Ibogaine is an alternative therapy for withdrawal of opioids and other substance abuse addictions. Due to its illegal status in the United States and many parts of the world, its use has been reserved for informal treatment networks. Most of the available research to date on the effectiveness and safety of ibogaine has been done using animal studies or by reviewing the treatment of patients at clinics outside the US.
Below are short summaries of some of the most recent and relevant research surrounding ibogaine therapy for addiction. Each summary discusses highlights, drawbacks, and overall conclusions of each study. Finally, links to full-text PDFs of each study are available for further reading.
#1 – A preliminary investigation of ibogaine: Case reports and recommendations for further study (1994)
Many of the studies and case reports that had been presented up to this time focused on the immediate effects of ibogaine, including how it influenced withdrawals or created hallucinations in patients. The authors of this study were interested in understanding some of the longer term outcomes that occurred with high doses of ibogaine. The study followed seven patients through opioid detox: six were heroin addicts and 1 was addicted to codeine.
After taking ibogaine by mouth, none of these patients had any severe withdrawals. Furthermore, they experienced very high energy levels for several weeks following treatment. Results among the patients varied regarding long term abstinence. The study suggests that how long a person avoids drug use may be related to the dosage of ibogaine they are given. Three of the patients remained drug free for at least 14 weeks following treatment, causing the the study authors to recommend further research into ibogaine as a useful model for drug addiction treatment.
#2 – Treatment of Acute Opioid Withdrawal with Ibogaine (1999)
This study reviewed the data from the treatment of 33 heroin addicts in the US and the Netherlands using ibogaine, ranging from 1962 to 1993. The addicts were treated in informal settings over a three-day period. Each of the patients was given an ibogaine dosage based on their weight. The purpose of this review was to understand how ibogaine affected short term withdrawal and opioid cravings.
One patient immediately began using heroin after detox, likely because her ibogaine dose was too low. Another patient died during treatment. It is unclear whether the death was directly related to ibogaine toxicity or if she was secretly using heroin during her detox period. Ultimately, 25 of the patients experienced a reduction in drug cravings that lasted between 24 and 72 hours. Six of the remaining patients had varying degrees of reduction in withdrawal symptoms and drug seeking behaviors. The study authors believe that the effect of ibogaine on reducing these symptoms and drug cravings warrants further research into ibogaine or similar drugs for addiction treatment.
#3 – Ibogaine in the Treatment of Heroin Withdrawal (2001)
This study evaluated the effects of ibogaine on withdrawal and addiction cravings in a more controlled medical setting in the West Indies. 32 heroin and methadone addicts volunteered for the study and underwent thorough physical and medical examinations including heart monitoring for underlying issues. The patients were given single doses of ibogaine and closely observed over a three-day detox period.
Follow up with the patients at multiple points during the detox and in the week following showed significant overall decreases in withdrawal symptoms. The volunteers experienced fewer cravings long term as well as improvements in reported feelings of depression. The study also found that ibogaine helped addicts withdraw from methadone without the need for tapering down. The researchers in this study concluded that their preliminary results with ibogaine seemed strong, and that it could be safely administered to addicts in a clinical setting.
#4 – Treating drug dependence with the aid of ibogaine: a retrospective study (2014)
The purpose of this study, set in Brazil, was to evaluate the safety of ibogaine in treating patients with various addictions other than opioids, 75 addicts, three-quarters of whom had multiple addictions, were given ibogaine in several divided doses in addition to an anti-nausea medication, at a clinical setting. Some patients came back to the clinic for a second ibogaine treatment if their treatment team recognized they were struggling with cravings, integration into society, or other issues related to relapse.
61% of the study participants were able to achieve abstinence from their addictions for a significant period of time. Those who received only one ibogaine treatment had a median abstinence time of approximately 5 months. This increased to just over 8 months in patients who underwent two ibogaine treatments. There were no serious side effects or medical emergencies involved with this study. The authors conclude that ibogaine may be a useful treatment for non-opioid drug addictions.
