As more people turn to psychedelic therapy, and actively search out retreats offering them, two major treatments keep coming up: Iboga, commonly referred to as ibogaine, and ayahuasca.
Both are traditional plant-based medicines with a deep history behind them. Both of them have psychedelic properties, and both of them are touted by users as life-changing.
There are some vital differences between them, though, so it’s important to make an informed choice between them.
Where are they from and how are they made?
While both treatments are created from plants with thousands of years of historical indigenous use between them, they come from completely different parts of the world and have very different preparation styles.
Hailing from Central Africa, particularly Gabon, iboga use can be traced back to the Pygmy people who shared their traditional use with their old enemies, the Bantu tribes, to try to reduce conflict. Nowadays its use is centered on the Bwiti spiritual tradition.
In Gabonese traditional medicine and rituals, iboga is made from the bitter root bark of the Tabernanthe iboga shrub, an evergreen rainforest plant that needs to be at least three years old before harvesting. The roots are either chewed, ground to a powder, or used in an extract for the ceremony.
The plant is currently considered endangered due to its popularity, and traditional harvesting methods result in either stunting its growth or completely uprooting it. The price of iboga root is high, with Gabon’s government looking at plans to monetise and regulate the trade. In 2019, all exports of the plant were banned due to its endangered status.
Because of this, most ibogaine treatments in retreats are made from Voacana Africana, an abundant plant growing in mainland tropical Africa. The tree contains much smaller quantities of ibogaine, but is a lot more ethical and accessible.
Ayahuasca has been used in South America for thousands of years for spiritual healing. It’s a combination brew; a mix of the ayahuasca vine stem (Banisteriopsis caapi), also known as the ancestor plant, and the leaves of the chacuna plant (Psychotria viridis). Both of these plants have hallucinogenic properties.
While westerners usually focus on the DMT properties found in P viridis, traditional use is focused on the vine that gives this blend its name. There are several brews that are made without the use of chacuna at all, depending on the reasons for treatment and the curanderos (traditional healers or shamans) personal preference.
Brewing ayahuasca is a long process. After cleaning, the vine is mashed until it breaks into thin strands. The chacuna leaves are torn into small pieces. Both are added to a bowl, covered in water, and heated to a simmer. The water, also called the wash is then poured out and kept aside. More water is added and the process begins again.
The water and heat process is repeated until it is felt that all of the medicinal properties of the plants have been extracted; with the wash from each session being retained.
The cooking time varies, but can be well over eight hours because of the process used, and it is never left unsupervised.
Both have been used to treat addiction – to opioids and alcohol in particular – and both have come under fire due to their rising popularity in Europe and the west as examples of colonisation of traditional medicine.
Neither drug is for the faint of heart – the side effects during the trip usually involve purging.
What happens when you take Iboga?
Iboga users have a much longer experience than those consuming ayahuasca. The typical iboga dose affects the user for approximately 18 to 24 hours.
The physical effects are strong enough that users can be unable to move or walk for several hours.
Constant supervision and if necessary, assistance, is required to keep participants safe.
Nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, vomiting, heartbeat and breathing irregularities are all common side effects. Participants are encouraged to stay lying down for the first 12 hours of their trip, as movement will increase the dizziness and nausea felt.
Iboga participation is considered a tri-phase experience, with three distinct parts to the trip.
Phase 1 is the acute phase. Users will often remember past experiences with strong visions particularly in the acute phase. These are reported a entering a visual landscape, rather than intrusive hallucinations. People often describe it as a waking dream, with experiences including floating and contact with transcendent beings and ancestors being common reports.
This phase begins 1 to 3 hours after consuming iboga and can last between 4 to 8 hours. During this phase and the next one, most participants want as little environmental stimulation as possible, and distractions will agitate or annoy the user.
Phase 2 is the evaluative phase. This begins approximately 4 to 8 hours after consumption and can last anywhere from 8 to 20 hours. Its commonly reported as recalling fewer memories in this phase, and participants usually direct their attention to evaluation the acute phase experience.
Phase 3 is the residual stimulation phase. Beginning approximately 12 to 24 hours after the first dose, it can last anywhere from 24 to 72 hours, or in extreme cases longer than that.
During phase 3 users start shifting their attention back to their external environment and find that normal movement returns.
People report heightened vigilance and arousal as well as a lowering in their need for sleep for several days to weeks following their treatment.
Following a completed iboga trip, users find a window of introspection that can last weeks. Most people use this to integrate new perspectives into their lives.
What happens when you take ayahuasca?
The ayahuasca trip is comparatively short when compared to the ibogaine experience. An average trip will last between 4 to 6 hours, although 12 hour experiences have been reported.
Most ayahuasca ceremonies take place at night, and once the trip is over, people drift into sleep.
The physical changes occur first. Tingling, a burning stomach, vertigo and changes to skin sensitivity and temperature perceptions can all be expected, along with the first touch of nausea.
