Pubdate: Sun, 7 Jan 2001
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2001 The Observer
Contact:  119 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3ER, United Kingdom
Fax: 0171 713 4250/4286
Author: Tony Thompson, crime correspondent Observer
Related: Ibogaine links


A powerful hallucinogenic drug that has been linked to dozens of deaths 
around the world is becoming increasingly popular among Britain's heroin 
and crack users, who believe it can offer an instant, painless cure for 
their addictions.

Extracted from the root bark of a west African plant, ibogaine has been 
used in spiritual rituals in parts of Gabon, where it is said to open up 
ancestral memories and enable people to re-evaluate life experiences. It is 
banned in the US, Belgium and Switzerland but legal in the UK where it is 
classified as an unlicensed, experimental medicine. Concerns over its 
safety and high price have prevented it from growing in popularity.

But Observer investigations reveal an increasing number of mail-order 
outlets supplying British addicts with an extract of ibogaine at UKP20 a 
gram. Tourists are also bringing it back from Amsterdam, where it is openly 

Only a few countries, including Panama, Costa Rica and Italy, have clinics 
that administer ibogaine under scientific conditions in treatment 
programmes costing several thousand pounds. In Britain, many users are now 
taking the drug in their own homes under the supervision of friends or 
other addicts.

On Wednesday an inquest opens into the case of a London man who died after 
ingesting ibogaine in an attempt to cure his heroin addiction. His may be 
the first death in the UK related to the use of the substance and 
represents a setback to those who want it used more widely.

'People say it is like having 10 therapy sessions all at once,' says Chris 
Sanders of the Ibogaine Project, a UK-based initiative campaigning for more 
research to be carried out into ibogaine's potential benefits to drug addicts.

'It's often called a wonder drug but the reality is that it's not a total 
cure in itself, just a way of giving an addict a fresh start. It has a 
powerful effect on the body - you need to be fit to be treated with it. I 
can't say I'm happy about people using it on their own.'

Sanders believes deaths linked with ibogaine have occurred when users 
'cured' of their addiction return to using drugs. Because ibogaine 'resets' 
many brain functions relating to drug use, users who take their usual 
dosage soon after treatment risk overdosing. The only major clinical trial 
of ibogaine, which took place in Amsterdam in the early Nineties, was 
abandoned after an addict died of an overdose after being treated.

While even ibogaine's strongest supporters admit there are dangers, those 
who have been treated with it are almost evangelical in their desire to 
enable others to benefit. As well as curing addiction to drugs, alcohol and 
tobacco, they claim it can have a positive effect on other psychological 

The effect of the drug varies according to the dosage. Less than one gram 
produces stimulant and aphrodisiac effects. Up to three produces a mellow 
euphoric trip during which the user may experience various hallucinations. 
Up to six grams, the maximum safe dosage, produces powerful near-death and 
other deep spiritual experiences. Those taking the highest doses of 
ibogaine report that they first enter a dream-like phase that lasts several 
hours and consists of vivid visions of past memories, almost as if they 
were watching a film of their own lives. The second phase consists of high 
levels of analytical mental activity during which users are frequently 
reported to comprehend for the first time the reasons why they drifted into 

Dr Colin Brewer who runs a specialist addition clinic in London, the 
Stapleford Centre, is sceptical about whether the drug is beneficial.

'It has an enormous placebo effect and in that sense has more to do with 
voodoo than pharmacology. In order to evaluate it, you would have to 
conduct experiments alongside another drug like LSD, which no one is going 
to risk because of the harm it can do.'