#5 – Treating drug dependence with the aid of ibogaine: a qualitative study (2016)
The treatment of drug addiction cannot just be evaluated by looking at a reduction in the amount of a drug that is consumed. Other factors in life play a role in defining the success of drug treatment. These can include the resulting quality of relationships, quality of life, decreases in cravings, etc. This study sought to examine these other influences that can help make or break treatment outcomes and potential of relapse.
22 patients representing various drug addictions were enrolled in the study, set in Brazil. The majority of these preferred crack or crack cocaine as their primary drug. Each of the patients was required to be drug free for 30 days prior to their single dose ibogaine treatment. The patients also underwent psychotherapy during their time at the clinic. The study concluded that, although it was a small study sample and some bias was present, ibogaine could be very effective in treating stimulant drug addictions when combined with psychotherapy.
#6 – Ascending Single-Dose, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Safety Study of Noribogaine in Opioid-Dependent Patients (2016)
The purpose of this study in New Zealand was to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of noribogaine in helping addicts withdraw from methadone. Noribogaine is a residual chemical that remains in the body for an extended period of time after ibogaine is broken down. 27 patients were switched from methadone to morphine prior to testing, and all underwent in depth medical assessments. Each patient was given one of three different doses of noribogaine, or a placebo.
The study found that at lower doses, noribogaine appeared safe and caused only mild to moderate side effects. The authors did note that the higher doses of noribogaine could potentially cause heart rhythm abnormalities. They also found that noribogaine did not produce the hallucinations and dream-like states that are common with ibogaine. Further study into noribogaine’s action was recommended, as well as the need for multiple doses to prevent rapid relapse.
#7 – Remission of Severe Opioid Use Disorder with Ibogaine: A Case Report (2016)
This study looked at one female patient who had a nearly two decade long opioid addiction. She began a four-day treatment in Vancouver where she received an initial test dose of ibogaine, followed by two booster doses. She was also given hydromorphone to help suppress any withdrawal symptoms. At the time of this case report, the patient remained opioid free for 18 months. Her longest period of opioid abstinence up to that point had only been two months with a methadone treatment.
This patient attributes her lack of relapse to the deep introspection of her life and relationships caused by the ibogaine. The report authors feel that ibogaine and similar drugs may be helpful treatments in addictions that do not respond well to other methods. They also note that with so many ibogaine treatments taking place in uncontrolled settings, more research is necessary to understand safety concerns surrounding its use.
#8 – Subjective Effectiveness of Ibogaine Treatment for Problematic Opioid Consumption: Short and Long-Term Outcomes and Current Psychological Functioning (2017)
This study evaluated both the short and long term effects of ibogaine treatment for opioid addiction in 88 patients in Mexico, from 2012-2015. The study evaluated cravings, mood, and withdrawal symptoms experienced before, during and after treatment. The ibogaine treatment appeared to be very significant in reducing cravings and improving mood well beyond the end of the of treatment period. Furthermore, 80% of the patients remained free of any significant withdrawal symptoms.
By the time of the study, over half of the participants had remained abstinent for a year, and approximately a third had been abstinent for two or more years. There was some relapse in almost a quarter of the sample, but 10% of these eventually achieved abstinence. Because of the promising data, the study authors recommended rigorous, controlled studies that would help inspire legislative change regarding ibogaine use in the United States.
#9 – Treatment of opioid use disorder with ibogaine: detoxification and drug use outcomes (2017)
This study followed 30 volunteers from initial ibogaine treatment through twelve months post-treatment to observe its long term effects. The patients, treated at a private clinic in Mexico, were given a test dose of ibogaine and then boosters if withdrawal symptoms began to break through. They were then contacted for follow up interviews every three months for a year.
No serious side effects were observed in the study. A constant theme brought up by the participants was how useful the hallucinogenic experiences that accompany ibogaine treatment are. 15 of the patients remained opioid free for the first 30 days following treatment. This number declined after the first month post-treatment but then rebounded; some who had relapsed were able to achieve abstinence for at least one month. The study suggests that ibogaine is helpful for those who have failed in other opioid addiction treatments. Furthermore, ibogaine might be a useful model for the development of similar detox medications.
