Iboga tourism in Central Africa (An account of my Bwiti initiation in August ’99) by Nick Sandberg

March 21, 2012

Introduction to Iboga Toursim

Travelling to Central Africa to take part in a bizarre and perilous tribal ceremony – the Bwiti initiation ritual – might seem an unlikely vacation choice to many. But for some in the West it is proving an increasingly alluring proposition. The idea conjurs up romantic images of adventure in faraway lands for some. For others, iboga’s reputed ability to interrupt drug-dependence or clear emotional blockages is what draws them to make the trip.

I made the journey in August 1999, where I undertook initiation at the Assumgha Ening chapel, near Yaounde in the Cameroun. And this piece includes an account of my experience and also a little background information relating to the ritual and the area of the world concerned. The reader should note that I have never been to the Gabon, the other country where Bwiti initiation is available to Westerners, so have restricted most of my comments about the region to the Cameroun.

The Bwiti

The Bwiti are a Central African religious group whose usage of Tabernanthe iboga, the plant source of ibogaine, forms an integral part of their society. The rootbark of the Tabernanthe iboga plant contains approximately 12 different iboga alkaloids of which ibogaine is only one.

The word ‘Bwiti’ refers both to the religion – ‘the Bwiti religion’, and the group that practice it – ‘the Bwiti’. There are estimated to be approximately 2-3 million members of the Bwiti religion scattered in groups throughout the countries of the Gabon, Zaire, and the Cameroun. Most are from the two principal tribal groups of the region, the Fang and the Mitsogho. The origins of the religion are obscure, but most writers seem to believe Bwiti is essentially derived from pygmy religious traditions which have been modified and adapted to suit local tribal tastes. Bwiti has thus become a highly synchretic religion, drawing from a multitude of sources, and interpreted slightly differently by each group that practice it.

The rootbark of the Tabernanthe iboga plant is usually referred to as ‘iboga’ or ‘eboka’ and it has two principal uses within the group. Firstly, small doses are used as a stimulant, principally when hunting and as an aid to ritual work. And, secondly, a much larger dose features as a central element of the ‘Bwiti initiation ritual’ – a powerful ‘rebirth’ ceremony that group members typically undergo before the commencement of their teenage years, and is a requirement for group membership. Both sexes are initiated and the ceremony typically lasts three days, beginning on a Thursday afternoon and ending Sunday morning.

Iboga is eaten on the first night of the initiation ceremony and may be further consumed on subsequent nights should it be deemed necessary. The consumption of iboga is supervised by the ‘nganga’, a senior priest of the religion whose knowledge of iboga’s effects on the body and mind is such that he or she is aware of when the initiate has had sufficient. The overall objective of the ritual is to allow the initiate to enter deeply into the subconscious mind with the intent of emerging ‘reborn’. In the depths of this inner realm, he or she is expected to actually ‘meet’ the original Bwiti, the founders of the religion, in the form of primordial male and female figures. But this can only be achieved once mighty terrors that lurk before them have been overcome.

This ‘inner journey’ is analogous to that undertaken by many ‘hero’ figures in classical mythology. And, in more Western terminology, it might be said that the usage of large doses of iboga here is intended to remove the effects of accumulated trauma or conditioning on the system. And further facilitate access to archetypal figures located within the Jungian concept of the ‘collective unconscious’.

Once initiation is completed, the person becomes a full member of the Bwiti religion. And the act of having confronted the fears of those who went before means the individual may now be regarded as an adult.

Central Africa

The Cameroun is one of three Central African countries where the Bwiti religion is widely practiced, the other two being Zaire and the Gabon. Zaire has now become so politically unstable that it is simply unsafe to venture into the country unless a person’s contacts are very strong. Leaving the Gabon and the Cameroun as the two remaining possibilities for someone seeking Bwiti initiation.

Gabon is likely the easiest option for the would-be Bwiti initiate from the West. Being relatively wealthy, by Africa’s standards, it is considerably less dangerous than its cousin slightly to the north and facilities are of an improved standard. In addition, it is well recognised that the Bwiti religion has been longer established in the Gabon. Camerounian Bwiti, however, claim that whilst they are newcomers to the religion, their relative poverty as a nation has drawn far more young people, and that Bwiti is therefore more vibrantly practiced in their land.

Finding a Bwiti group willing to initiate Westerners may pose several problems and should really be undertaken prior to leaving for Africa. Initiation ceremonies typically require the presence of the whole group and so would usually be planned considerably in advance. Many groups are unwilling to initiate persons from outside their immediate locale, so are not going to be interested in initiating someone from another continent. Groups that are will almost certainly only be doing so for a large sum of money. And so the individual should expect to be treated principallly as simply a ‘cash source’ for the duration of their stay.

There are currently a couple of people who specialise in organising Bwiti initiation for Westerners. And this certainly presents the easiest route, though the individual should be aware that the person organising will be merely a ‘go between’, likely having limited control over the situation that will confront the would-be initiate in Africa.

The other option would be to try and organise it oneself by contacting Central Africans living in your home country, or by flying to the region and trying to find someone willing to initiate you. This latter approach is highly perilous and is in truth likely little more than a invitation to be held up in the Cameroun, shot in Zaire, or at best mildly exploited in the Gabon.

Once you have found your Bwiti group, you will need to make arrangements to travel to Africa. At least two weeks should be allowed for initiation. Preparation, for Westerners, will likely last several days. And it is important to allow at least a week afterward to stabilise and process the experience.

Getting to Central Africa presents a few minor problems. Only a couple of airlines fly there and the fare from Europe is typically around £1,000 round trip, (~US$1,600). Neither Yaounde nor Libreville, the capitals of the Cameroun and the Gabon respectively, are major destinations, so heavily discounted fares are unlikely to be found. Visas will almost certainly be necessary for both countries and yellow fever jabs mandatory.

French is the national language of both countries, and those not familiar with it will likely have some difficulty being understood. (Areas of the Cameroun close to the Nigerian border are English-speaking, but my information is that there are few Bwiti groups in this region.) Details of accomodation and travel within the country can be found in a guidebook. (2)

Whilst at the time of writing, (May 2000), Gabon could be considered to be relatively stable, the Cameroun, like many of its neighbours, is a much troubled country. Governmental corruption in countries like the Cameroun is now at such a level as to provide a significant hazard to safe movement around the country. Hold-ups are common-place, both on the streets or in open countryside. Moving around pretty much anywhere at night, if you’re not Camerounian, is risky.

In addition, pilfering is rife and should be expected. Most Camerounians are acutely poor and the temptation to relieve Westerners of their possessions will prove overpowering for some. One possibility to counter problems of this nature would be to check into a respectable hotel in Yaounde, and leave your valuables in the safe prior to undertaking initiation. Alternately, American Express or DHL offices may offer safe-keeping facilities.

Another annoyance relates to the changing of money. Travellers cheques, at the time of visiting, attracted such a ridiculously high commision as to render carrying them simply pointless. The principal currency is the Central African Franc. But the French Franc is also very widely accepted and would seem an ideal choice of currency to carry into the country.

These points mentioned it should be said that Camerounians in general are incredibly warm and friendly characters. They seem by nature hospitable and generous and my personal opinion is that the problems the traveller may encounter during his or her time in their land have their roots elsewhere.

Iboga Initiation in Cameroun

In the Spring and early Summer of 1999 I had assisted a Bwiti initiate in Marseilles translate his fascinating website on the Bwiti into English. (3) I got a French-speaking friend to do word-for-word translation and then attempted a rendering into reasonable English.

Not much has been written about the Bwiti in English and so I had previously little knowledge of their beliefs and activities. (4) But, being a former French colony, more material on the religious group could be found scattered around various sources in French literature. (5)(6) In translating accounts of Bwiti creation mythology and ritual practices, I found myself increasingly drawn into their world. And was especially intrigued by the way that the vision of the world I’d slowly begun to formulate from my own iboga experiences seemed to correspond with aspects of Bwiti cosmology.

In addition, I had become increasingly aware over the previous couple of years that I was suffering the considerable effects of trauma from the events of my early childhood, having been detached from my natural parents shortly after being born. This was making my emotional life an utter misery, and had been the real reason I had used iboga a couple of times in the UK. It seemed to me that a large dose of the drug in a ritual setting might provide a useful breakthrough. So I decided to ask the owner of the French site if he could use his contacts in the Cameroun to help sort this out. This he did and it was arranged for me to go to the Cameroun on August 10th. for initiation on the 12th.

Despite my desire to know more of this intriguing religious group, and considerable need for emotional healing, I was still initially a little concerned at the prospect of travelling alone to Central Africa to take part a bizarre, drug-assisted ritual in the bush. But this apprenhension dissipated with an incredibly positive ibogaine experience in mid-July. And from then on I was literally counting the days, believing that with the completion of this ordeal I would finally be freed from my past. As the day neared I also learned that another Westerner, Adam, was going to be present as well, which further deepened my sense of security.

I flew out from London on the 10th on Air France, stopping at Paris, having a seat booked on the return flight two weeks later. Adam joined the plane in Paris. At Yaounde we were met by a young man in a pick-up and taken out to the chapel, about a 20 minute drive away. The Cameroun was not as hot as I had anticipated, and I immediately regretted not bringing a little more clothing.

The Nganga, the man who would lead the ritual, was waiting for us at the chapel. He was slightly perturbed as he had thought that we were to be arriving Tuesday morning, and had already protested that even two days preparation for the initiation was inadequate. Seeing us turning up with the sun already down, he was concerned about the lack of time for preparation. He sat us down in the dwelling next to the chapel and we spoke a little.

We were shown our living quarters for the next couple of nights, prior to the ritual’s commencement – a room at the back of the chapel itself, with an old piece of foam to provide as a bed for the pair of us. I had been hoping to get a good nights rest, having arisen at 2.30 that morning to get my flight, but as we joined the activities going on in the main body of the chapel I soon realised that this was unlikely to happen.

The chapel was laid out much like the one whose floor plan I had previously studied for the French website. (6) We sat on the benches on the men’s side with a young Camerounian who was to be initiated with us, and the guy who had driven the pick-up, whilst a full dress rehearsal of the ceremony took place. There were about 20 group members present, most aged between 15 and 40, with just one elderly-looking female figure present. The ritual went merrily on for several hours, and we eventually retired to the rear of the chapel at about one o’clock with it still in full swing. It continued until morning, and I found it difficult to believe that this was just a rehearsal. What would the real thing be like?

