Pubdate: Wed, 20 Jul 2016
Source: Colorado Springs Independent (CO)
Copyright: 2016 Colorado Springs Independent
Author: J. Adrian Stanley


Hallucinogenic African Bark Could Be the Answer to Heroin Addiction, 
and Addiction in General

Richard Dilley had tried everything by the time he traveled to Mexico 
and agreed to ingest a drug derived from a hallucinogenic African 
shrub bark that, he was told, would alter his brain. All for the 
bargain price of $10,000.

While terrifying in a way, the drug known as ibogaine (or Tabernanthe 
iboga in its natural state) was, at this point, less of a horror than 
the drug Dilley had been addicted to since his teen years.


Ibogaine, he understood, would fix him, would remove that 
insurmountable urge for a high that had destroyed his once-promising life.

It was his last hope.

Ibogaine comes from the iboga plant that is primarily found in Gabon, 
on the Atlantic coast of Equatorial Africa, where those of the Bwiti 
religion use the drug as part of puberty initiation rites.

While it is illegal in the United States, proponents have been 
working to legalize it for decades, saying it's a miracle treatment 
that wards off withdrawals, not only from heroin, but from drugs in general.

That makes it completely unique, as no other drug does what ibogaine 
appears to do - fix dopamine regulation in the brain that's been 
thrown out of whack by addiction.

This isn't just a claim being touted by enthusiastic former heroin 
addicts. The drug has been the subject of many scientific studies and 
was even approved for Phase I clinical trials with the U.S. Food and 
Drug Administration in the early 1990s, though the tests were never 
completed. Scientists are now testing a drug made from ibogaine that 
someday could be a legal treatment for drug addiction in the United States.

In the meantime, clinics exist around the world, dispensing the 
not-risk-free drug, often paired with a variety of other treatments 
from massage to hyperbaric chambers. But addicts have to know about 
ibogaine to get it, and then they must be able to afford treatments 
that generally cost thousands of dollars.

All of this is playing out at a time when heroin use has reached 
epidemic levels, with easier availability in Colorado Springs and the 
West (see "Heroin highways," p. 18). In fact, Gov. John Hickenlooper 
was among the nation's governors to sign a compact this month to 
fight opioid addiction by better controlling prescription opioids, 
educating the public about opioids and addiction, and helping addicts recover.

By the time Dilley flew to an ibogaine clinic, he already had tried 
the traditional path, going to doctors and taking Suboxone, a 
maintenance drug for opioid addicts similar to the more well-known Methadone.

But Dilley's addiction was deep, its roots stretched back to his childhood.

"When I was a kid," says Dilley, now 28 and living in Colorado, "we 
were taught there were two kinds of drugs: the good drugs that the 
doctors prescribed and the bad drugs that you should never do."

Dilley never had tried drugs or alcohol when, at age 14, he suffered 
a broken arm skateboarding near his home in McFarland, Wisconsin. His 
doctor gave him 30 Vicodin and sent him on his way without further comment.

The drug felt amazing. After the pills ran out, Dilley sometimes 
would sort through medicine cabinets when he was at other people's 
houses, snatching any painkillers.

When he was 17, his parents kicked him out of the house after he 
hosted a party at which expensive glassware was broken and some items 
were stolen. Dilley stayed for a few days with friends before 
returning to his parents' home.

It was then that he first snorted Oxycontin.

A year later, he was living nearby with his brother, who was six 
years older, and a friend. That's when the pills really became a 
problem. He was using them and selling them, until a friend warned 
him that the cops were casing his house. When he stopped selling, he 
no longer could afford his habit. Besides, it was getting expensive.

When he was a teenager, Oxy had been everywhere, and cheap - $20 for 
an 80-milligram pill that would wreck you.

But when he was 18, a switch was flipped. Oxy wasn't everywhere 
anymore, and it wasn't cheap. The same high that had cost $20 before 
now cost $80. (The change is likely attributable to doctors 
recognizing the addiction problem, and more closely controlling pain 
pill prescriptions, something that's happened nationwide.)

Dilley's friends began switching to heroin. At first, he says, he 
didn't want to follow their example. He kept flashing on that scene 
in Pulp Fiction where Uma Thurman ODs and blood is flowing from her 
nose. But Dilley's friends said that was just a movie, that it didn't 
really happen like that. And they weren't dead.

He started by snorting it. It was familiar because he had done the 
same thing with the painkillers. A week later, Dilley and his friends 
were with a guy who had hemophilia and a familiarity with needles.

The kid taught them to shoot up heroin.

"Once you do that, there is no turning back," Dilley says.

Dilley wasn't one of those guys that you have to peel off the floor 
of a seedy motel. He functioned as an addict, in a way.

