Pubdate: Wed, 17 Nov 2010
Source: Village Voice (NY)
Copyright: 2010 Village Voice Media, Inc
Author: Keegan Hamilton
Bookmark: (Treatment)


The substance has helped addicts kick heroin, meth, and everything in 
between. Is it the trip that does the trick?

Ron Price needs his milkshake. It's 10 o'clock on a Monday morning 
and the bald-headed, barrel-chested former bodybuilder is shuffling 
around the kitchen of a posh rehab clinic in Tijuana, wearing 
slippers and a blue Gold's Gym T-shirt. Price had been employed as a 
stockbroker in New Mexico, until his training regimen left him with 
debilitating injuries that forced him to undergo 33 surgeries in less 
than a decade. His doctor prescribed Oxycontin, and Price quickly 
became dependent on the potent painkiller. More recently, he started 
snorting cocaine and chugging booze to numb the pain. Now, 53 years 
old and three weeks into rehab, all he wants is a milkshake and to 
crawl back into bed.

Clare Wilkins, the vivacious 40-year-old director of Pangea 
Biomedics, pops the lid of the blender to check the consistency of 
the concoction Price craves: peanut butter, soy milk, agave syrup, 
hemp protein powder, and a few scoops of chocolate-flavored Green SuperFood.

Oh, and a half-teaspoon of root bark from the tabernanthe iboga plant.

Taken in sufficient quantity, the substance triggers a psychedelic 
experience that users say is more intense than LSD or psilocybin 
mushrooms. Practitioners of the Bwiti religion in the West African 
nation of Gabon use iboga root bark as a sacrament to induce visions 
in tribal ceremonies, similar to the way natives of South and Central 
America use ayahuasca and peyote. Wilkins is one of a few dozen 
therapists worldwide who specialize in the use of iboga (more 
specifically, a potent extract called ibogaine) to treat drug addiction.

Now she pours the thick, chocolatey liquid into a mason jar but 
agrees to hand it over to Price only on the condition that he'll stay 
awake and out of bed and interact with his fellow residents and the 
staff. Price grudgingly agrees and takes a seat at the dining-room 
table. Sunlight pours in through a sliding-glass door that opens to a 
terrace with a sweeping view of the Pacific Ocean and the San Diego 
skyline in the distance.

"Ron, I remember when you called me [three weeks ago], you were 
crying on the phone. You were so devastated, you couldn't leave the 
house," Wilkins says gently. "When you use, you end up alone in a 
bathroom or something. You need a community. As weird and misfits as 
we are, we need this sense of community. You need to learn to deal 
with being in your body each day instead of relying on the fucking ibogaine."

Ibogaine and iboga root bark are illegal in the United States but 
unregulated in many countries, including Canada and Mexico. Wilkins, 
though, is hardly alone in her belief that iboga-based substances can 
be used as a legitimate treatment for drug addiction. Researchers at 
respected institutions have conducted experiments and ended up with 
hard evidence that the compound works--as long as you don't mind the mindfuck.

"All drugs have side effects, but ibogaine is unique for the severity 
of its side effects," says Dorit Ron, a neurology professor at the 
University of California-San Francisco. "I think ibogaine is a nasty 
drug. But if you can disassociate the side effects from the good 
effects, there is a mechanism of action in ibogaine that reduces 
relapse in humans."

Now, using chemical variations, scientists have devised ways to make 
ibogaine non-hallucinogenic. The trouble, say Wilkins and others who 
have used ibogaine, is that the psychedelic journey carries the 
secret to the drug's success.

It was Hunter S. Thompson who introduced ibogaine to a wide audience, 
in the pages of Rolling Stone. Thompson was covering the 1972 
presidential election, reporting what would eventually become Fear 
and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72. When Democratic contender 
Edmund Muskie acted strangely during a campaign stop in Florida, 
Thompson suggested that the candidate was taking ibogaine, "an exotic 
brand of speed" that "nobody in the press corps had ever heard of."