Having spent a sleepless night, we struggled up at around seven the next morning. Breakfast, an assortment of fire-roasted root vegetables, with a boiled egg thrown in for good measure, was served. Adam wasn’t too impressed, but I didn’t much mind and ate most of his. After this, I busied myself exploring the area, so much as was possibl.

The Assumgha Ening chapel is located about 3 miles outside of Yaounde, down a untarmacked track that became virtually unpassable when it rained. We were pretty much surrounded by light forest so I didn’t stray far and endeavoured to make better contact with the group members. There was a bizarre energy to the place, though this didn’t seem to be due to our presence. I sensed that perhaps some sort of major dispute had recently occurred, which was being covered up whilst we were around, everyone needing the money we had brought in.

The Bwiti group were very keen but somewhat crazed, to say the least, and very grasping. They had already been up several nights and I was amazed most of them were still standing. The Yombo, the head woman, seemed to be in charge of everything that wasn’t actually ceremonial, and she certainly made the most of her office. She looked about 35 – 40 and was a fearsome woman who reminded me of the character of Seargent Croft in Norman Mailer’s ‘The Naked and the Dead’. She was absolutely unrelenting in her driving of the younger members onward, refusing to allow anyone any sleep, and flying off the handle at the slightest provocation. It was clear that everyone, even the Nganga, was deeply wary of her temper.

The whole set-up reminded me of a tale I’d been told by an elderly hippie friend many years before. He had travelled to the heart of Nepal, overcoming great hardship, to visit a group of monks who lived on top of a mountain only accesible for a few months of the year. When he finally reached his goal, he was filled with great expectation believing he would be one of the first Westerners to ever make contact with this renownedly devout and enlightened sect. But, on arrival, he discovered that the monks spent much of their time making a strong alcoholic drink which they were currently consuming in great quantities, it being the month of a festival designated for this purpose. They roundly abused him verbally and he returned back down the mountain a different man.

This tale stuck in my mind as bit by bit I began to realise this was no isolated and devout religious sect in whose presence we found ourselves. The barely restrained rifling of our possessions, and our constant treatment as a potential source of enrichment, rapidly dispersed the romantic notions of initiation I had allowed to build in my imagination. In truth, I personally found this more reassuring than anything else. I come from a relatively financially secure background in the UK, but have for years gravitated naturally toward ‘street’ culture. And like most such people am suspicious of anyone I consider as having excessively ‘spiritual’ pretensions.

The slight harshness of our treatment; the piece of foam with smelly blankets that served as a bed for two, and the lack of concern as to our welfare; was also a little disturbing. Though personally I found it effective at breaking my natural resistance to healing, much in the same way that candidates for Primal Therapy and similar find their ego routinely under attack in the initial stages of the treatment.

What I found particularly odd was, that whilst all the group members were manic, most manic were the two head figures – the Nganga and the Yombo. It was difficult to decide if they simply enjoyed weilding power or were genuinely concerned for the correct development of those beneath them. The Yombo would literally scream her head off at any group member unfortunate enough to invoke her displeasure and the Nganga seemed frankly completely obsessed with materialist concerns. Rightly or wrongly, I had formed the impression over the years that devoting ones life to serious religious or shamanic endeavour would require at least a modicum of asceticism. But the Nganga here seemed quite besotted with the material world, and I spent much of my time with him expecting him to break suddenly into a chorus of Janis Joplin’s “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz”, in between his other devotions.

My French is not particularly strong and as the second day commenced it seemed a good strategy to allow it to disintegrate entirely, less I be constantly pestered with demands. This rather selfish act left the Nganga and the Yombo to interrogate Adam, who had already let it be known that he was fluent.

Only one person, the driver of the pick-up, appeared even slightly settled. And we soon learned that he was the only person present who wasn’t actually Bwiti, and who therefore had never taken iboga. I asked him why this was and he explained to me he was afraid. From my limited experience of this group I didn’t blame him.

Despite the attitude of the group members, I was still determined to make some effort at communication. Wednesday afternoon I helped decorate the temple and took time to speak to the old woman who was preparing the iboga. A fertiliser sack full of roots had been purchased that morning, and she was keenly scraping off the rootbark. I asked her why she was discarding the outer layer of bark, this reputedly being where the active ingredients were concentrated. She explained that it was unhygenic to eat this part, and that she might make a tea out of them later. We spoke a bit about Saint Michael, a central figure in Bwiti mythology, and the significance of the ‘mobakaka’ – a loud crack of wood striking wood that symbolised the commencement of ‘dissoumba’ – the Big Bang, the creation of the universe. I also attemped, rather unsuccessfully, to play the Bwiti harp, the melodic instrument whose music plays a central role in Bwiti creation mythology.

Our meals had been pretty unspectacular. But on the evening of the Wednesday we were suddenly invited to partake in a large feast of roast chicken and fresh bread with one of the women and her daughter. This was consumed in great haste, which was just as well, for when the Nganga later found out what was going on, he proceeded to remonstrate with the woman, furious that the process of making us physically pure for the ritual had been so hijacked. And possibly a little concerned that attempts to steal away his meal ticket were being made.

Twenty four hours before the commencement of our initiation we began another process of cleansing. This consisted of us having to perform a ritual personal washing every three hours for twenty-four hours with a bucket of leafy liquid accompanied by a candle which should not be allowed to go out. (Mine did on several occasions, unfortunately). This we managed without too many problems.

On the morning of the initiation, Thursday, we were required to drink large quantities of a foul-tasting brown, brackish liquid to purge our bodies of any remaining pollutants. Adam vomitted quickly, but I found it harder. Eventually, when I had so much of the stuff inside of me I felt I might explode, my system gave way and I vomitted merrily into the bucket provided.

In the afternoon we were required to write out a ‘confession’. This was to be a list of all the bad things we had ever done, to be symbolically burnt before our initiation. I’d previously joked that I would need longer than an afternoon for such a task, but once I got down to it I managed to fit most of it on a couple of sheets of foolscap. I was aware of the symbolic value of such an exercise, so did take it seriously. When it was done we had to read out each item on the list, alone, in front of two large harps, placed in one corner of the temple. This done we burnt the confession.

This done, we settled down to await the commencement of the ritual which was scheduled for late afternoon. The Nganga had been called away to attend another initiation in the area, but was expected back in plenty of time. Suddenly the weather changed and it began to pour with rain. We sheltered in the back of the chapel on our piece of foam and awaited the Nganga’s return as the hours passed by. He eventually got back quite late in the evening, the weather having made some of the roads impassable. With him was a young Swiss guy with a heroin problem who was thinking about doing the treatment and wanted to see what was going on.

The ceremony was convened in great haste. We were led to the rear door of the temple and then had to stand outside in the rain, near naked, waiting for the Nganga to wash us. By this time we had become a group of three, the young Camerounian guy from nearby having joined. He didn’t seem at all keen to undergo initiation, and I assumed his parents had forced him into it. Adam was complaining as the Nganga left us freezing in the pouring rain wearing only our underpants. But, being the contrary soul I was, I refused to give the Nganga any sign that I was remotely inconvenienced. He had made constant references to how tough the ceremony would be, especially for us pampered Westerners. And I was determined to show no trace of discomfort whatsoever. And remained standing straight up, as he fiddled around with other things, making us suffer.

I had read that the ritual washing would require us to crawl through the legs of the women of the group whilst they stood in a local stream, thereby symbolically recreating the path taken by the sperm en route to fertilisation. Sadly, this didn’t take place, for some reason. Possibly the lateness of the hour.

After about an hour of having the Nganga fiddle around, still muttering about how the initiation, “c’est dur”, and me rebuffing him, saying that this was childsplay and I could stand here all night if I felt like it, we embarked upon another bizarre ritual. This involved us having a sacred plant bud placed in our mouth, which we then had to swallow. Now dressed again, we had become a group of five, two young girls from nearby having joined in as well. One looked about eight, and the other ten. Neither seemed too keen on undertaking the ceremony, hardly surprising given their youth. I was 38 and was no longer feeling quite as keen about my initiation as I had been.

Eventually all five of us were back inside the chapel, again in the rear area where we were lined up on the ground like marmite soldiers. We were back in undergarments whilst assorted greenery was draped around us, presumably symbolising rebirth. Five plates were produced. And five measures of the powdered root measured out. I noticed that, being the eldest and largest, myself and Adam got the largest portions.

We commenced chewing. I had eaten iboga before about eight months prior. At that time I’d just taken about 5g, a test dose, to see what happened, from a sample I had obtained from Southern Africa. I found out then just how foul this stuff was, and had mixed it with honey, before gulping it down with warm water. Here no such refinements were available. I was expected to just take pinches of the stuff with my fingers and just stick it straight down my throat. The Yombo – the head female – stood in front of me demonstrating the technique whilst merrily nodding her head. It was OK for her, I thought. She didn’t actually have a plate of the stuff in front of her.

Words cannot express just how hideous this stuff was. I don’t know if my senses were particularly heightened from what was happening, but I can only say that, right now, that I would rather eat my own excrement than eat this stuff again. What made it worse was that the Nganga had mixed some of the iboga leaf in with the rootbark, presumably to weaken its effects for us iboga-novices. In my increasingly distraught state, I was sure this was making it taste worse and I found myself inwardly cursing his stupidity for not simply giving us less.

After about a half an hour of this torture, we were led outside for another ritual. We were taken around the spiritual ‘head’ of the chapel – a small iboga plant placed some yards in front of the entrance, (a spot symbolising the ‘crown chakra’, the chapel being, amongst a mass of other symbols, a representation of the Hindu energy centres of a person lying down), and a cockerell was brought out and left tied to a small stick. We circumnavigated the iboga plant three times, whilst singing took place in the chapel. Then the Nganga’s brother appeared with a knife. Hands held it firm whilst its head was cut off and the blood allowed to spray out over the plant. This done, we were ushered back to our spots in the rear of the temple and instructed to continue eating.

All of us were having trouble getting the iboga down. I was desperate to try but it was just too foul. The Yombo kept coming in and whispering to me, “Comment tu vas voyager si tu ne mange pas d’iboga?” How are you going to ‘travel’ if you don’t eat iboga? As though sticking this stuff down my neck shouldn’t present any problem at all. Anxiety was rising steadily, not helped by the fact that we were all freezing cold and expected to stay here for at least the rest of the night.

