The Tabernanthe iboga (iboga) tree or commonly called the miracle plant is a perennial rainforest shrub native to Central African evergreen bush countries like Gabon, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Republic of Congo. It is also cultivated across Central Africa.
In rituals and also in African traditional medicine, the yellowish root barks of the iboga tree are used to bring about hallucinations and near-death experiences to the users, however, with some fatalities occurring. Initial research indicated that ibogaine, one of the main alkaloid constituents of iboga root barks, possesses great potential for treating addictions related to opioids and other substances of abuse. In high doses, however, ibogaine is considered to be very toxic and has caused serious contraindications when used with opioids or other prescription drugs. In the United States, for example, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has listed ibogaine as a controlled substance of the Controlled Substances Act.
The Iboga tree is very important to the Bwiti spiritual practices in West-Central Africa, mainly in countries like Gabon, Cameroon, and the Republic of the Congo, where the alkaloid-containing root barks are used in various initiation ceremonies to create a near-death experience. Iboga is taken in large quantities by initiates of this spiritual practice, and on a more regular basis, it is eaten in smaller doses in relation to rituals and tribal dances performed at night during the initiation rites. Followers of the Bwiti religion have been subject to persecution by Catholic missionaries. Léon M’ba defended the Bwiti religion and the use of iboga in French colonial courts before becoming the first President of Gabon in 1960. In 2000, the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Gabon declared the Tabernanthe iboga tree to be a national treasure.
In smaller doses also, iboga has a stimulant effect and is used to maintain alertness while hunting for days. The term Bwiti is sometimes translated as “dead” or “ancestor,” but its etymology may be rooted in the term Mbouiti, which is the most accurate name for the Pygmy people that inhabit the region between Gabon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the Bwiti practice remains central to the Gabonese culture, minor Bwiti temples have been established in the surrounding regions, including Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, DR Congo, and South Africa.
Ibogaine/iboga for Addiction Treatment: Modern Medical Use.
Unscientific and unreliable reports of self-treated opioid addiction indicated a reduced desire to sustain opiate abuse following iboga consumption. Since 1970, iboga products have been legally prohibited in the United States following several fatalities occurring. Initial research for the potential use of ibogaine in the treatment of opioid dependence or any other substance use abuse is ongoing in the 21st century, with many clinics in the Western countries using ibogaine like in, Panama, and the Caribbean islands. Iboga extracts, and also the purified alkaloid ibogaine, have attracted attention because of their supposed ability to reverse addiction to drugs such as alcohol and opiates.
Independent ibogaine treatment centers have emerged in Mexico, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa, and New Zealand, all of which operate in what has been described as a “legal gray area”. Covert, illegal neighborhood ibogaine treatment centers are also known to exist in the United States, despite active DEA surveillance. Addiction specialists warn that the treatment of drug dependence with ibogaine in non-medical settings, without expert supervision and unaccompanied by appropriate psychosocial care, can be dangerous – and, in approximately one case in 300, potentially fatal.
Ibogaine/iboga Legal status
The use of Iboga products is banned or restricted in western countries like Belgium, Poland, Denmark, Croatia, France, Sweden, and Switzerland. In the United States also, ibogaine is classified by the Controlled Substances Act on the list of schedule I drugs, although the plant itself remains unscheduled.
A Non-profit organization named Föreningen för holistic missbruksvård is trying so hard to convince the Swedish government on starting up clinical investigations of the iboga’s anti-addictive properties, loosen up the prohibition law against ibogaine, and allow the creation of iboga/ibogaine treatment centers in Sweden.
Exportation of iboga from Gabon is illegal since the passage of a 1994 cultural protection law. An increase in the demand for iboga and ibogaine has greatly increased the pressure on the biodiversity and wild populations of iboga species in Gabon. As a result of this, the country has made efforts to place iboga under the jurisdiction of the UN’s 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and, by extension, the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which came into effect more recently, in October 2014.