"It is entirely conceivable--given the known effects of 
ibogaine--that Muskie's brain was almost paralyzed by 
hallucinations," Thompson wrote. "He looked out at that crowd and saw 
gila monsters instead of people . . . his mind snapped completely 
when he felt something large and apparently vicious clawing at his legs."

The notion of Ed Muskie on an ibogaine bender was absurd, and 
Thompson knew it. Most experienced users say the drug is extremely 
unpleasant when ingested in large doses, causing severe nausea, 
vertigo, sleeplessness, and visions that can be nightmarish. The 
effects last up to 36 hours, and the strain can be so great that some 
users are bedridden for days after.

"I only took one capsule of extract. It was very weak, but it was 
still strong enough to make me puke for six hours," says Dana Beal, a 
New York-based activist and longtime lobbyist for ibogaine 
legalization. "I had my head in a wastebasket or sink or toilet the 
entire time. It's aversive. I can tell you from personal experience 
that I don't ever want to take it again."

While Hunter Thompson brought ibogaine into popular parlance, credit 
for discovering the drug's medicinal potential is widely attributed 
to a man named Howard Lotsof. Ten years before the events that gave 
rise to Fear and Loathing, Lotsof was a junkie living in New York. 
Having bought some ibogaine for recreational use, Lotsof was 
astounded to find that when the hallucinogen wore off, he no longer 
craved heroin. Days passed, and he didn't experience any of the 
excruciating symptoms associated with kicking a dope habit.

Lotsof, who died earlier this year of liver cancer at age 66, devoted 
his life to making ibogaine available as an addiction treatment. He 
experienced a significant setback in 1967, when the U.S. government 
banned the drug, along with several other psychedelics. In 1970 
officials categorized ibogaine as a Schedule I substance--on par with 
heroin, marijuana, and other drugs that by definition have "a high 
potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use."

Eventually, Lotsof shifted his focus and began using ibogaine to 
treat heroin addicts at a rehab clinic in the Netherlands. In 1985, 
he obtained a U.S. patent for the use of ibogaine to treat substance abuse.

By the late '80s, doctors and scientists were confirming what Lotsof 
knew: Ibogaine blocks cravings and withdrawal symptoms for many types 
of drugs, and opiates in particular.

"Its effects are pretty dramatic," says Dr. Kenneth Alper, an 
associate professor of psychiatry at New York University who 
specializes in addiction research. "I've observed this firsthand, and 
it's difficult to account for."

Dr. Stanley Glick, a pharmacologist and neuroscientist at Albany 
Medical College, was among the first researchers to test ibogaine on 
rats. Glick hooked up the rodents to IVs in cages with levers that 
allowed them to inject themselves with morphine.

"If the rats do it, you can be pretty sure that humans will abuse it 
if given the opportunity," Glick explains. "It's really the 
time-tested model of any human behavior."

Strung-out rats dosed with ibogaine stopped pressing the lever that 
gave them morphine. Glick and other researchers have subsequently 
replicated the morphine results with other addictive drugs, including 
alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, and methamphetamine.In the early 1990s, 
Lotsof teamed with Dr. Deborah Mash, a neurologist and pharmacologist 
at the University of Miami, to study the effect of ibogaine on 
people. Mash was granted FDA approval to administer ibogaine in 1993 
and was able to test the drug on eight people before the experiment 
came to an abrupt halt.

"I was unable to get it funded," Mash says. "We had the rocket ship 
on the launch pad, with no fuel."

A few months after the FDA gave Mash the green light, a committee of 
academics and pharmaceutical-industry professionals assembled by the 
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) concluded that the U.S. 
government should not fund ibogaine research. Earlier that year, a 
researcher from Johns Hopkins University had found that rats injected 
with massive doses of ibogaine suffered irreparable damage to the 
cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls balance and motor 
skills. According to Dr. Frank Vocci, former director of treatment 
research and development at NIDA, the fact that ibogaine increases 
the risk of seizures for people addicted to alcohol or 
benzodiazepines such as Valium raised eyebrows as well.

"The question that was posed to them was, 'Do you think that this 
could be a project that could result in, essentially, a marketable 
product?' " Vocci recalls. "There was concern about brain damage, 
seizures, and heart rate. But it wasn't so much that the ultimate 
safety of the drug was being damned, it was just felt that there were 
an awful lot of warts on this thing."

Mash and Lotsof soon parted ways, on unfriendly terms. Lotsof sued 
his former colleague and the University of Miami in federal court in 
1996, claiming that her research had infringed on his patent. A judge 
eventually ruled in favor of Mash and her employer, absolving them of 

Lotsof went his own way, mentoring fellow former addicts who opened 
ibogaine rehab centers abroad. Mash opened a private clinic on the 
Caribbean island of St. Kitts and administered ibogaine to nearly 300 
addicts. "It really works," Mash says now. "If it didn't work, I 
would have told the world it doesn't work. I would have debunked it, 
and I would have been the most outspoken leader of the pack. That's 
my scientific and professional credibility on the line."

Clare Wilkins is one of Howard Lotsof's proteges. Born in South 
Africa and raised in Los Angeles, she got hooked on heroin at the age 
of 20 while majoring in Latin American studies and psychology at 
Cornell University. Drug use led to depression and she dropped out 
her senior year. She'd been trying to get clean using methadone for 
eight and a half years when her younger sister learned about ibogaine 
via the Internet. Wilkins, then 30 years old and employed as 
bookkeeper, read up on the subject, started saving up, and in 2005 
shelled out $3,200 for a session at the Ibogaine Association, a 
clinic in Tijuana.

The trip--in both senses of the word--changed her life.

"I received a direct message that I was washed in love," Wilkins says 
of her first encounter with the hallucinogen. "That the universe in 
its entirety is full of love and that courses through us and was 
there for me. There was this soul body, this light body that had no 
beginning and no end. My fingers had no end, there were atoms coming 
in and going out.

"It got me off methadone completely," she says. "My sense of shame 
about my addiction was washed away without having to practice with a 
therapist and talk, talk, talk."

The experience was so profound that she elected to stay on at the 
clinic as a volunteer. Confident and chatty, with long brown curls 
and a disarming smile, Wilkins feels she has a knack for guiding 
patients through their ibogaine-induced spiritual awakenings.

"On ibogaine, all your walls come down," she says. "You can't lie. 
You get an opportunity to look at yourself honestly and see how you 
respond. My role is to be there as a comfort. People compliment me by 
saying, "You knew exactly when to hold my hand.' "

In 2006 Ibogaine Association director Martin Polanco offered Wilkins 
a full-time job. She'd heard rumors that he was considering selling 
the clinic in the coming year, and on a whim she offered to buy the 
operation from him outright.

"It was one of those 'Can I put that back in my mouth?' moments," 
Wilkins recounts with a laugh. "I didn't have the money, I didn't 
even have a car."

Wilkins borrowed $3,000 from her mother for a down payment, changed 
the clinic's name to Pangea Biomedics, and made monthly payments to 
Polanco for the next year and a half.

Having paid off the $65,000 debt, Wilkins's first order of business 
was to relocate. Tijuana residents--and rehab clinics in 
particular--have been terrorized during Mexico's ongoing drug war. 
Late last month, gunmen stormed a clinic and murdered 13 people, 
execution-style. (The mayhem wasn't random; drug gangs operate such 
facilities as safe havens for their foot soldiers.) Wilkins's primary 
concern, however, was noisy neighbors in the duplex, not narco-violence.

"We'd hear cell phones ring through the wall, and ranchero 
music--you'd hear everything," she recalls. "You'd try to go into a 
guided meditation and hear someone hammering a nail."

Wilkins now rents a lavish four-bedroom home on a hill overlooking 
Tijuana's upscale Playas neighborhood. Amenities include a hot tub, 
weight room, fireplace, and veranda with panoramic views. Safety was 
not overlooked: The subdivision is gated, and security guards inspect 
every vehicle that enters.

