Somewhere around two million Americans suffer from opioid-related substance use disorder. Treatments like buprenorphine and methadone calm the brain circuits affected by opioids, reducing cravings and withdrawal. In conjunction with counseling, these medications can gradually ferry addicted individuals back to normalcy. Unfortunately, medications are underutilized and states generally lack the resources to provide them to all afflicted individuals.
It is into this quagmire that some have suggested inserting a new, surprising treatment: a powerful psychedelic drug called ibogaine.
Derived from the root or bark of a West African shrub called Tabernanthe iboga, ibogaine has been used in the Bwiti spiritual discipline of the forest-dwelling Punu and Mitsogo peoples of Gabon for generations.
A curious side effect, anecdotally recognized in the 1960s, is that ibogaine significantly reduces cravings for alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, opiates, and nicotine, so much in fact that some people claimed to be completely rid of their drug addictions after a single, mind-altering dose.
In 2016, researchers in New Zealand calculated that patients could be treated for their addictions with lower doses, around 0.87mg per kilogram of body weight, which is substantially lower than those presently being administered by gray market practitioners. Randomized, controlled trials are now underway to test their hypothesis.