He went back and forth between living in his parents' basement and 
living with his brother and friends. He delivered pizzas for a 
living. He went to technical college, but dropped out in his second 
semester and blew the refund on drugs. Heroin was a $100-a-day habit, 
and it wasn't always working out.

Once, before a family dinner, Dilley's dealer was late. When Dilley 
finally got his heroin, he took it all at once. He woke up next to 
his car with a frantic woman standing over him. Dilley had to fight 
her off and drive away, so she wouldn't call the cops.

In his early 20s, Dilley's brother discovered his stash and ordered 
him to go to treatment. He complied. Doctors put him on Suboxone and 
into a support group, and they told him he'd need to be on 
maintenance drugs for the rest of his life.

"They would constantly tell you that you're a worthless piece of 
shit, and that you're incurable, and that you've got to submit 
yourself to God," he remembers.

Years passed. Dilley's father died in June 2011. A year later, he 
heard about ibogaine for the first time in a news story. Then he ran 
into an old friend and former addict who had taken it.

"He wasn't on any drugs, and he had goals - and I wanted that," Dilley recalls.

With the help of his friend, Dilley convinced his mother to use part 
of his father's life insurance to pay for ibogaine treatment. In June 
2013, he hopped on the plane to go to an ibogaine clinic. He was 
following a path many desperate addicts have taken for decades.

Ibogaine may be illegal in the United States, but it's readily 
available in many countries, complete with the risks and the hallucinations.

And a lot of the people who are in the ibogaine business object to 
removing its psychedelic properties, saying the trip is a part of the 
healing process. The claim isn't completely out of left field - some 
research is showing promise for the medical use of psychedelic drugs. 
In 2014, for instance, the first study on LSD approved by the U.S. 
Food and Drug Administration in 40 years, showed that 12 terminally 
ill patients given LSD and psychotherapy showed relief from 
end-of-life anxiety.

According to those who have tried it, the trip on ibogaine is a 
spiritual journey like no other.

Las Vegas DJ Justin Hoffman, 47, says the party lifestyle led him to 
become a heroin addict more than 20 years ago. He originally got 
clean the traditional way, using Methadone and Suboxone and attending 
Alcoholics Anonymous classes, where he says the late DJ AM (born Adam 
Michael Goldstein) was his sponsor. Hoffman credits DJ AM with saving his life.

But when DJ AM died in 2009 of a drug overdose, Hoffman says he fell 
off the wagon. And then there were all the antidepressants, anxiety 
medications, bipolar medications, sleep medications and ADD medications.

"I was sick of it," he says. "I was like, I feel like a 
pharmaceutical dumpster."

Then he heard about ibogaine, and went to Mexico to try it. He says 
the blockage of the withdrawals was one part of his recovery, but the 
trip was just as important.

"There [are] real spirits involved with this medicine that come to 
you and actually talk to you and answer questions," he says. "If it 
was just me, I'd say, whoa, that's a hallucination. But it's not. 
Everybody has the same experience and has the same black, tribal 
African guy coming to them. You know it's not just a hallucination. 
There's something real happening here. I would have never believed 
any of this. Four years ago, I would have laughed at it, but now I 
know the truth."

The other part he says, is that the hallucinations extract memories. 
He recalls seeing himself being abused as a 2-year-old during his 
trip. Once you deal with those root causes, he says, you don't feel 
the need for the drugs. The spirit, he says, "acts as a therapist."

Many describe ibogaine's trip as a "waking dream." Interestingly, the 
hallucinations are known to be more intense when the eyes are closed.

When Hoffman returned from ibogaine therapy - which he says got him 
off all drugs, prescription or otherwise - he says he knew he needed 
to help others. He began by using his fame (both as a popular DJ and 
as the nephew of famous anti-war activist Abbie Hoffman) to get word 
of the drug to others, particularly fellow DJs, and help them access 
what he believed to be the most reputable ibogaine clinics in Mexico.

A year ago, he says, he was given the free use of a mansion in Las 
Vegas, where he opened an after-care program for addicts, Holistic 
House Las Vegas.

Now, he refers addicts to Mexican ibogaine clinics - ones that he 
says medically screen patients to ensure the drug won't be dangerous 
for them - then he cares for them for a month or more after their 
return in an effort to heighten their chances of kicking drug abuse for good.

"Ibogaine's a miracle, there's no doubt about that," Hoffman says, 
"but people need more."

For prices ranging from $8,394 for 30 days in a standard room to 
$21,000 for 60 days in a master suite, Hoffman says he helps addicts 
continue their physical and spiritual healing. He's had 40-50 
patients in the aftercare program, and says that of the people he's 
helped (both in aftercare and with referrals) he thinks about 70 
percent are still clean.