My only real problem with everything at this time was the taste thing. I knew if I could just find some way of getting enough of the stuff inside of me, once the drug took effect I would have no concerns at all.

Adam had not experienced iboga before. He wasn’t looking too happy right now and decided he’d had enough. I can recall him spending about an hour arguing with the Nganga and his brother, who were determined he should stay. Eventually, after much frenzied discussion, he settled for going to the toilet, but even this concession took an age. The three Camerounians were all pretty distraught as well. But they all seemed to know they had no choice but to go through with it. They were vomiting regularly into the various vessels left at our feet for the purpose. Suddenly I could feel myself being overwhelmed by anxiety. I was mad to be lying here all night like this in the freezing cold! I would catch my death. Why, I could already feel my body becoming chilled!

So I started remonstrating with the Nganga as well. This seemed to break his resolve. I think he had already decided, from my repeated childish refusals to show pain or fear, that I was some ex-military type and seeing me now protesting so vocally about my treatment did actually cause him to worry a little. He called in the Yombo, who was having none of such behaviour. She began to perform her eating gesture again, clearly believing that my problem was that I was somehow unaware of how to consume iboga.

Then I suddenly remembered, from my previous iboga experiences, that anxiety was a quite normal effect of the drug coming on. And that this was why the Nganga and his brother were trying to get Adam to sit down again and continue eating. Suddenly I felt quite ashamed at my behaviour. I had been doing fine not showing any emotion for several days, (several decades, in truth), and had now ruined everything with my outburst. I lay back down, decided there was no point in trying to explain to Adam he was likely just experiencing the normal effects of the drug, and once again tried to consume the iboga.

It was still foul, but I managed to just about get it down and finish the plate with the aid of some water that had now been provided. I lay back awaiting the visionary stage of the experience when suddenly the Yombo rushed up and poured me another plateful. Followed by another series of eating gestures performed in front of my face whilst her eyes urged me onward. I don’t think my heart has ever sunk so low so quickly. I knew deep inside there was truly no way I could handle another plateful. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Looking back it seems strange that something as minor as a taste sensation could provide such a barrier to me experiencing a much-awaited release from near 40 years of emotional misery. In fact, to help get me through the first plateful I had repeated told myself I was pretending it was too foul to eat because, at a subconscious level, I didn’t truly want healing. This steeled my resolve at the time, but no such ploys were going to work now. I tried to eat more, but soon found myself reduced to undertaking the popular childhood pastime of pushing the stuff repeatedly around the plate in a desperate attempt to convince the Yombo I was eating.

Then, suddenly, a ray of sunshine appeared. Someone in the group must have said, “Why don’t we give them the ‘automatic'”, for a large bowlful was brought forth. Seeing the ‘automatique’ transformed me. This was the liquid extract of iboga which, while still quite unbelievably foul, was at least fairly concentrated and drinkable if taken rapidly. The problem with the rootbark was that it was so weak. I knew I would have to consume platefuls of it. Now I was being given another option, and I can recall thinking salvation had finally arrived. I put the plateful to one side and started on the automatic. It was still unbelievably foul-tasting, but at least it didn’t have the texture of the rootbark and drinking a cupful was the equivalent of consuming a whole plate of the other. Despite my efforts to please, and the knowledge that I must have already taken a fairly hefty dose by now, the Yombo was still not impressed. Her exhortations to ‘drink more’ continued unbroken. I must have been a couple of hours in at this point and the drug was definitely taking a hold. And there suddenly arose in me the desire to prove to her that I was worthy. Looking up at the Yombo standing over me, an idea came to me. I took several large cupfuls and drank them down one after the other. Her face changed and she nodded approval, which surprised me considerably. I felt like I’d really achieved something. Sadly, this was the last feeling I was to have as Nick Sandberg, a 38 year old British visitor to the Cameroun, for some time.

When I awoke it was sunny. The sunlight had a strange quality to it. I had no knowledge of who or where I was and it didn’t occur to me to think about these things. But I knew the sunlight was different. There were people around me staring. I am sitting on a doorstep when a man comes over and looks at me. I don’t know who he is but I don’t like the look of him. I start shouting and he walks off. I am in a room with chairs and sofas. Then I am in another room, lying down on a mattress. There is some liquid in a bottle. I taste it. It tastes of orange. People come and people go. I don’t recognise them and frankly the world that I journey to when the strange sunlight stops and I fall through a hole in my mind makes more sense to me. But I keep coming back to this world. A pretty girl comes in occasionally`and talks to me in one of numerous languages I can now understand. She wants me to take her away somewhere. I’m not sure where this place is she’s talking about.

I was staying in the building next to the chapel, but I had no recognition of this for some six days. On the seventh day, I remembered my name and that I’d come to the Cameroun to take iboga. And that I was very hungry. For something like a half of the intervening time I was experiencing a bizarre series of dreamlike visions in the first person. Some of the environments they occurred in I could at least hazard at guess at recognising. But most are frankly beyond my descriptive powers.

Iboga visions are frequently pretty tedious reading for the outsider, their prophetic quality usually simply a symbolic message relating personal work that needs to be undertaken. But I shall put down a little of what I’ve subsequently recalled, so the reader can get a rough idea of the kind of thing: Somewhere early twentieth and then mid-ninteenth century England. I ride a motorbike in the former and am a right jack-the-lad. I’m doing some kind of risky couriering job and am besotted with a blonde girl who seems a vision of working-class beauty. I think she gives me a cigarette lighter. / In the latter I’m a Dickensian style loner. / Late nineteenth century US. Perhaps. I’m an European immigrant and I start a small business on the fringes of legality with my brother. We’re very successful. I also seem to have magical powers / Ancient Africa – bizarre crocodile-like power groups ruled over us in an ancient world that lay along the banks of an African river. / Time reversing as living rock forms join together to form an ancient source from which power sprang. / Ancestry revealed as a series of bizarre deer-like heads mounted on a wall. / Underneath things, trying to interpret what was going on around me. / Multi-dimensional environments peopled with incomprehensible beings. / Millenia of history of some insect race that spent all their time fighting and felt sticky. / Future visions of a Chinese factory that produces a strange device like a thin metal folding table. You put in on your roof and your TV reception improves and the price of your electricity goes down. Millions of people in the Southern USA buy them, then one day a scientist discovers that they are having a terrible effect on the earth’s ionosphere and 99% of the human population are about to die. The Americans are mightily upset with the Chinese and start bombing. But it’s too late. The world is strangely calm afterward. It’s scorching hot and there’s not much to do. / The world ends a multitude of times, each in a different way. One day a scientist discovers we’ve got only 11 days left. We’re about to be sucked into another dimension and there’s nothing anyone can do. People read about it on the front page of their newspapers and panic considerably. There’s a strange graph of the effect included with the story. The universe just disappears. Nothing left, nothing at all. In one instant a billion years of history are just sucked away. Not even vapourised. Everything simply ceases to be. Or ever have been.

It was now about the 19th of August and I spent the next few days in Cameroun’s capital, Yaounde, staying in a hotel with Adam. I had lost about a stone in weight and looked dreadful. It seems I neither ate nor drank anything much for about a week. Yaounde didn’t appear to have much to commend it. And the lack of streetlighting added to its reputation for being dangerous at night. We travelled to the centre of Cameroun for a couple of days with the guy who was scared of taking iboga and visited the ancient city of Foumban. On the 24th we flew back to Europe.

I started feeling ill almost as soon as we got off the ground at Yaounde airport. Adam and I split up in Paris and by the time I was back in London I was feeling really weak. There’s no time difference between the UK and the Cameroun, so I knew it wasn’t jet-lag. After four days of having my temperature rocket then dive repeatedly, I finally decided there might actually be something wrong with me and called the doctor. He said it sounded like malaria and told me to get down to the Tropical Diseases Unit. I could barely walk upright by this time. They took a urine sample and booked me in. There were bugs in the sample and it turned out I had falciparum malaria at 7.2% in blood, a fairly dangerous level. I spent four days on quinine, drips then tablets, then checked myself out of hospital. About a week later I was pretty much back to normal.

Epilogue and Conclusion

Although my experience of iboga initiation will no doubt appear pretty grim to some readers, in no way do I regret doing it. It didn’t achieve any of the things I had hoped for, at least not immediately. But perhaps there were elements of some form of spiritual initiation in it. And I did some months later begin to make some progress unravelling my emotional problems and begin to release some of the pain trapped in me from my childhood, principally through practicing Holotropic Breathwork and getting involved in group therapy.

The malaria was a bit of a hassle, but had no lasting deleterious effect on me as far as I can determine. And I no doubt would not have been infected had I bothered to take Larium, or similar preventative medication.

My treatment by the group might seem a rough to some, but in fairness to them I simply underwent what each of them had undergone. No special arrangements were made for the fact that I was a Westerner and I can see nothing wrong with that. It is a ritual of initiation and the ‘banzi’, (Bwiti word for the initiate), is expected to overcome severe trials on his or her route to adulthood. I’m not quite sure whether I passed yet, but I figure I at least made a little progress.

The Nganga’s keeness for material wealth doesn’t necessarily in any way diminish his spiritual prowess. Except in the eyes of naive Westerners like myself. And the Yombo’s ferocity and dogmatic attitude I later discovered to be quite normal for senior women in the religion. I still get occasional letters from the pretty Camerounian girl who came in to attend to my physical body whilst I was ‘away’. She relates that “meme que la distance que nous separe”, she still thinks of me. Usually followed by a request for funds to help save the life of an ailing relative. I write back declining politely.

With each month that passes I recall a little more of what I ‘saw’ during my week of visions. I haven’t got to the bit where I am reborn and get to start my life anew yet. But I figure it’s coming up soon.


(1). Recommended is the “Lonely Planet guide to Central Africa”. (Lonely Planet Publications, 1995)
(2). http://perso.club-internet.fr/ideesun
(3). A notable exception being “Bwiti: An ethnography of the religious imagination in Africa”, James W. Fernandez, (publisher and page details unavailable)
(4). “Péril blanc”, René Bureau, (publisher and page details unavailable)
(5). “La naissance à l’envers”, André Marie, (publisher and page details unavailable)
(6). http://perso.club-internet.fr/ideesun/efgtmple.htm

Nick – Initiation in Cameroun (August ’99)

March 21, 2012


Subject: Iboga in the Cameroun
Date: Tue, 7 Sep 1999 08:32:04 EDT
From: Nick Sandberg
Reply-To: ibogaine@ibogaine.org
To: Multiple recipients of list

Posting a brief account of recent 2 week trip to the Cameroun to both do Bwiti initiation and research iboga further.