#10 – Ibogaine treatment outcomes for opioid dependence from a twelve-month follow-up observational study (2017)
This study was set in New Zealand with the purpose of providing evidence to support future research, not to decide if ibogaine is safe or not. 14 patients, primarily methadone addicts, were treated with several doses of ibogaine. They were also given benzodiazepines to help relieve any side effects during detox.
16 people were part of the original study, but one patient dropped out and a second patient died. It is unclear if the death resulted from the ibgoaine itself or negligence by a care provider during the detox period. The 14 participants were followed for 12 months following their ibogaine treatment. Two of these relapsed, but 12 reported that they either reduced or completely stopped using opioids. The study had a very small sample size with several areas of possible bias. However, it concluded that the effectiveness of single dose treatments of ibogaine should qualify it for consideration in addiction therapies.
#11 – Ibogaine Detoxification Transitions Opioid and Cocaine Abusers Between Dependence and Abstinence: Clinical Observations and Treatment Outcomes (2018)
It is difficult to compare all the small studies on ibogaine treatment. This particular study wanted to evaluate ibogaine treatment for opioid and cocaine addicts in a controlled setting with a larger sample size. 191 addicts were recruited to participate in a 12-day inpatient treatment center. Each received one single large dose of ibogaine. The study showed that both the cocaine and opioid addicts experienced significant decreases in depression and drug cravings following their ibogaine dose. They also experienced a general improvement in mood.
92% of the participants felt that their ibogaine treatment had been a good experience and that ibogaine should be used as an addiction therapy. Significant portions of the sample group felt they had been reborn or given a second chance at life. Finally, the study offered data on how the effectiveness of ibogaine can be influenced by how quickly it is metabolized in the bodies of individuals.
#12 – A Mixed-Method Analysis of Persisting Effects Associated with Positive Outcomes Following Ibogaine Detoxification (2018)
This study was interested in comparing patients who responded positively to ibogaine treatment versus those who didn’t. The sample included 73 patients who were treated for a week in a Mexican clinic, ranging from 2012-2015. The group’s data was then separated into positive responders (81%) and non-responders (19%). Positive responders were those who decreased their opioid use or became abstinent. Non-responders were those who continued or increased their opioid use.
Based on the data, the study suggests that those who responded well to ibogaine treatment did so because of improved emotional functioning. They were also able to look at their lives with new perspectives with insights they gained from ibogaine’s hallucinogenic effects. The authors feel that a better understanding of the challenges addicts face during different points of detox with ibogaine, as well as the mystical experiences ibogaine invokes, could help improve future treatment protocols.
#13 – Changes in Withdrawal and Craving Scores in Participants Undergoing Opioid Detoxification Utilizing Ibogaine (2018)
This study was part of a 3-week program: a week of medical assessment and coaching, a week of detox with ibogaine, and a week of inpatient rehab and recovery. 50 patients treated in Mexico in 2015, using this protocol, were included in this review.
This was the largest observational study to date to evaluate outcomes of ibogaine treatment for opioid withdrawal.
The data echoed that of similar, smaller studies. Three-quarters of the participants remained free of any withdrawal symptoms detectable by the medical staff. A similar number of patients also reported a significant decrease in drug cravings in the two days following their treatment. The authors conclude that legal restrictions on ibogaine should be reduced in the United States to pave the way for more rigorous, controlled research.
#14 – Ibogaine in the Treatment of Alcoholism: a Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Escalating-dose, Phase 2 Trial (Planned for 2018-2019)
There are medications available to help people detox from alcohol, but these include numerous side effects and require long term treatment. This study is to be the first of several studies to evaluate the effectiveness of ibogaine in treating multiple types of addictions. Case reports and animal studies have suggested that ibogaine holds promise in treating alcoholism, but there is no current data from controlled clinical studies supporting this.
The study will include a small sample of 12 patients in Brazil with the goal of determining safety of the ibogaine treatment with increasing dosage concentrations. It will be a double-blind, randomized control study. This means that neither the patient nor the researcher will know which patients are receiving ibogaine and which are receiving placebos. If successful, the researchers hope to increase the sample size and try similar studies among methadone addicts.