While not much data and information are available on the exploitation and existing habitat of the iboga plant, the destructive effects of harvesting and slow growth however could have already severely damaged the wild iboga population.
The slow but sharp increase in the global consumption of iboga and iboga-derived products has caused the price of raw iboga plant material to rise to almost 10 times what it was less than a decade ago. Decreasing availability of the iboga plant in Gabon has led to the gradual emergence of alcoholic spirits being incorporated into iboga initiation ceremonies, or, in some cases, completely replacing iboga as a sacrament.
Steady Iboga cultivation also occurs in areas surrounding Gabon, where the traditional practice is less prevalent and less rooted in conservative values. Recent reports from Cameroon suggest that after a temporary global shortage of iboga in 2009, many villages and small landowners planted small trees of iboga. Although its amount is not confirmed, this limited cultivation has apparently resulted in a network of small-scale farms consolidated by traders, whose products are shipped overseas. With no reliable documentation or way to verify the origin of iboga plant material, the extent to which smuggled iboga contributes to this international trade is unknown.
Overharvesting of Iboga
The Iboga has been used for generations by the Bwiti people of Gabon in Central Africa. As part of their initiation ritual, they gather the iboga plants from the wild, before consuming the root bark and embarking on a transformative spiritual journey. As the world has come to learn of the truly amazing potential of this iboga plant, however, demand has grown beyond the capacity to replace it in the wild as it is harvested. It takes up to ten years for Tabernanthe iboga to grow large enough to produce 500 grams of root bark, which is in the upper range of a single dose. While those who can afford it can find many providers, the Bwiti themselves are less and less able to gather their traditional sacred medicine.
Nevertheless, unsustainable harvesting practices are not the only factor decimating the world’s iboga supply. Iboga’s fruits attract, among other animals, elephants and gorillas which help in spreading the iboga plant’s seeds. As these animals dwindle and face eradication as well due to hunting and human development, we lose not only them but also an important step in the lifecycle of iboga.
Voacanga As an Alternative Ibogaine Source
Many of the people seeking ibogaine treatment are doing so to help treat addiction and lessen withdrawal symptoms, especially for opiates addiction. Iboga, however, contains a number of indole alkaloids, most of which are not well studied. The best known of them is ibogaine, which is what many of the landmark studies on iboga addiction treatment have focused on, and which has the most evidence as an effective addiction interrupter. If you are experiencing opiate addiction and withdrawal symptoms, pure ibogaine may be best for you due to its reputation for completely eliminating addiction withdrawal symptoms in addicts. Significantly, however, ibogaine and similar compounds are also found in other plants, not just the endangered Tabernanthe iboga.
At the Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance conference in 2012 Vancouver, Chris Jenks, Ph.D., revealed his new method to produce ibogaine from voacanga (Voacanga Africana). Voacanga is a small tropical tree closely related to the tabernathe iboga plant, but it grows much more quickly and in a wider array of climates. Even better, the voacanga tree bark can be harvested without destroying the tree. Dr. Jenks’s new method allows organizations to extract voacangine—a chemical similar to ibogaine—and convert it into pure ibogaine.
Moreover, this method suggested by Dr. Jenks allows for this process of extraction to be done in much more environmentally-friendly ways, such as using chemicals whose waste products can then be used as fertilizer for growing voacanga plants. Those seeking sustainable ibogaine therapy should seek out treatment sources that use an alternative like voacanga as the source of their ibogaine.
Due to the rapid knowledge on the use and importance of the iboga plants specifically in the treatment of addictions, also the increase in the practice of the Bwiti religion which uses iboga as sacraments and for divination, and also due to the increase in population amongst other reasons, the availability of the iboga tree is rapidly decreasing to a near extinction level.
Just as we at getibogaine.com, we take the sustainability of iboga very seriously, if everyone works together for the sustainability of iboga to make small changes, then large changes will begin to appear. We want iboga to be available to not just people in need in the western world for many generations to come, but we also need to engage in actions that will keep it available to traditional practitioners for religious use as well.