Left London for Yaounde, the Cameroun capital, on Tues Aug 10th. Overall journey time was about 12 hours, including stops at Paris and Douala, (Cameroun’s second city). The flight was Air France and cost about UK£850 return. Air fares to Central Africa from Europe are invariably about US$1,500 return, which seems fairly pricey to me.

Yaounde was cooler than I’d been told. We went straight to the Bwiti chapel, which I believe was called Assumpta Ening, or something similar. The chapel was conveniently located about 10 minutes drive from central Yaounde.

We sat in on Bwiti rituals that night which went on until sunrise. They were quite well carried out in my opinion. The same Wednesday night, with a lot of fairly spectacular fire rituals. There were about 20 Bwiti initiates present of varying ages. Nearly all looked under 40. Many under 20.

On the Thursday we were asked to write a “confession”, detailing all our various transgressions from our previous years. Later in the day, the confession is to be read out in front of two large harps (!!), then later symbolically burnt.

The initiation ritual started quite late on Thursday evening. It was conducted by a guy called the Abbe Bessala. There was a bit of ritual washing outside the temple followed by a few blessings and similar. There were five in total to be initiated. Three locals, (two girls aged about 10 years and a young man of about 15), and two of us Westerners. In addition, a young Swiss heroin addict was treated the day after.

We started eating the prepared iboga which was foul as ever. I had noted earlier in the day while observing an old woman preparing the stuff that she discarded the outer rootbark. I asked her why this was and she explained it was unhygenic. After a fair bit of eating, it was evident to me that the iboga was not particularly strong, no doubt partly because of the way the part of it where active ingredients were most concentrated was discarded. There was some “automatique”, (an alcohol/water extract of iboga rootbark), around which I decided to move onto. It was foul, but not as bad as the rootbark powder. Everyone else was vomiting merrily, but I managed to hold out. I must have drunk numerous glasses of the “automatique”, prior to passing out.

After this I don’t remember a great deal for about 6 days! I did a fair bit of dreaming over that time and had no real idea of who I was or where I was. I seemed to be spending a fair bit of time in some kind of multidimensional environment which is pretty difficult to describe save to say that the extra dimensions were represented in my mind by specific feelings. I’m fairly certain I encountered a character who I later recognised as Njoya – an early 20th century Sultan of a central kingdom of the Cameroun, renowned for his wisdom and occult activities.

[Bits are coming back to me slowly as the months pass. During one approx 36 hour solid REM dreamstate I experienced at least a couple of interesting life histories seemingly set around 1850-1920, one maybe US, the other likely UK. Don’t know whether they were my own, but the central characters seemed familiar. My opinion of ibogaine visuals in general is that they are frequently a “mish-mash” of emotional memories, cognitive memories and possible past-life, archetypal or future experiences. I had a strong vision of the “forging of nations” circa 1000AD in Scotland, a lot of which came back to me whilst North of the Border with Dr Mash in November 1999. In the dreamstate I could feel the texture of stone as though it were alive.]

On the sixth and seventh days after consuming the iboga, I began to remember who I was and similar useful pieces of information. And on the seventh I left the chapel and its surrounding buildings and went to stay in a hotel room in Yaounde.

Overall I can’t really say much about my session with iboga as I consumed so much of the stuff, I simply can’t really remember. I think it’s generally better to take iboga or ibogaine, for spiritual or psychological reasons, in a more controlled environment. I guess I must have consumed something in the order of about 10g of ibogaine, regardless of the other actives present in the rootbark, though this is just an estimate based on what I recall and how long I was out of it for afterward.

Back in Yaounde, the young Swiss drug addict who’d taken iboga the day after seemed much recovered. Though I’d only met him briefly prior to his treatment, he’d seemed to me a fairly typical young male European h addict, (if such a term has validity). He now appeared notably more mature. And told me he was experiencing no desire to use.

My overall opinion of treatment in Cameroun, bar one consideration, is that it is particularly suited to the treatment of drug addiction. Especially for those addicts who’ve had little success with other treatment modalities. It seemed to me one particularly significant consideration here is the so-called “pilgrimage factor”.

By this I mean the pschological effect on the addict once they’ve booked their ticket to this remote environment. They can see themselves travelling to a place far detached from the West, taking part in a bizarre ritual involving a life-changing psychoactive substance, and thence commence upon a new life – one free from hard drug usage.

This is a very significant factor in trying to achieve long-term drug abstinence, in my opinion.

For those seeking some kind of spiritual experience, or relief from psychological maladies, I’d say it’s better to experiment with iboga, in whatever form, nearer to home prior to trying something like this.

There is one negative factor to be mentioned when discussing treatment in the Cameroun.

This concerns security, on both a local and national level. Cameroun, in common with much of Central Africa, is both an extremely corrupt country and also not a particularly safe one. The people I was with did not like walking around alone in Yaounde at any time. And whilst I personally felt quite safe during the daylight, once dusk falls it’s a generally accepted wisdom that wandering the unlit streets is a definite “no-no” for non-Camerounaises.

There are also concerns with pilfering, which seems endemic and is an issue which needs to be addressed prior to departure. Cash and valuables will disappear from pretty much any place. Carrying travellers’ cheques seems a good idea – until you try and cash them! If you succeed in finding a bank which will accept them, you are unlikely to be much impressed by the rate. (Ffr 1,000 in banknotes typically gains about CFA 97,000. In T/C the same sum gains about CFA 65,000!!)

One idea to counter problems of this nature would be to arrive a day or two earlier in Yaounde, check into a halfway decent hotel, and leave your valuables in the safe. Alternately, American Express or DHL offices may offer safe-keeping facilities.

Anyway, to sum up, treatment in Cameroon is reasonable value at about FFr 7,500, (~US$1250), especially when compared to other options. (Though flight costs to this region are high). And, for addicts especially, Central Africa scores high on the “pilgrimage factor” scale. Unless you’re used to travelling in Third World countries, Westerners would be advised to go accompanied, either by another addict or a friend. Some considerations as to how you’re going to keep your money safe during your trip should be taken prior to leaving. A guide book, such as Lonely Planet’s Central Africa, is also a good idea.

Happy to answer any questions anyone might have.



Re: of iboga and Gabon
Date: Tue, 07 Dec 1999 12:40:30 +0000
From: Nick Sandberg
To: ibogaine@ibogaine.org

HSL wrote:

How do you own memories of Gabon sit with you now Nick?

Hi Howard,

My memories of Gabon are somewhat limited, as I have never been there! I recall going to Cameroon, however. Which was interesting for a number of reasons. I participated in a Bwiti “initiation” ritual, which was fairly well conducted, in my opinion, though not in the opinion of other Westerners who attended.

Much of the preparation resembled that for Primal Therapy, the regressive psychotherapeutic technique pioneered by Dr Arthur Janov in the 60’s and occasionally still enjoying bursts of popularity. Notably, the lack of sleep allowed prior to commencement, the writing of the confession of one’s misdoings and the general atmosphere of abuse and maltreatment – all of which serve to break down the body and mind’s defences and potentially allow the release and reintegration of early “deferred” pain, (ie. pain resulting from experiences deemed too traumatic by the body to be felt at the time of experience and so held within the system awaiting a safer time for release).

The problem for me was that as the iboga came on and the constant exhortations to eat more, (comment tu vas voyager si tu ne mange pas d’iboga?), started to seriously get on my nerves, I decided I was going to consume a truly monumental dose of the “automatique” – the less foul tasting and more concentrated iboga brew – and proceeded to do just that.

I lost consciousness and when I came around could not recall who or where I was. I was actively very hostile to the people around me, who I seemed to recall were not my friends, and spent the next six and half days, lying on a mattress in a side room, drifting in and out of periods of intense REM activity sometimes for days at a time, bits of which occasionally return to me. Around the morning of the seventh day, I started to recall who and where I was.

My experiences while I was “away” were very similar to those described by people doing Grof’s Holotropic Breathwork. That’s to say, there appears to be a lot of apparently “past-life” material, which arises and is slowly reintegrated into the psyche, mostly, in my case, apparently set in late 19th C USA and early 20th C London. Also some older stuff relating to the “cleaving and forming of nations” around 1000AD in Scotland – some of which came back whilst I spent time visiting Stirling Castle with Dr Mash, (as did some NDE type stuff as she endeavoured to negotiate roundabouts in a hired Skoda), in which I could feel the rock as living texture slowly rending with time.

There were also a whole host of truly weird multi-D experiences I couldn’t begin to realistically put into words.

My opinion now would be that the experience was quite interesting, but that dose levels of this magnitude with iboga are pointless. I believe the brain on becoming aware of the impending psychedelic onslaught simply directs the flow of energy up and away from the parts of the psyche where deferred pain is held, and into some kind of mystical land of weirdness. There may be some level of symbolic interaction with the trauma, but I doubt if permanent abreaction and resolution of trauma can occur like this, the effect being more like the sense of temporary calm we have after a deep dreaming session.

My best experience with ibogaine was with the HCl. I took 750mg and had a painful and very visceral journey into the tortured mind. This is what you need. Actual cognitive, emotional and bodily release of pain. Journeys into the Spiritual Land of Oz may calm the troubled mind and boost self-esteem, but they don’t actually deal with the problem. Spiritual experiences are in some ways the body’s means of copping out, of saying the pain is too intense to be dealt with yet and opening up another channel that we may view it differently. Just as the mind seems to know what experiences need to be deferred for fear of causing excess damage to the psyche, so it also seems to know the time and place when this stuff can be safely released. In short, you need to gently tweak those receptors just right, not flood them, or you’ll be talking hippy nonsense for the rest of your life, which may be considerably shortened, should the health issues surrounding trauma not be being addressed.

Anyway, that’s my opinion for what it’s worth. Avoid high doses. Work up. Use other methodologies in between ibogaine sessions to help soften up the subconscious. Don’t keep hacking away with ibogaine if it’s not giving you a result. And don’t go thinking you’re the next new-age prophet just because you’ve been jettisoned into the land of mystical weirdness for a few hours – it’s just your body’s way of telling you you’re not ready yet.