The most famous unpleasant side-effect of ayahuasca is La Purga, the purging. Working on both a physical and emotional level, users can expect vomiting, diarrhoea, uncontrolled crying, shaking and sweating. Additional effects include muscle spasms, hyperthermia, hot and cold flashes, and sedation.
Mentally, it brings up deeply buried trauma and memories. For some, this is a drawback. For others, it’s vital as part of the process of exploring and releasing mental and emotional stress and tension.
Participants find their experience tends to peak around 2 hours after taking the mixture, with the first psychological effects hitting at between 30 minutes to an hour after dosing.
Once the hallucinogenic part of the programme kicks in, expect a sense of fear or anxiety, which usually fades, followed by intense visual hallucinations in waves of activity.
Sometimes auditory hallucinations occur as well. Both visual and auditory hallucinations appear to be dose-strength dependant.
Participants have reported enhanced hearing and rapidly changing emotional reactions, out of body experiences, and the ability to see scenes whether their eyes are open or closed.
Most hallucinogenic experiences with ayahuasca are positive – people refer to it as being dreamlike – but there are reported cases of bad trips.
Unlike an iboga experience, where the ritual is very quiet, most traditional ayahuasca ceremonies involve the shaman using a rattle, singing, and manipulating the energies of the room to guide the experience.
Participants tend to wake up the next morning feeling a greater sense of satisfaction with their lives and an increase in mindfulness. The drawback for some is because of the dreamlike nature of the experience, they sometimes struggle to hold on to what happened under the influence of the vine.
Are they dangerous?
Both medicines can be dangerous to users for different reasons. Both plants should be avoided if you have a heart condition. In addition, people with blood pressure conditions, liver disease and kidney disease must avoid iboga.
Fatalities have been recorded from users of both plants, usually from an interaction with medication. It is absolutely vital your provider knows what medications you are on because of this.
Ayahuasca can interact with different SSRI medications, barbiturates, MAO-inhibitors, other medications, and certain foods like some cheeses.
Traditional shamans and most retreats will give you a list of foods to avoid for a couple of weeks before the ceremony. The list may vary, but the general rule is no sugar, red meat, alcohol or salt.
Often sex is avoided as well, but that seems to be more from a spiritual and metaphysical concern than toxicity.
Ibogaine is a lot stricter regarding medication, and a lot more relaxed regarding food. You’ll need to give your provider a full, honest list of any medication you’re on to make sure it’s safe to ingest.
Is there a difference in hallucinations?
There are some vital differences to the way each medicine works and the deep of hallucinations experienced.
The Bwiti shaman will refer to going deeper. Ibogaine is considered by traditionalists to open up your knowledge to your inner most self; hallucinations are linked to that inner knowledge.
Ibogaine shatters the ego to provide powerful personal insights. In some respects, it’s the equivalent of giving yourself an stern talking to without your conscious ego getting in the way.
Ayahuasca practitioners use the tea to go further. A large attraction for any DMT users is the sensation of exploring further dimensions past our current one. For the user, ayahuasca is a gateway. The hallucinations you will experience are likely to be very different to what you get on an ibogaine experience because you are travelling beyond yourself, rather than within.
Which one is right?
Ayahuasca has been touted as a treatment for mental illness, immune disorders and addiction. A study on the ayahuasca church UDV found that members with a history of dysfunctional behaviours ranging from domestic violence to alcoholism showed a remarkable improvement after joining and attending regular ceremonies.
Researchers think ayahuasca may help with serotonin deficiencies, which have been linked to a huge range of disorders from schizophrenia to senile dementia.
A double-blind study published in bioRxiv examined the rapid antidepressant effects of ayahuasca in treatment-resistant depression and found evidence of rapid antidepressant effect after a single ayahuasca session.
Users consider ayahuasca an excellent treatment for physical illnesses. Some also consider the trip a gentler experience, being both shorter and providing the dream-like state DMT users value.
Ibogaine is rapidly becoming the go-to experience for users trying to break addictions and eating disorders. Considered an addiction interrupter, it seems to have the remarkable property of resetting the brain to a pre-addiction state. Opioid addicts have reported a lack of both withdrawal symptoms and cravings after ibogaine treatments.
Ibogaine has also been used for psychological healing.
When deeply repressed pain and trauma surface, it allows people to confront them and cope with them. It’s been used by participants to treat depression, PTSD, anxiety, and even chronic pain from fibromyalgia amongst others.
A year-long follow-up study of participants who received a single dose of ibogaine in a clinical setting reported that 12 out of 14 individuals report either a complete stoppage of opioid use or severe reduction in use (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00952990.2017.1310218)
The report, published in 2016 in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, was conducted in New Zealand, where it is legal to possess and distribute ibogaine.
At the end of the day, as long as you’re medically cleared, the path you choose to follow is going to depend on what you need and want to receive from the experience.
Whether you’re doing this in order to follow a spiritual path, or because you are looking for help with purely non-spiritual issues, whichever one you choose is likely to change your life. If you would like to participate in a Ayahuasca ceremony in a safe environment check out our Inner Flight Retreat page for more details.
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