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If you found this blog post you’re probably wondering about the effects of Iboga for depression, in the following post we will give you a break down of it’s history and usage to date. In December 2020, Iboga as an antidepressant treatment made the headlines, following the publication of a paper in science journal Nature. The team that published the paper was using a synthetic version of ibogaine, the active psychedelic substance found in an African shrub, and showing promising results.
While this isn’t the first time science and medicine have flirted with iboga, it’s one of the most promising so far. The plant has been used in traditional and spiritual healing for centuries, and has a devoted following across the globe amongst alternative practitioners.
So what is Iboga, and how does it work?
Tabernanthe Iboga is an evergreen rainforest shrub indigenous to the Congo’s, Cameroon, Angola, and Gabon. While T. Iboga is the wider known plant, T. Manii is also used. There are at least seven officially identified species in Gabon, and quite possibly more to be discovered.
The plant, which can range in size from one or two meters to up to 10 meters in height at maturity, produces bright orange inedible fruit after its first year.
The healing and practices most often used are from the Gabonese Bwiti and Mbiri traditions.
Bwiti focuses on spiritual and initiation rituals. Mbiri, its sister tradition, focuses more on healing.
The rise of Bwiti dates back to the turn of the twentieth century, when French colonization pushed the historically coastal Bantu tribe into contact with the inland Pygmy. The resulting violence led the Pygmy people to share their iboga practice with the Bantu, in the hopes of calming hostilities.
Harvesting either means uprooting the whole plant, or a complicated process of taking root bark and leaving the shrub alive, but stunting it’s growth.
The increase in global popularity combined with the harvesting methods and the impact of climate change, have led to recent concerns over the ecological impact and sustainability on the shrub and its habitat.
The cost of the plant has dramatically increased, and scarcity means a number of rituals have replaced the root with palm spirits.
Because of the sustainability pressures on the plant, an increasing number of clinical practitioners are using the semi-synthetic version of ibogaine hydrochloride obtained from Voacanga Africana, the voacanga tree. In this form it’s generally metabolised faster than the forms of the drug, as well as better measured and standardised.
Sourced entirely from plants, it’s an ethical, ecological, and economical alternative.
Iboga is used traditionally to help with compulsive behaviours and help the patient re-find their place in the community. It’s a very direct correlation to the use of ibogaine in western medicine to relieve addiction. The major difference is in the ritual used, where the entire community comes together and uses the root.
Iboga vs Ibogaine
While controversial because of the psychotropic aspects and the potential for cardiac events, iboga and ibogaine’s use in the Western world dates back to the 1860’s.
It’s worth noting that the reported fatalities have been linked to treatment for addiction, and are in line with other addiction therapies.
Science is still trying to understand how this alkaline root helps opioid addiction. While we know that it targets and effectively reboots the parts of the brain affected by addiction, the ability to reset the brain to a pre-addictive state is still unexplained.
The very long list of contra-indicated medications and foods include anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, bergamot oil and grapefruit juice, HIV treatment drugs and certain antihistamines amongst others.
It’s absolutely vital that users and practitioners complete proper, honest medical screening before using iboga, and ensure proper medical support is on hand during its use. It’s estimated that 1 in 400 people who take ibogaine have a fatal reaction. Most of these appear to be due to interactions with other drugs or prior medical conditions.
A significant aspect of Bwiti is the easing of grief and unease through rituals, and iboga plays a vital role. It’s a natural step to look at it as a possible treatment for depression. The discovery that iboga binds to and inhibits the serotonin transporter in the brain in an unusual way has added to the puzzle around the plant.
Ibogaine metabolises into noribogaine, which increases the availability of serotonin in the brain.
Ibogaine has been used in western medicine since the 1860’s. It was first brought to Paris in 1864 by Griffon du Bellamy, and classified in 1889 by Henri Baillon. The crystallized salt-form of Ibogaine was isolated in 1900 by Edouard Landrin and by 1939 was being used medically as a neuromuscular stimulant, specifically recommended for “fatigue, depression and recovery from infectious diseases.”
Landrin and his colleagues conducted and published experiments and noted the possible therapeutic use by the medical profession.
Iboga use in the West in many ways was a victim of its own success and properties. Used as a stimulant and even an aphrodisiac by consumers, by 1966 the World Health Assembly had classed it as likely to cause addiction. It was removed from the market, and is currently on the illegal or heavily restricted lists of a number of countries.
While the team that’s experimenting with the synthetic, psychedelic-free version has seen some promising results in mice, people trying the natural root tend to have an almost world-altering experience.
Users report visions, intense repressed memories, and the sensation of their ego shattering and then being rebuilt. It’s not considered a comfortable process, but for many who go through the experience, it’s a necessary one.
Some Gabonese practitioners view iboga as the original fruit of the tree of knowledge referred to biblically because of the physical and mental transformations consumer’s experience. Traditional practitioners believe consuming iboga brings them into contact with their ancestors, acting as a kind of truth serum and teaching universal truths about life and death.
For traditional practitioners, the uninitiated simply cannot understand the full potential found in the plant – and that includes Western science. If you enjoyed this article you may be interested in reading our previous blog post Iboga vs Ayahuaska.