Best wishes


An Introduction to Ibogaine by: Nick Sandberg

March 20, 2012

ISBN 0-9538348-1-6 www.ibogaine.co.uk
This piece is not subject to copyright and may be reproduced
Written in 2001, and occasionally updated

The Problems of Developing Ibogaine
Casual Ibogaine Treatment
Ibogaine Treatment
How Ibogaine Works
The Bwiti
Ibogaine for Self-development
Iboga Visions


Ibogaine is a psychoactive indole alkaloid derived from the rootbark of an African plant – Tabernanthe iboga. In recent years it has been increasingly noted for its ability to treat both drug and alcohol addiction. Both scientific studies and widespread anecdotal reports appear to suggest that a single administration of ibogaine has the ability to both remove the symptoms of drug withdrawal and reduce drug-craving for a period of time after administration. In addition, the drug’s psychoactive properties (in large doses it can induce a dreamlike state for a period of hours) have been widely credited with helping users understand and reverse their drug-using behaviour.

Studies suggest that ibogaine has considerable potential in the treatment of addiction to heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, methadone, and alcohol, with some suggestion that it further be useful in treating tobacco dependence. It has also been suggested that the drug may have considerable potential in the field of psychotherapy, particularly as a treatment for the effects of trauma or conditioning.

A single administration of ibogaine typically has three effects useful in the treatment of drug dependence. Firstly, it causes a massive reduction in the symptoms of drug withdrawal, allowing relatively painless detoxification. Secondly, many users report, and scientific studies confirm, a marked lowering in the desire to use drugs is experienced for a period of time after taking ibogaine, typically between one week and several months. Finally, the drug’s psychoactive nature is reported to help many users understand and resolve the issues behind their addictive behaviour.

Ibogaine can be easily administered, in capsule form, and has no addictive effects itself. It is essentially a “one-shot” medication and, used in a clinical setting with proper client screening procedures, the drug thus far appears to be safe to use. Whilst it is rare for an individual to stop using drugs permanently from a single dose of ibogaine, as the initial component in an overall rehabilitation programme the drug would appear to offer much potential.

Although approved for clinical trials (trials on humans) for the treatment of addiction in the US in the early 1990s, problems with financial backing have so hindered the development of ibogaine that, as of mid 2001, it remains undeveloped and thus unavailable to the majority of addicts worldwide. There are however a couple of private clinics, located around the Caribbean and in Mexico, that offer ibogaine treatment at prices starting around £4,000, and some lay treatment providers offer lower cost treatment, without medical facilities, in Europe. In addition, ibogaine, either in pure form or as a plant extract, has become available from some lay sources on the internet.

Ibogaine’s current legal status in the UK, and much of the rest of the world, is that of an unlicensed, experimental medication, and it not therefore an offence to possess the drug, though to act as a distributor may be breaking the law. Ibogaine is a restricted substance (possession is illegal) in some countries, including the US, Switzerland, Sweden and Belgium.


Of the various substances that have, at one time or another, been proposed as being useful in the treatment of drug or alcohol dependence, ibogaine would certainly appear to be the one offering the greatest real potential. A slightly psychoactive indole alkaloid derived from an African plant, the drug, in plant form, has been used by indigenous groups for millenia. The Bwiti, a Central African religious group, use the rootbark of the Tabernanthe iboga plant for a variety of social and religious purposes, most notably as the central component of a “rite of passage” initiation ceremony intended to confer the status of adulthood upon new group members. In the West, ibogaine is usually administered in the form of the hydrochloride – a fine off-white powder either lab synthesized or chemically extracted from the rootbark.

When administered to persons seeking to beat addiction to heroin, methadone, cocaine or alcohol, a single dose of ibogaine typically achieves the following. Firstly, the complete removal or severe attenuation of the symptoms of drug withdrawal, allowing painless detoxification (occurs with approx. 90% of subjects). Secondly, the removal of the desire to use drugs for a period of between one week and three months (occurs with approx. 60% of subjects). Finally, the revealing of personal issues underlying drug-using behaviour, leading to long-term drug-abstinence (occurs with approx. 30% of subjects).

Ibogaine is not itself addictive and the drug may be taken a second time to help preserve a drug-free state. It should be noted, however, that relatively few people permanently beat addiction solely through using ibogaine, and the treatment should thus be regarded as simply an initial component in an overall rehabilitation strategy.

The discovery that ibogaine could treat drug addiction is usually credited to Howard S. Lotsof – a New York based former heroin user who first took ibogaine in 1962. Lotsof took ibogaine believing it to be a new recreational drug but, 30 hours later, suddenly realized he wasn’t experiencing heroin withdrawal, and had no desire to seek drugs. Subsequent casual experimentation by addict friends revealed that this effect was common to others.

Some 20 years later, Lotsof returned to his discovery and set about trying to bring it to the market. He initially set up a charitable foundation with the aim of promoting and developing ibogaine as an anti-addiction medication but, dismayed by the lack of interest shown, later decided to form a company, NDA International, believing a business concern would more likely attract the necessary financial backing. NDA filed patents for the use of ibogaine in the treatment of addiction and began to carry out treatments to better evaluate the drug’s potential.

Because, by this time, ibogaine had been made a Schedule 1 restricted substance in the USA (ibogaine was banned along with LSD and psilocybin in the early seventies) NDA chose to carry out experimental ibogaine treatments in Holland. Jan Bastiaans, a highly-regarded Dutch psychotherapist, partnered him and, over the early years of the nineties, they treated some 30 addict volunteers, the results of which were later medically assessed by Dr Ken Alper in a scientific paper (see How Ibogaine Works for ref).

The nineties, after a promising start, proved to be a tough time for ibogaine. In 1991, the US National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), impressed by case reports and animal studies, began studying ibogaine with a view to evaluating its safety. They constructed protocols for the treatment of addiction. In 1993, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), who oversee the development of new drugs, approved clinical trials with ibogaine, to be carried out by Dr Deborah Mash of the University of Miami School of Medicine, on behalf of Howard Lotsof’s corporation, NDA International.

It was at this point that things started to go astray. The death of a young female heroin addict during treatment in Holland brought an abrupt end to the Dutch project. A subsequent inquest did not find the project organizers guilty of negligence but the lack of scientific knowledge about the effects of ibogaine hindered the establishing of an actual cause of death. (It was believed that the surreptitious smoking of opiates during treatment may have been responsible).

The approved clinical trials commenced but contractual and funding problems that arose between NDA International and the University of Miami brought the trials to a close before completion, (the drug’s safety was not an issue). A lengthy legal battle between the two ensued, and developmental work came to a standstill.

In March 1995, after several years spent progressively becoming more interested in ibogaine, a review committee at NIDA suddenly decided to greatly reduce further activity with the drug, apparently having been influenced by critical opinions from the pharmaceuticals industry. Officially, it was reported that the death in Holland was of concern, and that NIDA were disappointed that ibogaine was only shown to keep people off drugs for a period of months, not forever. Howard Lotsof has subsequently pointed out that the death, whilst tragic, was likely caused by concurrent opiate usage and, with regard to the second point, that any drug that could put, say, cancer or AIDS into complete remission for a period of months would be being developed as a matter of national urgency.

Over the last five years, very little has happened. The escalating legal battle between NDA International and the University of Miami, each suing the other for alleged breaches of contract, appears to have ended with the bankruptcy of the former. Yet, as of mid 2001, the precise outcome is not clearly established.

Meanwhile, widening knowledge of the effects of ibogaine has resulted in casual treatments being provided by various individuals in different countries. Though usually undertaken with good intentions, these treatments have frequently been carried out by people with little medical knowledge, and this may have resulted in further tragic incidents.

A couple of small countries, notably Panama and St Kitts, have made ibogaine treatment legally available at private clinics, but only at prices starting around UK£7,000 per treatment (approx US$10,000. Unlicensed medical clinics in Mexico currently offer the treatment slightly more cheaply). As of mid 2001, ibogaine remains in a legal nowhere-land, desperately needed by millions of addicts worldwide, but, tragically, little closer to becoming easily available.

The Problems of Developing Ibogaine

Ibogaine development has been beset with hold-ups for years. The existing legal disputes may now be close to resolution, but ibogaine still needs the participation of a pharmaceutical company for it to make it to the mass market. The business of developing new medications is solely in the hands of the private sector – the pharmaceutical corporations – and the problems that drugs companies appear to have with ibogaine are many.

Firstly, as a drug derived from a natural source, patent options are more limited than they would be for a drug that can only be created in the lab. Potentially, this greatly reduces the level of financial return that the drug could provide, of serious concern considering the degree of backing needed to bring a new drug to the market. Whilst, in the West, there are governmental provisions in place to encourage companies to develop drugs that could be socially useful, to date no one seems interested in taking advantage of them for ibogaine.

Secondly, ibogaine is not a maintenance drug – it is not taken repeatedly over a short period of time – and is usually administered only once. As a general rule, medications developed by the drugs companies, for whatever purpose, are maintenance drugs, for only maintenance drugs allow sufficient financial return to justify the necessary prior outlay on research and development.

Thirdly, industry insiders relate that there are public relations concerns when developing medications for groups that are negatively socially marginalized in the way drug addicts have become. Drug companies, like most modern corporations, are acutely image-sensitive and there are thus concerns that developing medications for addicts could bring about a deterioration in their overall market value.

Finally, some believe that bringing an addiction medication of ibogaine’s potential to the market may present “conflict of interest” problems, of dubious moral worth, to other corporate bodies involved with the sale of licensed recreational substances such as alcohol or tobacco.

The root of the problem that ibogaine faces in becoming available is that our society lacks any mechanism by which a substance of this nature, offering high social benefits but only marginal direct financial return, can be developed. Drugs companies are shareholder based, and so can only develop medications that offer sustained, direct financial return. Whilst ibogaine potentially offers immense savings to government in terms of reduced spending on social welfare and crime prevention, there is no mechanism by which this saving at a public level can be used to induce a corporation to develop the drug.

Assuming the absence of corporate backing, about the most likely route by which ibogaine might become legally available is via projects carried out by local government drug dependency units. Projects of this nature, once started, would allow addicts access to safe, low-cost treatment and, as each project generated more knowledge and data, so drug treatment centres in other areas could make use of the same to develop their own ibogaine protocols. As of mid 2001, however, no projects of this nature are underway, although East European countries appear to be at the forefront of those interested. In addition, the medical laws of some countries allow registered practitioners to prescribe an unlicensed medication like ibogaine, usually providing the subject has given their “fully-informed consent.”

