What to Know About Ibogaine Use

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Ibogaine is an indole alkaloid derived from the root of the Tabernanthe iboga shrub. It is also found in the Voacanga africana tree. A West African plant, this shrub is popularly available in Gabon, Zaire, and Cameroon. In these locations, the alkaloid is ingested for ceremonial and medicinal uses.

Western countries like France have administered this alkaloid to manage weak or paralyzed muscles. However, ibogaine is gaining widespread popularity for its anti-addictive properties. 

In the 1960s, people dealing with heroin addiction and using medication to self-treat reported that this plant eliminates the signs and symptoms of opioid withdrawal. Early research data and anecdotal evidence point to possibilities of the ibogaine plant managing illnesses like cocaine use disorder and other substance use disorders.

However, this drug hasn’t gained widespread acceptance. In fact, there are strong concerns about the safety of its use. In this guide, we’ll be examining the believed effects of this plant, worries about reactions to its use, plus the latest studies on outcomes of ibogaine treatment for addiction.

Uses of Ibogaine

In particular West African societies, this alkaloid is a major component of everyday life. Around 2.3 million people of the Bwiti spiritual discipline in Gabon ingest large doses of this plant for ritual rites.

The Bwiti initiation ritual—also observed in Cameroon—requires this plant for the rebirth ceremony used to signal passage into the teenage years. 

In 1930s France, ibogaine was sold as the stimulant and antidepressant Lambarene. This went on for thirty years until the drug was outlawed by the government. 

Ibogaine has specific hallucinogenic and dream-like effects on the mind. However, it is not as widely used as LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, peyote, and other psychedelics. In small doses, this alkaloid has also been noted to have an aphrodisiac effect on users. 

In the U.S, the anti-addictive properties of this drug were largely unknown until 1962. In 1970, it was classified as a Schedule 1 drug for having no medical use and a high risk for abuse. 

Effects of Ibogaine

Ibogaine produces long-lasting psychedelic and dissociative effects. When ingested, the alkaloid interacts with different sites in the central nervous system. These sites include the dopaminergic, serotonergic, nicotinic, GABA, and muscarinic receptors. 

After ibogaine is consumed, its psychedelic effects will usually take place within a number of hours.

These effects are divided into three phases:

  1. Visionary Phase: This first phase takes effect within one to three hours after ibogaine is taken. Users will typically have their eyes closed during this phase. Eye closure is reported to intensify visual hallucinations caused by the alkaloid. The visionary phase can last between four to eight hours. Within that time, it isn’t uncommon to experience a dream-like state. Here, users will live through realistic visions that mostly feature supernatural beings, floating, or movement along an extensive path. This visionary phase may come to an end with the ibogaine user opening their eyes.
  2. Introspection Phase: A lengthy process, this phase may begin within four to eight hours after ingesting ibogaine. It can last anywhere from eight to twenty hours. Here, users will feel the urge to conquer their fears and negative emotions. Anecdotal evidence reports users as feeling a sense of calm or even euphoria following ibogaine use. In this phase, the alkaloid may produce a neutral and reflective effect in users.
  3. Residual Phase: Around 12 to 24 hours after first taking this plant, its effects start to wear off in the residual phase. The hallucinations and reflective effects of ibogaine start to wear off and become less intense. In this phase, a person who uses ibogaine will feel reduced arousal levels and may observe a growing need to sleep.

Ibogaine May Treat Addiction

While the exact mechanism for ibogaine’s anti-addictive effects remains unclear, early research suggests that it influences receptors in the body.

In studies carried out on animals, this alkaloid, together with its metabolite—noribogaine, binds to central nervous system targets such as nicotinic receptors, opioid receptors, plus dopamine and serotonin transporters.

A 2017 study required 30 participants with opioid dependence to receive approximately 12 mg/kg of ibogaine. Outcomes were evaluated 12 months later. One month after treatment, half of the participants reported no opioid use.  

Three months after treatment, 10 participants reported no opioid use. After six months, six participants reported sustained avoidance of opioids. By nine months, 11 participants claimed to have kept away from opioids. At month 12, seven participants successfully avoided opioid use.

While this plant is not an approved treatment for substance use disorder, single large doses of ibogaine have been shown to block withdrawal symptoms and cravings in people who are dependent on drugs.

It has been reported to reduce cravings for opioids and is also a suggested mood booster after treatment. Ibogaine is suggested to have a low potential for addiction

It is important to recognize that lifestyle changes are important for long-lasting recovery. Ibogaine can give an individual time to work on building new habits and changing their life. If this is not done, however, there is an increased chance they will relapse.

Serious Side Effects of Ibogaine Use

Despite having proven benefits for improving drug addiction, ibogaine is to be used with extreme caution. 

Sudden death caused by cardiac arrests is a severe consequence of consuming the alkaloid. Serious side effects of ibogaine include nausea, dry mouth, vomiting, or users losing the ability to move parts of their body.

Other effects include irregular heartbeats and QT-interval prolongation where heart muscles take longer periods to contract and relax. 

A Word From Verywell

Ibogaine shows great potential for managing different forms of substance use disorder. However, a lot of uncertainty surrounds its use and safety for treating these conditions. Caution and professional guidance is required if you’re considering ibogaine for managing addiction. 

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Plumptre
Elizabeth is a freelance health and wellness writer. She helps brands craft factual, yet relatable content that resonates with diverse audiences.