IF IT REALLY WORKS, WHY NOT? –
April 5, 2021 – Once dismissed as a fringe, counterculture vice, psychedelics are rapidly approaching acceptance in mainstream medicine. These drugs uniquely change the brain, and a person’s awareness of experiences, in the span of just a few hours. This fast-acting shift could be useful in mental-health treatments, and research is already supporting this notion. Just one dose of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, was recently shown to ease depression and anxiety in cancer patients—an outcome that lasted for years after their trip. Researchers are recognizing that psychedelics can provide a radical new approach to mental-health treatments at a time when innovation is desperately needed.
For addiction in particular, the need has never been greater. More Americans died from drug overdoses last year than ever before, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Weekly counts of drug overdoses were up to 45% higher in 2020 than in the same periods in 2019, according to research from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in February. Available treatments can’t meet the need. They aren’t effective for everyone, may require long-term adherence and are sometimes addictive themselves.
Ibogaine is one of the most promising psychedelics for addiction. Few people have heard of it, it’s illicit in the U.S., and nobody does it for fun. It’s not pleasant. It could kill you. But for extinguishing addiction—and a range of other issues—many people swear there’s nothing like it. The drug hails from a shrub called Tabernanthe iboga, which is native to Central Africa. Since at least the 1800s, members of the Bwiti religion in Gabon have eaten iboga bark shavings during initiations and coming- of-age ceremonies; those who consume it report visions of and contact with their ancestors and even God. The wider world encountered the hallucinogenic plant in the form of ibogaine, a compound extracted from iboga bark and packed into a pill.