African Herb Helps Addicts Get Off the Drug Treadmill

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For the hundreds of thousands of people addicted to both legal and illegal narcotics, the future is grim. Those trying to free themselves from addiction typically face great physical and psychological pain within hours of discontinuing the drug. While there are support groups for addicts trying to kick their habit, symptoms of withdrawal can be so overwhelming that attempts to discontinue the drug often end in failure.

What’s worse – once the doctor’s prescription for legal narcotic painkillers runs out, patients will often turn to the black market for their pain pills, and when that runs dry the next step is heroin. (In fact, the street slang for OxyContin is “hillbilly heroin”.) And the spiral downward from there is truly horrific.

But there is new excitement spreading through the recovery movement, thanks to a West African herb called Tabernanthe Iboga. Used for thousands of years in African folklore medicine for various purposes including spiritual development and as a rite of passage into adulthood, Iboga’s effectiveness as a treatment to stop opiate withdrawal symptoms was unknown until the late 1960’s. Since then, studies by leading research and academic facilities have shown that Ibogaine (isolated active ingredient from the root bark of the Iboga plant) can be an addiction interrupter for most substances, including heroin, methadone, methamphetamine, cocaine, alcohol, nicotine – and prescription narcotics.

To date, scientists do not fully understand how Ibogaine works in the body, but the theory is that Ibogaine alleviates physical withdrawal symptoms of opiate detox by attaching to the body’s opiate receptor sites. It functions in a similar way to treatments that block or take residence in these receptor sites. However, unlike methadone which can lead to chemical dependency, Ibogaine is non-addictive and need not be taken on a continuing basis. Ibogaine treats other chemical dependencies by cleansing the body of the drug and resetting the brain’s neurochemistry.

After ingestion, Ibogaine is converted by the liver into Nor-ibogaine, which stores up in the fat cells of the body, and is released slowly, preventing any further withdrawal symptoms or cravings for two to six months. It has a documented anti-depressant effect that establishes a state of well-being, free from negative thought patterns.

Ibogaine Treatment Centre Gives Addicts a New Lease on Life

In December of 2009, I had the opportunity to visit an Ibogaine clinic called ‘Awakening in the Dream House’ in San Pancho, Mexico. While I was there, I met some remarkable people, most of whom were addicts in recovery from a variety of powerful drugs – from opiates to methamphetamine to alcohol. As each person told their story of recovery, I grew more intrigued by the power of this herb to break the cycle of addiction and restore well being. Not only do they claim that Iboga detoxifies drug residues from the physical body, it also increases serotonin levels in the brain and has significant psycho-spiritual benefits.

“Ibogaine can provide individuals with critical insights into the origins of their addiction process or other unhealthy behavior patterns. This is experienced acutely during the first hours of the session when the conscious and unconscious aspects of the mind are merged. During this “awakened dream” state, past events, even those about which the individual is not conscious, may be experienced in an emotionally detached way. Many individuals have suddenly understood or clarified past traumatic events or situations that, in part, have led to their present life condition. In effect, years of therapy can be replicated in a matter of hours.” (

The Ibogaine clinic in San Pancho was founded in 2003 by Rocky Caravelli after he used Iboga to kick his addiction to heroin and methamphetamine. It is staffed by ex-addicts and health professionals who work closely with each new client to support them on their journey of recovery. Included in the treatment protocol are vitamins such as potassium and magnesium to support the body during the gruelling detoxification process, along with amino acids such as GABA and Glutamine to nourish the nervous system and calm the mind.

This clinic is one of a network of facilities being set up around the world (except for the U.S. where Ibogaine is illegal) to introduce Iboga as a component in the alternative treatment of drug addiction. While at the San Pancho clinic, I was interested to meet Clare Wilkins, a visiting director of another Ibogaine clinic located in Tijuana, Mexico. Known as Pangea Biomedics, the Tijuana clinic consists of five MDs, an acupuncturist, massage therapist, chronic pain specialist, and a naturopath. Nutritional medicine is high on the agenda here, as evidenced by Clare’s encyclopedic knowledge of herbs and vitamins that assist in the recovery process.

“We teach our clients how to prepare healthy meals and how to use supplements and herbs to curb anxiety, strengthen their nervous system, and promote relaxation,” she says. “For many of our clients this is the first time in their life that they are learning how to nourish themselves properly.

Once the Iboga has broken their addiction, the next step is to rebuild their body and mind with nutritional medicine. It is this extra step that can increase the chances of a lifelong recovery from addiction since many people became addicts in the first place because they were trying to fill a void in themselves. Now they are learning how to fill that void in healthy ways.”

While this unorthodox approach to breaking addiction is not successful 100% of the time, estimates from the various clinics range between 60% and 80% in terms of the number of people who successfully used Iboga to get off drugs permanently. The difference between success and failure seems to depend on whether the client is committed to the treatment, really ready to quit, and willing to do the hard work of breaking their mental attachment to the drug as well.

Having experienced the psychospiritual benefits of the Iboga plant myself, I found it to be a valuable tool in the journey to self discovery, and believe it has a great deal to offer Westerners seeking healing in both body and mind. Mind you, it’s no walk in the park. This plant initiated the most intensive mental and physical purge that I have ever experienced.

(Note: Ibogaine facilitators require all participants to submit a doctor’s report on their blood work and a recent EKG before commencing any treatment protocol.)


Awakening in the Dream House, San Pancho, Mexico,

Julia Woodford founded Vitality Magazine in 1989, and has been its Editor-in-Chief for the past 35 years. Prior to a career in publishing, her studies included Political Economics at York University, Journalism at Ryerson, and Psychology, PhysEd, and Anthropology at University of Toronto. She remains a lifelong student of herbalism, nutritional medicine, and the healing arts to this day. You can read her columns on the Vitality website. She is also the former Show Manager for Whole Life Expo, Canada’s largest showcase of natural health and green living. In 2018 she received a “Hall of Fame” award from National Nutrition. In 2019, she was nominated for a “Person of the Year” award by National Nutrition.


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  1. T
    June 22, 03:03 TOGA sarge

    This is wonderful information but it will never win FDA approval for at least another ten years. I work with fellow veterans as well as Native American addicts. The reservations throughout the West are nothing more than huge meth labs. Even incarceration doesn’t work. Recently 13 inmates walked out of the Northern Cheyenne jail and they weren’t missed for two days.. Honestly, I don’t put too much hope in this treatment. Thanks for the very interesting article.

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  2. J
    April 21, 12:09 Jonathan Hansen

    It’s fascinating that you mention that ibogaine treatment can help addicts to stop using heroin. My cousin is addicted to heroin, so I’m thinking about recommending ibogaine treatment to him. I’m going to look for a reputable ibogaine treatment center that he can use.

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