Many people report persisting positive effects after receiving ibogaine-assisted detoxification for opioid addiction, but many patients not be receiving adequate support after the treatment, according to new research published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs.
Ibogaine a psychoactive substance found in the root bark of the African Tabernanthe iboga plant, and research suggests that the substance can help treat opioid withdrawal and cravings.
“I was interested in this topic because of the growing body of evidence that suggests that ibogaine might be useful for some people with opioid use disorders,” explained Alan Kooi Davis, a research fellow at Johns Hopkins Behavioral Pharmacology Research Unit and the corresponding author of the study.
“Although I am skeptical about whether it would ever become available in the US, many people travel abroad to seek this treatment in countries where it is unregulated, and conducting a study to examine the experiences of this type of unregulated treatment is an important step towards understanding under what conditions it may be helpful.”
The researchers surveyed 73 people who received one week of detoxification treatment with ibogaine at a clinic in Mexico between 2012 and 2015. Most of the participants had been using heroin or prescription opioids for at least four years.
Many of the respondents (45%) reported a decrease in opioid use after the treatment, while 36% reported never using opioids again and 15% reported no change in their opioid use. Four percent reported an increase in opioid use.
Most of the participants believed that ibogaine treatment had resulted in positive changes in psychological, behavioral, and social functioning. But many of the participants also reported having trouble incorporating their ibogaine experience into their daily lives.
“Ibogaine-assisted detoxification, like any other potential treatment for addiction, is not a magic bullet. Not only do most people relapse (which is similar to other treatments) but there is an increase in risk associated with traveling to a country where this treatment is unregulated. We found that participants noted difficulties associated with this process, including coming back home and lacking support from the facilities they had traveled to,” Davis told PsyPost.
“Without adequate support following this treatment, it is quite difficult for people to be successful in their recovery from opioid addiction. Nevertheless, for those that are able to maintain abstinence or reduce their opioid use, they reported improvements in overall health, mood, and their sense of positive motions/perspectives in life, which they attributed at least in part to their ibogaine treatment.”
Those who responded to the treatment reported “significantly greater positive changes in their sense of gratitude, ability to be a more authentic person, sense of meaning in life, appreciation for life, experience of inner peace, feelings of love and openheartedness, experience of joy or bliss, experience of sacredness in daily life, ability to tolerate difficult or painful feelings, and capacity for coping with stress.”
Though ibogaine has shown some promise to help fight addiction, research on the substance is still in the beginning stages.
“There is much to be learned about this treatment. Many potential dangers associated with the context and acute effects of the substance,” Davis said. “And people should be very cautious about whether to consider this treatment in a foreign country. Until such time as large-scale randomized controlled trials can be conducted, the evidence that we reported in this paper should be considered preliminary.”
The study, “A Mixed-Method Analysis of Persisting Effects Associated with Positive Outcomes Following Ibogaine Detoxification“, was authored by Alan K. Davis, Elise Renn, Austin-Marley Windham-Herman, Martin Polanco, and Joseph P. Barsuglia.