and its successful Ibogaine treatment program do not only work around Ibogaine use but in integrating yourself and the world around you.
How Does Ibogaine Work in The Brain
Ibogaine is an indole alkaloid, which means that it’s a basic chemical, as opposed to acidic. It also contains carbon rings in its chemical structure, which can give it unique properties. For example, its ring structure allows it to mimic serotonin, a naturally occurring chemical in the brain. Scientists are interested in Ibogaine as addiction treatment, as well as a derivative of it that appears during metabolism in the body (Nielsen, 2018).
Ibogaine seems to influence withdrawal in two primary ways. First, it helps regulate levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, both of which are chemicals associated with pleasure and feelings of well-being. Second, it helps restore damaged areas caused by long term substance abuse.
Regulation of Dopamine and Serotonin
Let us take a look at how does Ibogaine work to control the release of “feel good” and “reward” chemicals in the brain.
When certain substances or alcohol reach the brain, they can attach to specific receptors like those that stimulate the dopamine command centers. Think of a lock and key mechanism. If the drug, which has a unique chemical shape, finds a corresponding “keyhole” on the command center, it activates the center and tells it to release its chemical, such as dopamine.
Ibogaine is able to work by regulating dopamine surges that occur in addiction because it can inhibit access to some of these dopamine receptors. In other words, it gets in the way and will not allow the drug, like opioid or opiate, to attach to the receptor and stimulate it. Ibogaine can also block transporter molecules that work to shift dopamine into brain cells (Nielsen, 2018).
When a person becomes depressed, it is often related to a decreased level of serotonin. There is a class of antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors that block too much natural serotonin from being removed from circulation. Ibogaine functions in a similar way. Because it resembles serotonin, it can help stimulate the release of more serotonin in the brain, but also block the abnormal reuptake of serotonin caused by the addiction (ICEERS, 2018).
Ibogaine also influences different receptor types to release chemicals called neurotrophic factors. When drugs such as opiates and heroin and alcohol are used repeatedly, various circuits and receptors in the brain become damaged. The damaged brain circuits and malfunctioning dopamine and serotonin receptors contribute to the dreaded withdrawal symptoms experienced by addicts. Neurotrophic factors work to help repair these damaged tissues, promote regular releases of “feel good” chemicals, and prevent the addictive responses that generally happen after long term substance and alcohol use (Carrera, 2018).
An interesting aspect of Ibogaine is that one single dose can diminish withdrawal symptoms and cravings very effectively. Other drugs used to help with addiction frequently require tapering off over time, but Ibogaine does not need to be reduced gradually. Ibogaine works as a stimulant in the body, reducing the need for sleep. This property landed it on the banned-drug lists for Olympic athletes and international cyclists (Ibogaine Legal Status, n.d.).
Ibogaine is most known for its helpful effects around opiate withdrawal and cravings. However, it has also been reported that Ibogaine also helps treat other addictions. Interestingly, it was declared a substance likely to cause dependence by the World Health Assembly in the late 1960s, but it has not been popular as a recreational drug (Nielsen, 2018).
Several studies conducted have shown Ibogaine does not appear to cause addiction, and in fact safe. In one research, rodents were given Ibogaine for six consecutive days and examined its effects. Researchers detected no withdrawal symptoms or signs that the rodents experienced cravings at the end of the trial. Even though Ibogaine is still classified as a Schedule I, suggesting it has the potential for abuse, the National Institute on Drug Abuse does not consider it a danger for abuse or addiction (Nielsen, 2018).
Other addictions to certain substances have seemed to respond well to Ibogaine, including cocaine, nicotine, morphine, and alcohol; however, much of the research in these areas has been done with animals or in small case studies of humans. These studies revealed that addicted rodents, when treated with Ibogaine, experienced fewer withdrawal symptoms and a decreased pursuit and intake of the addictive substances (Santos, et al, 2017).
Ibogaine has traditionally been used in parts of Africa during Bwiti religious and initiation ceremonies. African hunters also discovered that taking the drug on hunting trips helped them stay alert and still while stalking prey (Glick, et al, 1991). When Ibogaine (or iboga bark, in this case) is used during formal rituals, the process is taken very seriously and requires days of preparation. Participants in the Bwiti rituals believe that the Ibogaine they gather from the iboga shrub bark gives them access to advanced spiritual knowledge and transcendent experiences (Dancing, 2018).
The hallucinogenic effects of Ibogaine may be one of the most important parts of helping addicts overcome their addiction. After a dose of Ibogaine is given, people with certain addiction begin to recall memories from their past. Some individuals report interacting with spirits or feeling as though they were flying. These visual hallucinations can last for several hours following the treatment. With this playback of life events, addicts tend to spend an extended time of intense focus, pondering all of their recalled memories (Life After Ibogaine, n.d.).
People suffering from certain addiction have reported that they believe it is this life contemplation that has enabled them to stay clean. As they considered their memories, they could evaluate their past choices and see how their actions might have affected friends and loved ones. The considerable reduction in craving from Ibogaine also gave them a sense of freedom and fresh perspectives with which to make new choices. This freedom did seem to exist when they struggled with the compulsion and obsessive behavior that had accompanied their addictions (Dosani, et al, 2014).
The hallucinogenic states experienced by addicts treated with Ibogaine can vary. After the initial treatment is given, some addicts have one episode of vomiting, which researchers suggest might be related to motion sickness. Addicts undergoing treatment usually then want to lie still, seeking out quiet, dark rooms. This type of calm, distraction-free setting might be the kind of environment most conducive for the intense introspection they have following visual hallucinations (ICEERS, n.d.). Fortunately, Experience Ibogaine provides more than just an effective Ibogaine treatment, but a relaxing environment where patients can be comfortable and safe during their stay.
After 12 to 24 hours, depending on the person and ibogaine dose given, the addict will gradually begin to experience less of the hallucinogenic state. They can once again turn their attention toward what is going on around them instead of being so intensely focused on their memories (Lotsof & Wachtel). Although there is some variability in research results, some reports suggest that a single treatment of Ibogaine can stop cravings for up to six months. A series of four treatments could help an addict remain free of cravings for three years or more (Nielsen, 2018).