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Ibogaine is a psychoactive alkaloid that is being explored for the treatment of drug addiction in the U.S. Although illegal in the US as of now, some 20 or 30 ibogaine clinics are in operation worldwide. This hallucinogen is used mainly in the treatment of opioid dependency.

Ibogaine is derived from a root used in African religious practices. Historically, it has been used in healing ceremonies and initiations by members of the Bwiti religion in various parts of West Africa. Ibogaine causes severe nausea, vertigo, sleeplessness, and visions that can be nightmarish, though it has been shown to block craving and withdrawal symptoms in people detoxing from heroin and other opioids.

Ibogaine therapy for drug addiction is beneficial because unlike standard opioid detoxes, it does not use another addictive opioid to wean you off the first. It is proposed that there is also some therapeutic value to the hallucinogenic trip in ibogaine therapy for drug addiction, such as examining the behaviors that led to the addiction in the first place. Some users report “visions” that help them conquer their addictions while using the drug. A few addiction experts think that focused counseling during this time could be beneficial, although there is yet to be any type of controlled study to confirm this.

By some reports, ibogaine has a mortality rate that can be as high as 1 in 300. It can slow the heart and be lethal to someone with pre-existing medical problems. Anyone interested in using ibogaine therapy for drug addiction should carefully weigh the risks and benefits of treatment, and should ensure that medical assistance is available during the session.

Proponents for ibogaine therapy for drug addiction claim that it “cures” the addiction in a very short amount of time. They say that the visual hallucinations and introspective nature of the trip is better than 30 days of standard addiction treatment therapy.

There has been some research into producing a variation of ibogaine that would eliminate the psychoactive effects. The trip can be unpleasant and arduous, especially while withdrawing from opiates. However, supporters of ibogaine therapy for drug addiction believe that the trip is essential for the user to experience the full benefits of ibogaine.

Ibogaine itself has a very low incidence of addiction, so it may be preferable to standard opioid detox drugs like methadone and buprenorphine. Some claim that the withdrawal from these standard “detox drugs” can be worse than withdrawal from whatever opioid they were originally addicted to. In cases where methadone or buprenorphine are used as maintenance drugs or over a longer period of time than the standard 3-10 days of a normal detox, this is almost certainly the case. The body becomes dependent on methadone or buprenorphine, and since they have a longer duration of action, the withdrawal process is much longer.

Whatever the claimed benefits, it will likely be a long time before ibogaine therapy for drug addiction becomes legal in the United States. Many more studies will have to be conducted, and the relative safety of the drug taken into account.

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