Casual Ibogaine Treatment

With ibogaine treatment now more available than ever before, in an ever-widening range of settings, more and more knowledge about the drug is gathering. At the time of writing, March 2007, one thing that is becoming increasingly clear is that there is a reasonable degree of risk associated with taking the drug. At least 12 people are recorded as having died in connection with taking ibogaine or other iboga substances over the last decade or so, and there is reason to believe that the number may be higher, with other deaths having occurred in non-clinical settings and without being recorded.

Here is some safety-related information about the drug:

– There is an inherent level of risk with ibogaine treatment. Twelve people are known to have died in connection with taking ibogaine or other iboga alkaloids. In actuality, the figure is likely higher, given that ibogaine is frequently administered in surroundings where people may be reluctant to contact the authorities in the event of something going wrong. Statistically, a ballpark figure for deaths during treatment is probably of the order of 1 in 300. (This is based on 12 recorded deaths having occurred within 3611 recorded treatments, outside of Africa, as of March 2007). The following factors have been identified as having caused death:

  • having a pre-existing heart condition, sometimes one not detectable by EKG
  • using opiates when on ibogaine, or shortly afterwards
  • using the rootbark or iboga extract. Ibogaine HCl is statistically much safer
  • taking ibogaine outside of a clinical facility. Persons taking ibogaine need constant supervision and, ideally, online heart monitoring

– Ibogaine is principally recognised for its ability to vastly reduce the symptoms of drug withdrawal, thus allowing addicts to detox relatively painlessly. Any other claims made for the drug, such as that it creates long-term drug-abstinence, or removes the effects of trauma or conditioning in either addicts or non-addicts, may have a degree of truth but are a great deal less substantiated.

– You must be medically tested before you take ibogaine. Proper clinical testing of heart and liver function are the absolute minimum. The site author is not aware of any reputable treatment provider who would allow you to take ibogaine without prior medical testing. Do not go with someone who does not insist on it. Ideally, you should have constant monitoring of heart function whilst on the drug, and medically-trained staff present.

– Beware of listening excessively to the advice of just one individual when deciding whether or not to take ibogaine. Ibogaine’s effects can be life-changing, and it is common for someone who has had a very positive experience to do their utmost to “spread the message,” possibly allowing their enthusiasm to override the very real concerns about safety.

– If you are thinking of taking ibogaine for personal development and haven’t yet been involved in proper therapy (therapy where there’s an open admission by the individual of the presence of emotional issues), be aware that you may be being attracted to a “quick fix” strategy that avoids really dealing with deeper issues. If this is the case, ibogaine could possibly make things worse. For some, using psychoactive substances can invoke disturbing reactions as the mind’s defences struggle to keep down rising repressed material. Drugs like ibogaine, ketamine, LSD and MDMA (Ecstasy), have been used in the past by therapists, but only as one component of an overall therapeutic strategy. Using the drug out of this context could cause more harm than good.

Ibogaine Treatment

(This article has been reproduced for interest value only).

Ibogaine, an indole alkaloid derived from an African plant source, has for many years been recognized for its ability to interrupt drug dependency. Specifically, it can be effective in the treatment of withdrawal from heroin, methadone, cocaine (inc. crack cocaine), amphetamine, and alcohol.

Although it is slightly psychoactive, ibogaine should not be confused with drugs like LSD or psilocybin. Ibogaine’s effects are far longer lasting and can be intensely physical in some users. The drug should be treated with respect and not administered by persons unfamiliar with basic medical procedures. Because vomiting can be a problem with ibogaine treatment, persons administering should ensure especially that they are fully familiar with resuscitation procedures and have rapid access to the emergency services should they be required. It is important persons interested in receiving ibogaine treatment are properly screened. Failure to do so may have resulted in previous tragic accidents. Heart (EKG) and liver (Blood) screening are the absolute minimum.

PREPARATION OF THE CLIENT – The prospective client should attend several informal interviews to ensure he or she is fully aware of the following information relating to ibogaine treatment:

(i) – that ibogaine is principally a detox tool and that, whilst it can help with drug-craving for brief periods as well as help a person understand why they started using drugs, it will still be up to them to stay off. As a general rule, addicts who regard ibogaine as simply something which is supposed to “cure them” rarely have success.

(ii) – that ibogaine is an experimental medication, not recognized as a licensed medicine anywhere in the Western world, and that other options for treating their addiction exist.

(iii) – that deaths have occurred in association with ibogaine treatment, and that it must therefore be regarded as having a definite level of risk, though proper client screening procedures should be able to keep this to a minimum. Specifically, anyone with any history of heart problems should be very wary of taking ibogaine. In recent years there have been several reports of mysterious deaths associated with cardiac problems.

A basic level of physical and psychological screening is essential prior to a person being considered suitable for ibogaine treatment. A blood test should be undertaken to check for liver abnormalities and to ensure general health is good. An EKG should be undertaken to check heart function. Problems with the liver, heart or lungs should result in exclusion from treatment unless subsequent professional medical opinion advises to the contrary. Many long-term addicts may have developed medical health problems which would make ibogaine treatment in a non-clinical setting dangerous. These tests can be often be organized by drug dependency units or private doctors.

Attention should also be paid to the clients’ mental state. Persons exhibiting signs of significant mental disorder should be excluded from treatment.

DOSAGE – Assuming the client is sufficiently well to be treated, their bodyweight in kilos should be measured, and a suitable dose of ibogaine calculated.

Pure ibogaine HCl is typically administered at doses of around 10 milligrams per kilo bodyweight (mg/k) for men, and 9 mg/k for women. To calculate the dose, multiply the client’s bodyweight in kilos by either 10 (for men) or 9 (for women) and you will have the dose in milligrams.

Example: An 8 stone female alcoholic will require about 460mgs of ibogaine HCl, a little under half a gram. (8 stone x 14 = 112 lbs. 112 / 2.2 = 50.9 kgs. 50.9 x 9 = 458mgs)

Note that this is for pure ibogaine HCl, one of two forms of the drug commonly available in Europe. The other is the “Indra iboga extract,” which is believed to be approximately one quarter the strength of pure HCl, meaning clients will require roughly four times the amount. Although the “Indra” product is becoming increasingly available in Europe, it is known to induce more vomiting than the HCl. In January 2000, a 40 year old heroin addict died in London after vomit clogged his airways some 40 hours after taking a dose of this extract.

For opiate addicts, such as those using heroin or methadone, the dose of ibogaine HCl is typically doubled, to around 20mg/k for men, and 18mg/k for women. This is because the opiates in a person’s system partially block ibogaine’s effect.

It is recommended that ibogaine only be given as a single dose, in the range of 9-10 mg/k. From what is known, this appears to be the safest way to take the drug, bearing in mind that higher doses can always be taken in subsequent sessions if necessary. When re-dosing, it is recommended to wait at least one month as ibogaine and its metabolites linger in the body.

TREATMENT PREPARATION – It is very important that the client’s drug intake be regulated for 24 hours prior to taking the main dose of ibogaine. This will prevent the ibogaine from reacting with any other drugs still in the body, which research indicates may lead to adverse reactions. This means that no heroin, no cocaine and no other drugs should be taken for a minimum of 12 hours prior to taking the main dose of ibogaine. No methadone for a minimum of 24 hours. Drug use for the days prior to treatment should therefore be planned in advance to ensure this is possible. In addition, no stimulants should be taken for at least 24 hours prior to taking the main dose of ibogaine. Normal doses of benzodiazepines like valium can safely be taken prior to ibogaine to assist in reducing anxiety or to help the client sleep if necessary.

Ibogaine is recognized as having the ability to potentiate other drug reactions, meaning it is very important persons under its influence do not get access to drugs. Any level of opiate or cocaine usage whilst on ibogaine could be very dangerous.

24 hours prior to taking the main dose of ibogaine, a test dose of about 100mg of the drug should be taken. Allergic reactions have not been reported to the best of the writer’s knowledge but, in the event of one occurring, the treatment should not proceed. Some minor level of ataxia, (difficulty in standing upright), nausea, and aural amplification may be experienced at this dose level. This is quite normal.

Food consumption should cease about 12 hours prior to the main dose of ibogaine being taken. To make this easy to bear, many people take ibogaine first thing in the morning, as a replacement for their morning fix. 1 hour prior to taking the main dose, an anti-nauseant such as domperidone (or similar travel sickness medication) may be taken to try and reduce nausea.

The treatment setting is important in that the client should feel relaxed and relatively easy in themselves. This will help to limit anxiety. Noise should be low throughout (ibogaine causes sounds to be heard much louder than usual), and the light level adjustable. Remember that ibogaine incapacitates some people for several days, so make sure that peaceful, dimly lit conditions can be maintained.

A “sitter” should be present with the client for the duration of the experience, which usually lasts between 20 and 30 hours, but in some cases has been known to go on for 3 days. This should ideally be someone experienced in ibogaine administration, or otherwise a close friend. It is unlikely much communication will be attempted in this time and the client should therefore be attended in peace. Requests for water may be fulfilled but nothing else should be taken.

THE EXPERIENCE – The client will likely experience the drug taking effect after between 30 minutes and 2 hours. Withdrawal symptoms should be eliminated or easily manageable. There will likely be ataxia (problems getting upright) accompanied by a buzzing noise in the ears. Sounds will become louder, bright light hard to bear. Some people report feeling nauseous and there may be a sensation of pulsing in the body, rather as though it were being “cranked up to a new frequency.” These sensations are quite normal.

Vomiting within 3 hours of taking the main dose may result in some of the ibogaine leaving the body before it can be absorbed. In such circumstances, giving more may be considered or perhaps the treatment aborted. Examining the vomit may reveal if the drug has left the body. Be aware of the dangers of both overdosing and using stepped doses if considering giving more ibogaine to make up for that lost in vomit, especially if this is the first time someone has used the drug.

The experience of taking ibogaine varies so much from person to person, it is difficult to prejudge just what will happen for any one individual. However, there are generally two, distinct phases to the experience.