While many clinics offer aftercare, there are no established norms 
for it, and the programs tend to be colorful. At Holistic House, for 
instance, patients are engaged in a variety of yoga practices, 
boxing, gym workouts, nature hikes, flotation tank sessions, Reiki, 
consultations with healers and western therapy, among other things. 
He even gives patients frog venom that he believes heals a variety of 
ailments, including HIV and cancer.

"We do all these things in order to get them feeling better as quick 
as possible," he says. "Because addicts will use any excuse. If 
they're having diarrhea for too long, they're like, I've gotta use 
some dope, I can't take this diarrhea. It's absolutely ridiculous. 
So, if I get them feeling good within two days, they then develop 
some trust with me and they realize that I know what I'm doing, and 
they let go, they're like, 'You tell me what to do.' Those are the 
people who really succeed with it."

One of the Mexican clinics that Hoffman refers patients to is 
Rosarito's Medicine Heart Recovery Collective, co-founded by Mark 
Winkle, a respiratory therapist and former heroin addict.

Winkle says he was addicted to heroin, pain pills, Suboxone or 
Methadone for 10 years before he heard about ibogaine and headed to 
Mexico for treatment. He had, interestingly, worked in medicine for 
several years at that point, mostly in emergency rooms, but says he 
couldn't manage to deal with his own health. Winkle had just become a 
father when he heard about ibogaine, and he didn't want to live his 
life on drugs. Ibogaine promised a way out.

"It changed my life," he says. "It was the greatest thing to happen 
to me since my son was born."

Over the next few years, Winkle, now 47, researched how to treat 
patients with ibogaine and began secretly treating patients in the 
United States. But his dream was to open his own clinic. He started 
by treating patients in a Mexican hotel, and less than a year ago, he 
purchased two houses on the beach and opened his clinic. He still 
travels between Mexico and Los Angeles, where his family lives.

Winkle says he's had about 40 patients so far. He and his staff treat 
them for seven days, at a cost of $7,000, and then urge them to go to 
after-care with Hoffman. Winkle says he tests every patient for 
medical conditions before administering ibogaine and, like Hoffman, 
his program features many other treatments including: body work, 
shamanic healing, sweat lodges, Tai chi, yoga, Reiki, therapy and 
something called family constellation therapy, where patients access 
their ancestors' spirits to heal their traumas. Winkle says getting a 
euphoric high off Bufo alvarius toad venom is also an integral and 
healing part of the treatment.

The overall experience, he says, is a spiritual one, and the 
hallucinations caused by ibogaine are a central part of that. For 
those who choose this spiritual path, he says the program is very 
successful, freeing addicts of a life of addiction.

"It's amazing," he says. "I have the best job in the world."

Ibogaine has been illegal in the United States since 1967 and the 
federal government lists it as a Schedule I substance. That means it 
is thought to have a high potential for abuse, it currently has no 
accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and there is 
a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.

Other Schedule I drugs - or drugs considered the most dangerous - 
include heroin, marijuana and LSD. Interestingly, cocaine and 
methamphetamine have the lower classification of Schedule II drugs. 
Ketamine is a Schedule III drug.

However, ibogaine clinics abound in many other countries where the 
drug is variously legal, unregulated or available by prescription or 
has a murky legal status.

That includes our neighboring countries, Mexico and Canada, where a 
quick internet search brings up a multitude of clinics. Ibogaine is 
also known to be available for purchase easily on the internet.

There have been some efforts to bring ibogaine to the U.S. legally.

In 2015, a bill in the Vermont House of Representatives sought to 
create a pilot program to try ibogaine on addicts. It was referred to 
the Committee on Human Services, but does not appear to have gone any 
further. The state of New York, similarly, had a bill introduced in 
2015 directing more research into the uses of the drug. In April, it 
was referred to the committee on alcoholism and drug abuse, but 
records show no votes have been taken on the bill. click to enlarge

The problem with the maze of worldwide clinics is that it's difficult 
to tell the responsible ones from the irresponsible ones, and 
ibogaine comes with real risks. The 2016 case report, 
"Ibogaine-associated cardiac arrest and death: case report and review 
of the literature," written by Jessica A. Meisner, Susan R. Wilcox 
and Jeremy B. Richards (which is listed on the National Center for 
Biotechnology Information website), notes that one ibogaine user 
"suffered acute cardiac arrest leading to cerebral edema and brain 
death," which was "consistent with ibogaine-induced cardiotoxicity 
and ibogaine-induced cardiac arrest."

It wasn't the only recorded death associated with the drug - the 
report states that 19 deaths were recorded between 1990 and 2008 
worldwide, with the cause attributable at least in part either to 
detoxification or cardiac complications.

