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Iboga - The Black Mirror

Updated: Aug 3, 2019

These days most people have heard of ayahausca; the ceremonial, psychedelic jungle brew that sends users into powerful altered states of consciousness. Lesser known, however, is another powerful mind-altering plant medicine called “Iboga”.

With online reports of dark, sinister hell realms to eyes open, photo-real, lucid nightmares, to say iboga is swan diving into the murkiest end of the psychedelic spectrum is an understatement and should only be attempted by the most experienced and courageous psychonauts.

Whereas ayahuasca experiences are largely reported as technicolour, soothing, feminine encounters, iboga is its yang reflection and counterweight. Visions are often described as dark, underground or earthy, existing in an undeniably rough, masculine dimension.

With reports of heroin addicts successfully using Iboga to get clean, and powerful, personal journeys into the depths of one’s own psyche; one thing is abundantly clear - iboga is a very powerful substance. Not one to baulk at the opportunity to dig a little deeper and find out more about this plant medicine, I began to research and came up with some fascinating findings.

Some of the things I found were quite astonishing:

  • Iboga resets the brain when it comes to addiction and the success rate of addicts kicking their habit after iboga is extremely high.

  • In some ways iboga is more powerful than ayahuasca with trips lasting from 12-24 hours.

  • Iboga is a very masculine medicine. If ayahuasca is the “mother” then iboga is definitely the “father”.

  • Iboga stays in the bodily system for a long time after and can have an antidepressant effect.

Many questions popped into my head as I began looking: “Are there any risks?”, “What is iboga’s mechanism of action?”, “Is iboga legal?”

Let’s take a closer look and answer some of these questions -

What is Iboga?

The full name for the iboga plant is "Tabernanthe iboga” . It is a perennial rainforest shrub, native to western Central Africa. The roots of the plant contain a number of indole alkaloids, most notably ibogaine, which is found in the highest concentration in the root bark. Iboga also contains the psychoactive alkaloids coronaridine, ibogamine, tabernanthine and voacangine.

Iboga is a powerful stimulant when taken in small doses and induces intense hallucinations in larger doses. In parts of Africa where the plant grows, the bark of the root is chewed for ritualistic purposes, specifically the Bwiti religion held by the peoples of Gabon.

How does Iboga work on the brain?

The pharmacology of iboga is complex and poorly understood. While largely behaving as a serotonergic psychedelic, similar to LSD, DMT and psilocybin, ibogaine interacts with numerous brain systems including transporters, opioid receptors, sigma receptors, glutamate receptors, and nicotinic receptors.

Ibogaine is believed to produce its psychedelic effects from its power of binding at the 5-HT2A receptor. However, the role of these interactions and how they result in the psychedelic experience continues to remain elusive. With all that being said ibogaine is of the tryptamine class of alkaloids putting it in the same category as DMT (Dimethyltryptamine).

Ibogaine is rapidly metabolized in the human body and turned into noribogaine. Noribogaine acts as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor working in the same way as the common antidepressant medication. This antidepressant effect can last for a long time after iboga is taken. So it seems the exact mechanism of action of iboga not fully understood.

The plot thickens….

How is iboga taken?

Iboga can be taken in different ways. Traditionally the root bark is chewed "as is" or it's powdered and eaten from a spoon. This is how it is taken by the indigenous Bwiti tribes. Also iboga can be taken as a full spectrum extract where the active alkaloids are extracted from the root bark and capsulated. This would be similar to the traditional method except a much smaller amount of material needs to be ingested. Lastly iboga can be taken as pure ibogaine. Here the ibogaine is isolated and the other alkaloids discarded. Each way of taking iboga will have a slightly different effect.

Another interesting thing about iboga is the taste. It is reported as being incredibly bitter, the most bitter thing one could taste - "Like sawdust laced with battery acid". So much so that it causes anaesthesia in the mouth and tongue. Many iboga aficionados say that it's very important to taste it, even if only briefly, so one can connect with the spirit of the medicine.