First, the “oneirophrenic” or “dream-creating” phase. This generally lasts several hours and usually consists of the user experiencing dream-like visions with eyelids closed, which disappear once the eyes are open. The visions may appear to be actual memories running, rather as though a film of one’s life was being shown inside the head, or may take the form of characters acting out roles, rather as though a play was taking place inside the head. However, many people report no visual sensations and this is not a problem. People may experience feelings and sensations associated with childhood and early life.

Secondly, the “processing” phase, which follows once the first stage is concluded. This phase is characterized by high levels of mental activity – interiorized processing that allows the material revealed in the first phase to be assimilated and interpreted. People frequently experience comprehending for the first time the reasons why they became involved with drugs. Though ibogaine affects different people in different ways, the oneirophrenic phase typically starts 1-2 hours after taking the main dose, and the processing phase about 3-6 hours later, usually lasting for between 8 and 14 hours. People sometimes experience very negative feelings on ibogaine. If this appears to be happening, the person attending could try to give them reassurance that things are OK. Whatever arises will pass.

What is described above is a typical session but it is by no means unknown for people to be up and moving around within a few hours of taking the main dose, apparently having experienced very little. Alternately, some remain in bed for half a week. In addition, opiate addicts frequently experience little or nothing of the “oneirophrenic” phase. Sessions that are over quickly are usually less effective, and ibogaine does appear to have very little effect on some individuals, regardless of dose level.

Potential treatment providers please note: It is important to realize just how variable the drug’s effects can be on different people. Tragic incidents can occur if safety procedures become lax after a string of successful treatments. Because, when ibogaine works, its effect can seem quite miraculous, it is very easy for people who are not medically experienced to start to relax pre-treatment screening procedures in their keenness to treat people and this is dangerous.

POST IBOGAINE – If the treatment has been successful, the client should be clean having experienced little or no withdrawal. In addition, many experience no desire to use drugs for a period of weeks afterward. Furthermore, some users report gaining insights into their drug-using behaviour. As a general rule, ibogaine is most effective for older addicts, a casual study indicating that those over 35 have a far better chance of staying clean than those in their twenties.

In cases where the treatment has been successful, but the client begins to experience the desire to use drugs again after some weeks, repeat dosing with ibogaine can be undertaken. Remember that persons not currently using opiates require ibogaine at a maximum dose of around 10mg/k. Re-dosing with ibogaine at less than one month intervals may be risky, as metabolites of the drug can remain in the body for this length of time.

Melatonin and B vitamins have been suggested as useful after using ibogaine. Some believe they help sustain the drug’s effect.

POST IBOGAINE REHAB AND THERAPY – A single dose or multiple doses, given over a period, of ibogaine will occasionally be enough to keep someone off drugs permanently. But for most the truth is that, unless suitable post-ibogaine work is undertaken, a fairly rapid relapse to old ways is likely.

It is simply not possible to give guidelines that will be valid for everyone, for we are all different. However, for many, the addict should ideally enter rehabilitation as soon as possible after the treatment. In the writer’s opinion, the best rehab program, and likely the one most suitable for those who have just taken ibogaine, is the Residential Addiction Foundation (RAF) program run by the Humaniversity in Egmont-aan-Zee, Holland, see www.humaniversity.nl for further details.

Other alternatives include any long-term (six months and up) residential rehab program available locally. Where residential rehab is not desirous, or not an option, suitable therapy should be seriously considered. Observations of the ethnic, religious use of the drug and first and second hand experience indicate to the writer that the most suitable types of therapy will be body-based and work around catharsis, confrontation and emotional release. “Talking only” type therapy, such as counselling may be effective in some cases but usually less so. Encounter therapy is often highly suitable for recovering addicts, as is primal therapy, bioenergetics, and indeed anything that sets out to assist the individual contact and release repressed emotions, frequently the root cause of addiction. More gentle, integrative work may also be useful. Dance structures such as 5 Rhythms or Biodanza may be helpful, either as a back-up to deeper work or on their own.

Attention should also be given to pleasure. Long term drug use will have likely had the effect of causing the addict’s dopamine system to have been “hard-wired” to associate pleasure with drug use. This is the reason why many who have beaten addiction in the short term frequently relapse. A brief period of exposure to drug-using stimuli, especially at a time when a former addict feels vulnerable, often results in a return to addiction. Everyone needs pleasure and so the recovering addict must take steps to ensure they can get enjoyment out of life without using drugs. For the majority this will mean work on their sex lives. Sexual stimulation, and particularly orgasm, is the principle means by which the healthy body gains pleasure and releases tension. Work to increase the former user’s ability to be intimate, both socially and sexually, is very important. Tantra workshops, touch therapy, or other intimacy-focussed processes are an excellent idea.

POST IBOGAINE PROBLEMS – Feelings of deep contentment – although less common with long term heroin users, many people using ibogaine feel in very high spirits for a period of days or sometimes weeks after taking ibogaine. Clients report feeling that their life is now totally straightened out, they don’t need to do rehab, and everything is going to be just wonderful. Unfortunately, this feeling usually passes after a week or so. It is important to remember this as some people feel so good for a week or so after using ibogaine, they barely notice when they start to get the urge to use drugs again and so quickly relapse.

Learned behaviour or conditioning – ibogaine is widely noted as having the ability to “reset” a persons learned behaviour patterns, leaving them free from compulsive urges, drug-related or otherwise. Again, this usually only lasts for a period of days or weeks, and so attention should be paid to any drug-using stimuli in one’s environment after this time.

Feelings of anxiety or paranoia – for some users the experience can prove quite harrowing. The drug can have the effect of radically altering the way a person looks at themselves and the world around them. Deep-rooted feelings of insecurity that may have been present since childhood can be uprooted and, when this happens, it can leave a person feeling disorientated and anxious for some time afterward. This will clear and is actually an indication that the drug has worked well.

Sleeplessness – many people find they require less sleep for a period of time post-ibogaine. This is quite normal.

RETURNING TO DRUG USE – If a return to drug use is anticipated post-ibogaine, it is imperative the client does not restart at the dosage level they were using prior to treatment. Ibogaine “resets” many brain functions relating to drug usage and to return to heavy usage could easily result in overdosing, and possibly death.

How Ibogaine Works

Just how ibogaine works is a long way from being completely understood. However, enough work has been done for it to be possible to present some insights from the fields of neurology and psychology.

Neurology – Animal studies have revealed ibogaine to be active at many receptor sites associated with drug dependence and its treatment. These include the kappa and mu opiate receptors, serotonin receptors, dopamine receptors, sigma receptors and the NMDA ion channel. Being active at so many sites, ibogaine does not lend itself to easy scientific evaluation, and it is thus likely to be years before scientists develop a good understanding of just how the drug works. However, basic conclusions have been reached by some scientists, and interesting new lines of research uncovered by others.

Through analysing the urine of people undergoing ibogaine treatment in Holland and St Kitts, Dr Deborah Mash believes she has identified the powerful role played by the metabolite, noribogaine. Noribogaine remains in the body for much longer than ibogaine itself and has a higher affinity for many of the receptor sites mentioned above, including the opiate receptors. It may be that an individual’s ability to metabolize this substance from ibogaine, which takes place via enzyme activity in the liver, is important in determining just how successful treatment will be long-term.

In addition, scientists at the US National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) have also studied the way that drugs, like ibogaine, which are active at the n-Methyl-d-Aspartate (NMDA) receptor apparently have addiction-interrupting effects. Other psychoactives are also known to be active at this site. Ibogaine’s effect on the dopaminergic system, known to be influential in addiction, has also been studied in animals. Some have commented that the drug appears to have a kind of “reset button” effect, temporarily overwhelming craving and learned behaviour patterns.

In total, around 170 studies of the effects of ibogaine on animals have now been published. The conclusions of these papers are well summarized in Chapter 3 of the of the 1999 edition of The Alkaloids – Pharmacology of Ibogaine and Ibogaine-related Alkaloids, Piotr Popik and Phil Skolnick, (1999).

In addition, four clinical studies of the effects of ibogaine have been published. They are:

Luciano, DJ. (1998). Observations on treatment with Ibogaine. (American Journal of Addictions 7, 89-90).

Alper, KR, Lotsof, HS, Frencken, GMN, Luciano, DJ, and Bastiaans, J (1999). Treatment of Acute Opioid Withdrawal Syndrome with Ibogaine. (American Journal of Addictions 8, 234-242).

Luciano DJ, Della Sera, EA, and Jethmal, EG (2000). Neurologic, electroencephalographic and general medical observations in subjects administered ibogaine. (Bulletin of Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies 9, 27-30).

Mash DC, Kovera CA, Pablo J, Tyndale RF, Ervin FD, Williams IC, Singleton EG, Mayor M (2000). Ibogaine: complex pharmacokinetics, concerns for safety, and preliminary efficacy measures. (Ann N Y Acad Sci 2000; 914:394-401).

In the last paper, online at www.ibogaine.co.uk/mash.htm, Dr Deborah Mash presents data demonstrating ibogaine’s effectiveness in the treatment of opiate and cocaine withdrawal and subsequent drug craving in a case study of 27 patients. As of early 2001, she has treated over 100 people with ibogaine at the Healing Visions clinic in St Kitts.

In attempting to sum up the scientific research that has thus far been done, it might be said that the role of the metabolite noribogaine is likely important in achieving elimination of drug withdrawal syndrome, that activity at the NMDA receptor may be significant in understanding ibogaine’s psychoactive effects, and that the drug’s effect on the dopaminergic system is likely very influential with regard to the reduction of drug craving and alterations in learned behaviour.

Psychological – Psychologists attached to drug-dependency units have frequently noted that substance abusers very often show signs of having suffered considerable childhood trauma or conditioning. Research in this field has well summarized by Jane Wilson of the University of Stirling in her paper Childhood Trauma, Adult Psychopathology and Addiction.

Trauma is usually a single negative event, the memory of which and associated feelings are repressed. Conditioning is the process by which parents seek to alter their child’s behaviour by repeatedly punishing certain acts, usually to try and ensure the child’s successful integration into society.

One problem in treating the effects of both trauma and conditioning is that, because the original traumatic event or act of conditioning is repressed, the individual has no conscious memory of it having taken place and a person’s defences may make any entry into this area difficult. Ibogaine treatment has frequently been reported to assist in the recall of repressed memories and further aid their processing, thus potentially giving the drug a major role in psychotherapy. However, whilst the cognitive retrieval of repressed material may take place, in the writer’s experience most users do not experience a significant degree of emotional connection to the repressed event or events either at the time of ibogaine ingestion or later. It is therefore recommended that ibogaine not be administered in isolation, but rather as simply one stage of an wider therapeutic strategy.