The risks haven't been ignored by Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance, 
which describes itself as "a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to 
supporting the sacramental and therapeutic uses of iboga, as well as 
its alkaloids and their analogs, through sustainability initiatives, 
scientific research, education, and advocacy." Its site includes a 
long list of conditions that should be checked for before the 
administration of ibogaine. With some conditions, ibogaine should not 
be given at all, it notes, while in other cases the patient should be 
made aware of the heightened risk and be supervised by a medical 
professional, or the drug should only be administered under certain 
conditions. The group strongly advises against self-administering ibogaine.

Doug Greene, GITA's patient advocacy coordinator, says ibogaine 
patients need to ensure that all these risks are being considered 
before taking the drug.

"We tell them it's a drug that certainly has potential physical and 
psychological risks," he says.

"This is why, last year, we came up with clinical guidelines for its 
use. But we also tell people that it is something that has great 
potential as a tool in conjunction with other treatment modalities."

GITA would like to see ibogaine and related alternatives continue 
their FDA trials, but can't afford to foot the bill.

Nevertheless, it continues to raise money for further studies of the 
drug, and to track studies that are being done. One thing it's trying 
to show is that clinically, it appears ibogaine is very effective.

"Two studies being conducted by the Multidisciplinary Association for 
Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) [a nonprofit psychedelic pharmaceutical 
company founded in the 1980s to study uses for MDMA, otherwise known 
as Ecstasy], attempt to track the long-term efficacy of 
ibogaine-assisted detox for opiate dependence," it notes on its 
website. "The studies, in Mexico and New Zealand, have reported 
preliminary results of 20% and 50% respectively, for clients 
remaining free from their primary substance of abuse for at least 12 months."

Before Dilley went to Mexico, the clinic asked him to go on a raw, 
organic diet for seven days. He tried, but says he failed.

The clinic also asked him to get off Suboxone for 30 days. He did 
manage that - by shooting up heroin. In fact, before he got on the 
plane from Wisconsin to Los Angeles, Dilley shot up heroin and took 
Xanax. By the time the plane landed, and he met up with the clinic 
staff, the withdrawals were already kicking in.

He was driven to Mexico and taken to a doctor, who screened his 
health to ensure ibogaine would be safe. Then he was taken to the clinic.

Really, he says, it was a Baja resort, with beautiful views of the 
ocean. Initially, he was given IV amino acids, after signing a bunch 
of waivers. Then he was told to lie down, which he did, until the 
withdrawals left him kicking and screaming.

He first was given a test dose of ibogaine, which he threw up. Then 
he was given the pills with water. He thinks it was about 15 minutes 
before the pain went away "like a wave."

"It was just this whole body vibration and warmth, and there's no 
pain, all of that just kind of washed away," he says. "And that was 
the last time I felt any withdrawal symptoms."

He stayed in bed for the next day and a half, blindfolded to 
encourage hallucinations and discourage nausea.

Dilley didn't see any tribal guys in his hallucinations. Instead, he 
saw himself as a fish, trying to protect an egg that kept on 
breaking. Then he was a god of sorts, creating nations, armies and castles.

"I don't know if that was the drug telling me that I can do whatever 
I want and create whatever I want in real life," he says.

When that ended, Dilley was exhausted and initially hated the routine 
of massage, jacuzzi pools, hyperbaric chambers, organic food, and 
amino acids that he was subjected to.

But after a couple days, it felt like a vacation.

The first year that he was back in Wisconsin, he says, he kept to 
himself. He was making $2,000 a month delivering pizzas, still living 
in his mom's basement, skateboarding, biking, and learning to cook. 
He was taking care of himself. But he wanted something more.

The massage therapist at the ibogaine clinic had said he should 
become a massage therapist, and he felt drawn to it.

So, two years ago, he packed up and moved to Denver, where he's in 
his last semester of earning his associate degree from the Colorado 
School of Healing Arts.

He says his own life made him want to heal others - he hopes that one 
day he may even work at an ibogaine clinic in some other country, 
assuming it remains illegal in the United States.

Dilley's arms now feature two tattoos, one of the chemical structure 
of the hallucinogen DMT, which he took once after returning to 
Wisconsin for spiritual purposes, and one of the chemical structure 
of ibogaine, with the word "freedom" in script under it.

"Whenever I talk to anyone about anything about my life, it is a 
pivotal point in my timeline," Dilley says of ibogaine.

"It's either everything before that point, or everything after that point."

(Next week: Part 2 of "Psychedelic miracle" explores the history of 
ibogaine's use as a treatment for addiction, followed by decades of 
research and efforts to bring it to the mainstream, leading to fresh 
hope now for developing a new solution.)
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom