Root Medicine: Ibogaine, Past and Present

Published on:
January 23, 2023

Dr. Thomas Kingsley Brown joins Amanda Siebert to talk about his research on ibogaine and how it has evolved. 

Dr. Brown is an anthropologist and chemist. He is the head of an undergraduate research program at University of California in San Diego. His initial ibogaine research followed people before and after they had gone through ibogaine treatment in Mexico. 

His stunning conclusion gives him the impression that there is “no comparison” in success to standard treatment models. Ibogaine gives people insight into their addiction and helps facilitate long term behavioral change.

Up until Suboxone or Subutex became popular over the last few decades,  the main path in North America for trying to overcome opiate use has been methadone, similar to Suboxone or Subutex, which are all opioid agonists that face their own challenges including dependency. Ibogaine ameliorates withdrawals and eliminates cravings resulting from a reset of the opioid receptors. 

Ibogaine is more than just that, the psychedelic journey supports users in getting to the root of what brought them to this place initially. Something that methadone could not even begin to do. 

Howard Lotsoff is discussed  in the conversation early on. A daily heroin user in 1962, Lotsoff was looking to experiment and get high with mind altering drugs.. He tried ibogaine, assuming it would just be a long and fun trip. Waking up the next day feeling refreshed, he suddenly realized he hadn’t had a desire for heroin for a day and a half. Nor did he have a craving for it. He vowed to never touch heroin again.

“I prefer life over death.”

His change in perspective made him view heroin as akin to death, and he wanted no part of it. This began his descent into ibogaine research. 

Sixty years later, we’ve come so far. 

Dr. Brown conveys his belief that ibogaine itself isn’t enough to not fall into the same world that users were in before. He’s seen great results with a subject who cut off all people related to his past heroin life and joined a 12-step program. With the support of family and close friends, this subject has been able to live a new life. 

“I feel reborn” is a common sentiment coming from those who have undergone the ibogaine experience. It almost feels full circle for Dr. Brown, who had studied religious conversion in his anthropological research. He recalls being at the Lightning in a Bottle music festival and igniting his comparisons with ibogaine and religious conversion. These “mystical experiences” give participants insight and make them feel like they’re part of something bigger. 

This is what most people are seeking for and may have found with religion or other spirtitual practices. A whole other set of people are finding spiritual transformation and higher connection through ibogaine. 

His initial studies of religious conversion had largely to do with social acceptance and the fact that it was more “acceptable” to study compared to psychedelic drug use and it’s benefits. His advisor urged him not to go down the  path of psychedelic research for his dissertation, saying he’d never get it funded.

Stigma plagues users from going to get help, but we rarely see it discussed how this same stigma, for years, has plagued researchers from going into these depths to be able to help others. We’ve come so far from initial research into the rewards and benefits of ibogaine use, modern taboo is shifting and psychedelic research is becoming more prevalent yet has held us back for decades.

Listen here.

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