For thousands of years, the root bark of the tropical shrub Tabernanthe Iboga has been the basis of a tradition of initiation and healing in the forests of Western Equatorial Africa. It is used as a tool for contacting ancestors, engaging natural spirits and accessing other dimensions to get advice for healing and moral life management.
One of the plant’s alkaloids, Ibogaine, has unique medicinal qualities which are attracting increasing interest from Western researchers and therapists. Ibogaine effectively helps drug addicts to overcome their addiction; it has also increasingly moved into the academic focus as a potential remedy, for Parkinson’s disease and Hepatitis C, as well as for application in the field of psychotherapy.
Iboga in Western Equatorial Africa
The core element of all Iboga traditions is a controlled near-death experience of several days duration. Initiation into the world of the ancestors and spirits through the ingestion of large amounts of Tabernanthe iboga root bark marks the rite of passage into adulthood. The child dies and is reborn as an adult and fully-fledged member of the group. A widespread name for these traditions is Bwiti. Although Gabon is the centre of Bwiti, Iboga is also found in Cameroon and other Western Equatorial African Countries. There are diverse branches of Bwiti, which, besides ethnic differences, also feature differing spiritual fundaments. All of these branches, however, share the use of Iboga as an initiatory sacrament. Bwiti traditions can be found amongst strongly animist-oriented groups located deep in the jungle, only marginally influenced by Western colonialism. However, the more densely populated areas also show syncretic forms of Bwiti, in which parts of the Christian religion are incorporated.
Iboga and Ibogain in the Western World
The first Tabernanthe iboga specimen brought to Europe arrived in France in 1864. In 1901, two different research teams working independently of each other isolated Ibogaine, the main alkaloid of the shrub. Ibogaine – under the product name Lambarene – was prescribed as a medicine in France for depression, listlessness and fatigue, but was also used by athletes for performance enhancement. Ibogaine was however banned in 2007 in France after an Ibogaine-related death.
The official history of Ibogaine-supported drug therapy began 1963 when Howard Lotsof discovered by chance the anti-addictive effects of Ibogaine.
Ibogaine enables a relatively quick, painless, and often insight-providing rehabilitation from opioids and other drugs. Initiates describe how they relive key moments of their lives, family dynamics and other visions, enabling them to gain a clear perception of the root of their addiction.
Due to its unique neurophysiological spectrum of activity, i
Ibogaine not only alleviates detoxification in diverse cases of drug addiction, but is also increasingly noted for other healing purposes. Of particular interest to mainstream medicine is its mechanism of activity related to the increase of the nerve growth factor GDNF (Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) in the brain. This peptide has neuroregenerative and neuro-protective properties and stimulates the growth of new dopamine neurons. This is not only effective for detoxification through repairing of the brain’s reward system, but also against the effects of Parkinson’s disease. Until now, degeneration of the dopamine neurons in patients with Parkinson’s could, at best, be considerably retarded with existing medicines. With GDNF it is possible to cause new neuron growth – an absolute novelty in the field of Parkinson’s disease research.
Furthermore, Ibogaine possesses considerable antiviral potency. Documented cases show how, following treatment with Ibogaine, the Hepatitis-C viral load was dramatically reduced and/or the virus could no longer be found.
All these properties of Ibogaine show a far-reaching therapeutic potential.