Justice and Due Process

Ibogaine: A New Option for Addiction?

A humble plant may be able to do what expensive treatment programs can’t: End addiction. 

One in ten Americans will struggle with drug addiction at some point in their life. And yet, efforts to combat addiction have not always borne fruit. A 2020 performance audit of the Justice Reinvestment Act found that 38 percent of Utahns convicted of possessing drugs or drug paraphernalia were convicted again within a year. This is despite the fact that virtually all people convicted of drug-related offenses are ordered by courts to complete drug treatment. Problematically, even in larger counties where there are more treatment options, drug-related recidivism remains high: 47 percent in Salt Lake County and 40 percent in Utah County. 

However, ibogaine may offer people struggling with addiction, and their loved ones, new hope. Ibogaine is a psychoactive substance found in some plants. Like other psychotherapeutics, it causes hallucinations. However, these perceptual changes are just a symptom of what is happening in the brain. Ibogaine causes a number of changes in the brain’s chemistry, making it temporarily more plastic. This means that the deeply ingrained thought patterns — for example, “I NEED my next fix” — can be more easily overcome.

The idea that ibogaine can cure addiction isn’t hypothetical. A number of studies have found that a single dose of ibogaine can lessen withdrawal symptoms, reduce cravings, and help people permanently quit using addictive substances.

This “one and done” solution is a far cry from current medication-assisted therapy where patients must take methadone or buprenorphine indefinitely. While this approach may work for some, these drugs are themselves addictive and subject to abuse. Too often, patients just end up addicted to a different drug. Having a nonaddictive medical option could be a game changer.

Ibogaine is currently a Schedule 1 substance, meaning that there is no legal way for people to access ibogaine, even for medical purposes and under a doctor’s supervision. Like other psychotherapeutics, it has been banned for decades despite significant research showing medical benefits. Not only is this keeping a potentially life-saving treatment out of the hands of the 23 million Americans addicted to drugs, it is costing taxpayers who bear 77 percent of the cost of drug treatment. 

Ibogaine isn’t a panacea. Not everyone who uses it stays away from drugs permanently. If a person doesn’t have healthy sources of purpose and pleasure in her life, it’s easy to fall back into using drugs in a futile attempt to fill that void. However, ibogaine can give people struggling with addiction a powerful way to interrupt their ingrained thought patterns and replace them with new, healthy ones. After that, it’s up to them.