In addition, it is recognized that, regardless of the degree to which the processing of repressed material has taken place, ibogaine does open up virtually all users to open and frank discussion of personal problems for a period of at least a week or so after use, an effect which may be put to good use in therapy.

Psychologically, the drug is essentially “oneirogenic” in that it induces dream behaviour with the ego perspective relatively intact. Modern theories of dreaming often relate that dreams appear to be pseudo-sensory experiences that serve to diffuse the stresses resulting from unresolved emotional conflicts of the day before. In a similar way, it seems to be that ibogaine induces dreams that serve to try and reduces stresses whose origin is much earlier. Ibogaine visions frequently lend themselves well to the principles of dream analysis derived from Jung and others.

The Bwiti

The Bwiti are a Central African religious group whose usage of Tabernanthe iboga, the plant source of ibogaine, forms an integral part of their culture. The rootbark of the plant is known colloquially as “iboga” or “eboka.” It contains approximately 12 different alkaloids, of which ibogaine is merely one. Others, such as tabernanthine or ibogamine, are also likely psychoactive.

The word “Bwiti” refers both to the religion – the Bwiti religion, and the group that practice it – The Bwiti. There are estimated to be approximately 2-3 million Bwiti members scattered in groups throughout the countries of Gabon, Zaire, and the Cameroun. Most are from the two principal tribal groups of the area, the Fang and the Mitsogho. Fang Bwiti and Mitsogho Bwiti may be distinguished by their ritual practices and beliefs. It is generally believed that iboga use only spread to these local tribespeople over the last few centuries, having originated with pygmy groups in the jungles of the Congo basin many thousands of years earlier. This migration is understood by the plant’s indigenous users as resembling its function, Bwiti myths frequently using images of the lightly wooded grasslands and the dense Congo jungle as symbols of the conscious and the unconscious mind.

Iboga is used for an assortment of purposes within the group, notably as an aid to concentration and to stimulate recovery from illness. Its principal sacramental use is as the central component in the so-called “Bwiti initiation ritual” – an intricate 3-day “rebirth” ceremony, the completion of which is a necessity if one is to become a member of the group. Both sexes are initiated, typically between the eighth and thirteenth birthday, and the ceremony usually begins on the Thursday, ending Sunday morning.

Prior to the ritual’s commencement, certain preparatory exercises are undertaken for the purpose of reinforcing the experience. These include the writing and symbolic burning of a “confession” – a written record of all one’s moral transgressions, and the undertaking of various rituals, notably one in which the initiate crawls through the legs of local women whilst immersed in a nearby stream, an exercise intended to symbolically reproduce the journey of the sperm to fertilization.

During the ritual itself, iboga is eaten on the first night and may be further consumed on subsequent nights should it be deemed necessary. The initiate’s consumption of iboga is supervised by the “nganga,” a priest of the Bwiti religion who, being knowledgeable of the effects of iboga, can tell when the initiate has had sufficient.

The overall aim of the ritual is to cause the initiate to be both emotionally and spiritually “reborn,” such that they may take their place within the group as a true adult. The consumption of a high dose of iboga is intended to help achieve this by bringing about a deep, dreamlike descent into the world of the unconscious with the effect of both bringing into awareness repressed material and causing a reconnection to the world of the ancestors. If the initiation proceeds well, it is believed that the initiate will actually “meet the Bwiti,” envisioned as the primordial male and female originators of the religion, residing in the depths of the unconscious.

The Bwiti initiation ritual, as this “rebirth” ceremony has come to be known, has in recent years attracted the attention of some Westerners who find themselves romantically drawn to the notion of travelling to the region and undertaking it themselves. Anyone considering doing this should be aware of three things. Firstly, that both the Cameroun and Zaire, two of the three countries where the Bwiti are located, are now regarded as being acutely dangerous for Westerners (Zaire especially). Secondly, that, in Gabon, the remaining country, only the least reputable groups would usually consider initiating Westerners, and then almost certainly only undertake the task for financial gain, likely in a half-hearted fashion. Finally, it should be remembered that each year some local initiates are believed to die during the ceremony, bizarre court cases between parents and priests frequently resulting.

Ibogaine for Self-development

The use of ibogaine is not restricted to those seeking to beat drug or alcohol dependence. Individuals seeking personal development, access to more “spiritual” sides of their nature, or a breakthrough in overcoming a psychological block may also find the drug useful.

What is especially interesting about ibogaine is that it allows the user access to the unconscious with the ego perspective relatively intact, that’s to say, in relatively normal consciousness. In addition, the intensity of the experience can usually be regulated to some degree, the dreamlike visions normally ceasing once the eyes are opened. Another interesting aspect is that, despite its origins, the visions that occur with ibogaine do not appear to feature the “plant teacher” figures common to the visionary experiences associated with entheogens like ayahuasca or peyote, but rather appear to consist of a more direct encounter with one’s self.

These benefits have resulted in ibogaine being used as an adjunct to therapy by a handful of psychotherapists over the years, most notably Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo, who details some sessions in his book, The Healing Journey. The objective of an ibogaine session is invariably to allow the individual to become aware of unconscious processes that may be blocking their personal development. Ibogaine appears particularly suitable for this task with users frequently reporting that the drug gave them a “hotline to their own personal guru.”

Whilst ibogaine may seem like an ideal “personalized high-speed psychotherapy” to some, there are however problems with using ibogaine for personal development work, especially outside of the professional psychotherapeutic context. The dose for therapeutic use is usually around 5-8mgs per kilo bodyweight, and whilst this is undoubtedly a far safer amount than the 20mg/k dose sometimes used to treat opiate addiction, the experience can still prove both physically and emotionally gruelling for some. It is important that the individual’s physical and psychological integrity is reliably assessed prior to taking the drug, or, when ibogaine is being considered as a “last ditch” strategy, a risk-benefit assessment made with regard to any potential gain or loss that may occur.

For those thinking of taking ibogaine for personal development who haven’t yet been involved in therapy, it is important to be aware that using the drug may appear attractive simply because it represents a treatment that avoids the formal psychotherapeutic process. If this is the case, there is a possibility that ibogaine could make problems worse. When a lot of repressed material is present, and for many brought up in the West this will inevitably be the case, psychoactive drug usage can sometimes invoke dangerous reactions as defence mechanisms struggle to keep down rising painful material. This can result in delusional or neurotic beliefs that persist long after the session is over.

It is also important to realize that using ibogaine alone will unlikely be sufficient to bring about deep personal transformation. The drug typically gives people mental insights into repressed aspects of their psyche, but without significant emotional connection. Other therapeutic work, ideally something with a strong cathartic element, is highly recommended to allow the experience to be properly processed.

Iboga Visions

Interpreting the dreamlike visions of the ibogaine experience can prove a fascinating yet difficult task. The “oneirophrenic” phase of the session frequently throws up much material from the unconscious, and whilst the later, “processing” phase of the session, characterized by many hours of frenzied mental activity, may shed light on the meaning of what has been seen for some, as often as not the individual emerges from the session little wiser as to the significance of what they have experienced.

Because ibogaine visions frequently reveal the presence and nature of deeply sensitive issues, cloaked in symbolism, their subsequent misinterpretation is understandably common. This section will therefore cover some basic aspects of the iboga visionary experience such that individuals using the drug might better benefit from the experience.

It is worth remembering that, no matter what they may appear to be about, ibogaine visions invariably contain much personal content. One symbolic device that often appears to be used by the drug is the cloaking of personal issues as world affairs, frequently either political or ecological scenarios that appear to threaten the planet.

One example of this is that of the opiate user who experienced being shown that mankind was an evolutionary mistake that was now destroying the world – the revealing of deep-rooted feelings of lack of self-worth. Another example is the individual, whose father had exerted a excessively controlling influence over his childhood, who experienced being shown that the world was under the control of elite banking groups. Whilst the scenario experienced may appear valid to the individual, and may indeed even be valid, it should be remembered that there will invariably be much personal significance.

Psychologically, the action of ibogaine is always to attempt to bring repressed material to light – to make conscious what is unconscious. This it does at a rate frequently too fast for an individual to fully process and integrate during the session itself. Experience also indicates that for many this release appears to continue long after the drug has left the system. Consequently, even when little has been experienced visually, it is common for the individual to emerge from the session with their defences overwhelmed by rising unconscious material. It is for this reason that I recommend that the drug only be used by those regularly involved in therapy, and particularly therapeutic structures revolving around the cathartic release of emotions and their bodily integration – Bioenergetics, Primal Therapy, Dynamic Meditation, Lowen Technique, Humaniversity Therapy, or similar. Where this is not undertaken, the inexperienced user may find themselves drawn to bizarre belief patterns or perhaps excessively concerned with issues of “control” for a period of time, perhaps even years, after taking ibogaine. Issues relating to mother or father may be projected onto younger women or older men and there may be a tendency to retreat “into the head,” to avoid confrontation with issues of sexuality and personal power. All such patterns should pass with time, and the process of integration may be considerably speeded up by undertaking suitable therapy.


Ali, S.F. (editor) (2000). The Neurochemistry of Drugs of Abuse: Cocaine, Ibogaine, and Substituted Amphetamines, New York Academy of Sciences.

Alper, K.R & Glick, S.D. (editors) (2001). Ibogaine: Proceedings of the First International Conference, Academic Press, San Diego, California.

Beal, D & DeRienzo, P. (1997). The Ibogaine Story, Autonomedia 1997.

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Fernandez J.W. (1982). Bwiti: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa, Princeton, Princeton University Press.

Fernandez J.W. (1972). Tabernanthe iboga: Narcotic Ecstasis and the Work of the Ancestors, in: P.T. Furst (Ed.), Flesh of the Gods. The Ritual Use of Hallucinogens, Praeger, New York & Washington.

Mary A., (1983). La naissance à l’envers. Essai sur le rituel du Bwiti Fang au Gabon, Paris, L’Harmattan.

Naranjo, C. (1973) The Healing Journey, Ballantine.

Popik, P & Skolnick, P. (1999). Pharmacology of Ibogaine and Ibogaine-related Alkaloids in: The Alkaloids, Academic Press.