Stays at Pangea aren't cheap. For the standard 10-day detox, Wilkins 
charges $7,500, travel not included. She employs a staff of 10, 
including two Mexican physicians, a paramedic, a 
masseuse/acupuncturist, and a chef. The chef, Wilkins's sister, 
Sarah, is a recovering addict who credits ibogaine for kicking her 
drug dependence.

Aaron Aurand, a live-in volunteer, feels the same way.

"I did eight months of court-ordered inpatient treatment before I 
came here," says Aurand, a native of Spokane, Washington. "I got more 
therapy here in five days than I did in that entire time. Lots of 
junkies don't want to look inside themselves. With this, you'll get shown."

In addition to ibogaine, Clare Wilkins emphasizes nutrition. The 
clinic's pantry is mostly organic and gluten-free and boasts a cache 
of vitamins and supplements that patients gobble by the handful.

"The body has its own framework and can heal itself if you remove 
harmful substances and balance the systems. We do colon cleanses and 
liver cleanses even before they get the ibogaine," Wilkins explains, 
pointing out that there are practical reasons for the former: "You 
get people who come in here--especially opiate addicts--who are clogged up."

To date, Wilkins says, she has treated more than 300 patients. 
"Sixty-two percent of our clients are chronic-pain patients," she 
says. "You're not talking IV [heroin] addicts or crack addicts. 
You're talking grandmas on Oxycontin."

Some people come for "psycho-spiritual" purposes. Ken Wells, an 
environmental consultant from Santa Rosa, California, with a neatly 
trimmed gray mustache and wire-frame glasses, says he underwent 
conventional counseling for depression for 15 years before trying 
ibogaine as a last-ditch effort to save his crumbling marriage.

Three days after taking ibogaine for the first time, Wells compares 
the experience to "defragging a computer hard drive." He experimented 
with psychedelics decades ago in college but says ibogaine is like 
nothing else.

"It was outrageously powerful," Wells says. "It was like the inside 
of my eyeballs was an IMAX screen. It was all-encompassing, just a 
multitude of images, like 80,000 different TVs, all with a different 
channel on--just jillions of images, shapes, and colors."

Did the experience help him find what he was looking for?

"I think I'm different," he says. "But I don't know."

It's easier to track ibogaine's effect on hardcore addicts. Wilkins, 
who keeps tabs on former clients, estimates that one out of every 
five stays off his or her "primary substance" for six months or more.

Tom Kingsley Brown, an anthropologist at the University of 
California-San Diego who describes his area of study as "religious 
conversion and altered states of consciousness," recently began 
recruiting Pangea patients for an independent assessment of 
ibogaine's long-term efficacy. Brown follows up monthly with opiate 
addicts during the year regarding their ibogaine treatment, to gauge 
whether their quality of life has improved.

"People I've interviewed at the clinic have had really good results, 
especially in the first month or so," reports Brown, who has enrolled 
four study subjects to date and hopes for a group of 30. "We know 
ibogaine interrupts the addiction in the short term, but what we're 
really curious about is: Does that translate into long-term relief 
from drug dependence?"

Participants in Brown's study fill out questionnaires that ask them 
to rate the intensity of different aspects of their trips, on a scale 
of one to five.

"People have been circling a lot of fours and fives," Brown says. 
"One of the things we're trying to look at is if the intensity of the 
ibogaine experience correlates with treatment success. I strongly 
suspect there's some sort of psychological component. I doubt it's 
just a biological phenomenon."

Some scientists beg to differ. Foremost among them are Deborah Mash 
and Stanley Glick.

"The hallucinations are just an unfortunate side effect," Glick 
asserts, explaining that ibogaine works on the brain like a "hybrid" 
of PCP and LSD. "Part of the problem is that when you go through this 
thing, it's so profound you've got to believe it's doing something. 
In part, it's an attempt by the person who's undergoing it to make 
sense of the whole thing."

Generally speaking, Glick's research on rats has shown that ibogaine 
"dampens" the brain's so-called reward pathway, reducing the release 
of neurotransmitters like dopamine, which cause the highs associated 
with everything from heroin to sugary foods. The compound has also 
been proven to increase production of GDNF, a type of protein that 
quells cravings, and to block the brain's nicotinic receptors, the 
same spots that are stimulated by tobacco and other addictive 
substances. In other words, ibogaine doesn't work in any one 
particular way or even on one specific part of the brain, and it's 
these multiple "mechanisms of action," researchers say, that make it 
so effective for so many different types of addiction.

People who have taken ibogaine say it can have the unintended 
consequence of temporarily turning them off a substance other than 
their drug of choice. Lauren Wertheim traveled from her hometown of 
Omaha, Nebraska, to a rehab center called Awakening in the Dream 
House near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and used ibogaine to kick her meth habit.

"Ibogaine resets all your [tolerance] levels to zero, like you've 
never done drugs," she says. "Even coffee--the first cup set me off 
like a rocket launcher. That's when I was like, 'This stuff is for real.' "

Mash, the researcher from Miami, is convinced that ibogaine works 
long-term because it is stored in fat cells and processed by the 
liver into a metabolite called noribogaine that possesses powerful 
detoxifying and antidepressant properties.

"If you gave somebody LSD or psilocybin and they were coming off 
opiates or meth, they'd go right back out and shoot up," Mash says. 
"There's evidence that it's not the visions that get you drug-free; 
it is the ability of the metabolite to block the craving and block 
the signs and symptoms of opiate withdrawal and improve mood."

Though they don't question its effectiveness, both Mash and Glick 
believe it's unlikely that ibogaine will ever be widely accepted in 
the United States. It's not just that ibogaine makes people 
hallucinate. It can be fatal.

Since 1991, at least 19 people have died during or shortly after 
undergoing ibogaine therapy. Alper, the NYU professor, examined the 
causes of death in the fatalities, which occurred between 1991 and 
2008. His findings suggest that ibogaine itself was not the culprit; 
the patients died because they had heart problems or combined the 
hallucinogen with their drug of choice. (By way of comparison, a 
study published last year by the Centers for Disease Control and 
Prevention found that between 1999 and 2006 more than 4,600 people in 
the United States died from overdoses involving methadone.)

"It's knowing who to treat and who not to treat," Alper contends. 
"None of [the 19 fatalities] appear to have involved a healthy 
individual without pre-existing disease who didn't use other drugs 
during treatment. Two deaths occurred when they took ibogaine in 
crude alkaloid or root-bark form--they didn't know what they were 
taking or how much."

Three of the deaths occurred at Clare Wilkins's Tijuana clinic. She 
says two involved patients who had cocaine in their systems and the 
third victim had a pre-existing heart condition. Wilkins says she's 
now more selective about her clients and requires that they undergo a 
drug test.

"The learning curve has been difficult at times, but people need to 
know this can be safe," Wilkins says. "We have to show people how far 
we've come."

Some of the scientists, however, think they've found alternatives 
that will make the risks--and the tripping--associated with ibogaine 

Mash has devised two ways to isolate the metabolite noribogaine and 
administer it: a pill, and a patch similar to the nicotine variety. 
She hopes to begin testing the products on humans by the end of this year.

"It has all the benefits without the adverse side effects--including 
no hallucinations," Mash says. "I spent a lot of years really pushing 
ibogaine as far as I could, both in preclinical and clinical studies. 
But everything that I've learned in the course of 18 years of working 
on ibogaine has convinced me that the active metabolite is the drug 
to be developed."

Glick, meanwhile, teamed up with a chemist named Martin Kuehne from 
the University of Vermont to create and research a chemical called 
18-MC (short for 18-methoxycoronaridine) that mimics ibogaine's 
effect on a specific nicotinic receptor. Just like ibogaine, 18-MC 
appears to work wonders on drug-addicted rats.

"Cocaine, meth, nicotine, morphine--we did the same studies with 
18-MC, and it worked as well or better than ibogaine," Glick says. 
"We also have data that it will be useful in treating obesity. In 
animals, it blocks their intake of sweet and fatty foods without 
affecting their nutrient intake."

Glick and his cohorts have yet to determine whether their synthetic 
ibogaine has psychedelic properties. The rats, after all, aren't talking.

"You look at an animal given ibogaine, and you can't tell if they're 
hallucinating. But they look positively strange," Glick says. "You 
give them 18-MC and you can't really tell. But we hope when it gets 
to people, it won't produce hallucinatory effects."

The first human testing of 18-MC is scheduled to begin later this 
month in Brazil. But scientists there won't be studying its effect on 
addiction. They'll be investigating the drug's potential as a cure 
for the parasitic infection leishmaniasis, an affliction similar to 
malaria that is common in tropical climates. Through pure 
coincidence, 18-MC is chemically similar to other drugs that are used 
to treat the disease.

The Americans jumped at the chance to test their product in South 
America. Although 18-MC has shown promise and no observable side 
effects in animals, not a single pharmaceutical company has shown 
interest in developing it as an anti-addiction product.

"We're fortunate we have this other disease apart from addiction 
where we know it can be tested," says Kuehne, a veteran of big pharma 
who worked for Ciba (a predecessor of Novartis). "Pharmaceutical 
companies don't like cures. Really, they don't--that's the sad thing. 
They like treatment. Something for cholesterol or high blood pressure 
that you [take] for years and years, every day. That's where the profit is."

Further complicating matters is the fact that 18-MC has proven 
difficult to manufacture. Obiter Research, a company based in 
Champaign, Illinois, that specializes in synthesizing experimental 
chemicals, spent nearly two years refining the process before 
successfully creating about 200 grams of the substance--just enough 
to send to Brazil to be administered to human subjects.

"Imagine a Tinkertoy Ferris wheel," says Bill Boulanger, Obiter's CEO 
and a former chemistry professor at the University of Illinois. "It's 
like taking that apart, then trying to use half of the parts to build 
a fire engine. Ibogaine is a natural product, and sometimes Mother 
Nature does a better job than the lab."

Boulanger is convinced there's money to be made from 18-MC. With 
Obiter, he plans to patent the manufacturing process and secure 
intellectual-property rights. He and two partners also created a 
separate company, Savant HWP, in hopes of eventually opening 
addiction clinics across the United States that administer 18-MC in 
conjunction with conventional rehab techniques such as 12-step programs.

"One part is resetting the trigger that's saying, 'Oh, I've got to 
have it," Boulanger says. "That's helping the people fight 
withdrawal, and that would be part of the whole operation. But it's 
just one facet. It's got to be holistic. Just handing out a pill and 
sending them on their way is a bad idea."

The notion of hallucination-free ibogaine, however, rubs the drug's 
die-hard supporters the wrong way.

"With methadone, they just removed euphoria from opiates," says 
Dimitri "Mobengo" Mugianis. "This is the same process they're doing 
now--removing psychedelic and visionary experience. Ibogaine works. 
What are they trying to improve or fix? It's not broken, and they're 
spending a great amount of time and money to fix it."

A former heroin addict, Mugianis is an underground ibogaine-treatment 
provider. He kicked his habit with the help of ibogaine administered 
at Lotsof's clinic in the Netherlands. The experience was so 
extraordinary that Mugianis was inspired to travel to Gabon to be 
initiated into the native Bwiti religion and was trained by local 
shamans. He says he has performed more than 400 ritualistic 
ceremonies on addicts, most of them in New York City hotel rooms, 
using ibogaine and iboga root bark.

Despite his strong belief in the power of ibogaine, Mugianis does not 
see it as a miracle cure for addiction.

"The 12-step approach really helped in combination with ibogaine," he 
says. "I say it interrupts the physical dependency, because that's 
what it does. There's no cure. It's not a cure. It allows you a 
window of opportunity, particularly with opiate users."

Efforts are afoot to legalize--or at least legitimize--ibogaine in 
the United States. Convincing doctors and elected officials to 
support a potent, occasionally lethal hallucinogen can be a tough 
sell. That pitch becomes doubly difficult when some of the ibogaine 
enthusiasts themselves inspire skepticism.

One of ibogaine's most outspoken advocates is Dana Beal. An eccentric 
character who helped found the Youth International Party (more 
commonly known as the Yippies) in the 1960s, Beal sports a bushy 
white mustache that inspired a New York Times reporter to liken him 
to "a Civil War-era cavalry colonel." Beal travels the country giving 
PowerPoint presentations touting the benefits of ibogaine and medical 

In June 2008, he was arrested by police in Mattoon, Illinois, and 
charged with money laundering. He was carrying $150,000 in cash in 
two duffel bags, money he claims was going to finance an ibogaine 
clinic and research center in Mexico. Beal maintains his innocence 
and is free on bail as the case heads to trial.

It's folks like Beal, says pharmacologist Stanley Glick, who keep 
ibogaine and 18-MC from being embraced by the medical mainstream.

"Some of my colleagues, as well as funding agencies, lump us together 
without really considering the data," Glick says. "There's a lot of 
baggage that comes with ibogaine, some of it warranted, some of it 
unwarranted. It's really a stigma. Drug abuse itself has a stigma, 
and unfortunately so does ibogaine. It has really hurt the science."

Beal shrugs off the criticism, arguing that grassroots activism is 
the only way to ensure that politicians will endorse ibogaine. 
Besides, he adds, the government stopped funding ibogaine research 
long before he was arrested.

"[The scientists] think if they stay away from us activists, NIDA 
will bless them," says the self-styled rabble-rouser. "NIDA is not 
blessing them. They're washed up and on a strange beach. How will 
they get FDA-approved clinical trials without activists? Explain to 
me a way that works, and I will do it."

Beal jokes that the best advertisement for ibogaine might be an 
episode from the 11th season of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in 
which a heroin addict who needs to testify in court is administered 
ibogaine to make his withdrawal symptoms disappear overnight. "Maybe 
Congress will watch SVU and say, 'Maybe we should check this 
out--wow!--it works for methamphetamine, too?'" he says sarcastically.

In truth, ibogaine's effectiveness against meth has already helped it 
gain acceptance abroad. Lawmakers in New Zealand, where 
methamphetamine use has skyrocketed in recent years, recently tweaked 
the nation's laws to allow physicians to prescribe ibogaine. Dr. 
Gavin Cape, an addiction specialist at New Zealand's Dunedin School 
of Medicine, says the nation's doctors are so far reluctant to wield 
their new anti-meth weapon.

"[There are] no true controlled studies to give evidence as to its 
safety and effectiveness," Cape says. "There is a strong advocacy 
group [in New Zealand] for ibogaine, and it may turn out to have a 
place alongside conventional therapies for the addictions, but I'm 
afraid we are a few years away from that goal."

Last month, dozens of ibogaine researchers, activists, and treatment 
providers gathered for a conference in Barcelona, where topics 
included safety and sustainable sourcing of ibogaine from Africa. Dr. 
Kenneth Alper was among the attendees who gave a presentation on the 
benefits of ibogaine to the Catalan Ministry of Health. The NYU prof 
believes ibogaine's most likely path to prominence in the United 
States will be as a medication for meth addiction, for the simple 
reason that doctors and treatment providers have found that small 
daily--and thus drug-company-friendly--doses seem to work better for 
meth addiction than the mind-blowing "flood doses" used on opiate addicts.

Alper says no one thought to try non-hallucinogenic quantities of 
ibogaine until recently. Ibogaine treatment providers tend to have 
been former ibogaine users, and most assumed that the introspection 
brought on by tripping was key to overcoming their addictions. 
"That's just how it evolved," he says, noting that the large doses do 
seem to work best for opiate detox. "You're talking about a drug that 
has been used in less than 10,000 people in the world in terms of 
treatment. It's not surprising that's how it evolved."

"The visions have some psychological content that is salient and 
meaningful," Alper adds. "On the other hand, there is no successful 
treatment for addiction that's not interpreted as a spiritual 
transformation by the people who use it. It's the G-word. It's God. 
We as physicians don't venture into that territory, but most people do."
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