Pubdate: Fri, 03 Jan 2003
Source: Georgia Straight, The (CN BC)
Copyright: 2003 The Georgia Straight
Author: Gail Johnson


Marc Emery may not have made it to the mayor's chair, but the head of the 
B.C. Marijuana Party has plenty of other ventures to keep him busy. Besides 
running a seed-distribution business, the peace and pot activist has 
started a new project that he's especially passionate about, one he says 
can cure cocaine and heroin addiction at a low price.

He's the man behind the Iboga Therapy House, a place he has rented on the 
Sunshine Coast that overlooks the ocean and where drug addicts can go for 
ibogaine treatment.

Ibogaine comes from Tabernanthe iboga, a flowering African shrub that's 
related to the coffee plant. In some parts of West Africa, it's a 
hallucinogen used in male rites of passage. Iboga is said to induce wild 
visualizations, be nonaddictive, and have anti-addictive qualities.

Advocates allege that one or two doses is enough to cure addiction, whether 
it's to crack cocaine, heroin, alcohol, or nicotine. Unlike methadone, 
which is itself addictive, ibogaine does not produce painful withdrawal 

Emery, who started treating addicts from the Downtown Eastside two months 
ago, covers the costs, which amount to about $1,500 per person. He takes in 
up to four addicts per week and has administered oral doses of ibogaine 
himself to nearly a dozen people. It's the first such program in North America.

"This could be a very effective way of treating people at a very low cost," 
he told the Straight on the line from the Sunshine Coast. "People who have 
been through opiate withdrawal are amazed. They don't have a dripping nose, 
there's no nausea. This has been a revelatory experience. I'm hoping the 
government will pick it up."

Though not approved by Health Canada, ibogaine is not a prohibited product 
under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, Emery noted. The substance 
is illegal in the United States, but it's available through an 
international black market, and there are private clinics in the Caribbean 
and Panama City. "It's an underground phenomenon all over the world," said 
Emery, who orders ibogaine from Ontario, Slovenia, and Holland.

One of the alleged benefits of ibogaine is that it doesn't cause the 
horrible flulike side effects that people withdrawing from heroin or 
cocaine typically endure, such as diarrhea, cramps, anxiety, and muscle 
twitches. However, some preclinical studies have indicated that the 
substance could cause lasting damage to the cerebellum, leading to loss of 
motor coordination.

The use of ibogaine to treat addiction got its first push from Howard 
Lotsof, an American who patented the therapy. He's credited with recording 
initial observations of the effects of ibogaine on heroin addicts who took 
the substance to get high in the mid-1960s. (Lotsof was one of them.)

Lotsof tried to go beyond anecdotal evidence by conducting preclinical 
research. He approached pharmaceutical companies to back his efforts, but 
none responded--likely because of the lack of potential profit, since the 
medicine is usually taken only once. He pushed for the Food and Drug 
Administration's approval of clinical trials, but that plan fell apart in 
1993, when a 24-year-old heroin user died about 20 hours after taking 
ibogaine. (Two other addicts have also died following ibogaine treatment.) 
The therapy has its critics, like American drug researcher Peter Hoyle, 
who, according to a recent High Times article, doesn't think there's enough 
evidence to warrant human trials--especially since the mechanism of 
ibogaine's action isn't understood.

Without any official stamp of approval, Lotsof continues research and 
treatment (mainly in Holland). He recently cowrote a revised Manual for 
Ibogaine Therapy: Screening, Safety, Monitoring & Aftercare, which cautions 
that "treatment providers and patients are solely responsible for their 

"The extremely costly regulatory approval process and the reluctance by 
major pharmaceutical firms to pursue regulatory approval in the West has 
led to the formation of non-medical ibogaine treatment," the manual says. 
"This document is intended principally for lay-healers who have little or 
no medical experience, but who are nevertheless concerned with patient 
safety and the outcome of Ibogaine treatments."

Lotsof urges caregivers to insist that people have a complete physical, 
including an electrocardiogram, before treatment. Emery has studied that 
document as well as others on the Ibogaine Dossier Web site 
(, which has opinions and information related to the 

Emery said he--or another of the "facilitators" at the Iboga Therapy House 
who are trained in first aid--observes people for about 24 hours after the 
administration of ibogaine and monitors their blood pressure and pulse 
regularly. Emery added that the hospital is a 10-minute drive away and that 
all candidates have to sign a medical-release form.

Anyone is welcome, Emery said, as long as they stop taking drugs for 24 
hours before treatment. He said he recommends two doses, about a week 
apart, to prevent a relapse. "Typically the first dose cancels the physical 
addiction," Emery said, "and the second targets the psychological 
underpinnings of addiction."

Emery, who's never taken ibogaine himself, said the substance can cause 
intense visualizations lasting eight to 18 hours. He also said that because 
of the lack of withdrawal symptoms, ibogaine can help addicts address other 
issues. "Being an addict can be a great excuse in a financial or emotional 
crisis," he noted. "This gives them the strength and courage to face their 
problems without giving in to their weaknesses. They have an opportunity to 
reinvent themselves, so they need to stay away from triggers or temptation."

The Iboga Therapy House has fitness equipment, instruments, games like crib 
and chess, and a meditation room--anything that "gives people pleasure that 
doesn't involve drugs", Emery said--but no TV. Emery, who doesn't accept 
money from addicts unless they want to donate after they've been clean for 
at least three months, said he'd like to see the treatment made available 
to all Vancouver addicts, who can contact him via the Vancouver Area 
Network of Drug Users (604-683-8595).

He added that he hasn't encountered any opposition to the ibogaine project 
yet. "I've never run into critics," he said, "because there's nothing to 
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