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My Heroin-Addicted Friend Was Determined to Detox with the Hallucinogen Ibogaine ... I Scored It for Him and Supervised His Trip

A first-hand account of a very alternative approach to escaping a terrible addiction.

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Even assuming that this batch of untested, unregulated brownish substance was as advertised—“Iboga root bark high power”—and not, say, dried leaves and beetle-dung mixed with strychnine, I had no guidelines for assisting him. What little I had read online and gleaned from hearsay could best be summed up as “Stay calm, take [the patient’s] pulse every hour and hope for the best.” But I kept my worries to myself.

One of the more legible communications he had received from his anonymous Italian connection was the following cheat sheet: 

“The dosage is calculated in milligrams per body weight.

• Max 10 mg/kg to facilitate analysis and personal growth (high average power)

• 20 mg/kg for disruption of addiction (very strong power)

• 33.5 mg/kg total intake of Ibogaine in Bwiti rituals (exaggerated power).”

We agreed that we weren’t aiming to hold a Bwiti ritual.

•••

Seth and I had re-checked “the math” dozens of times between us. And each time the body-weight to Ibogaine ratio had yielded the same “magic number” of milligrams that promised to wipe Seth’s body clean of addiction in 48 to 72 hours.

The sight of the 40 large gel caps, which he would need to take within four hours to absorb his requisite dose, was jitter inducing. I wanted to make sure he didn’t just start throwing back these mystery horse capsules like Vitamin C. Handing him one, I said, “Those pills are pretty big, why don’t you start with a third of one?”

Seth readily agreed, prying apart one of the gel caps with an unsteady hand and downing a portion of the powder with some water. He was more nervous than he let on. We both sat in my living room watching TV, waiting to see what, if any, the effects would be. Ten minutes later he popped up excitedly. “My withdrawals are practically gone!” he said, taking a deep breath.

After taking two at once and still only experiencing positive effects, Seth began taking the gel caps in earnest as suggested by his Italian connection’s email—four per hour. During the first couple of hours he was able to sit on the couch comfortably watching the Big Lebowski while sipping water. He began “seeing trails.” At a certain point he said, “My mind is drifting off but it’s not a bad feeling.” When he could no longer focus on TV, he went and lay down in my room. His pulse was low but steady, and so far I was impressed that he had none of the outward signs of a person who was kicking dope.

 •••

Ibogaine’s preeminent apostle,  Howard Lotsof, told of his own deliverance from a degenerate junkie to an enlightened nonaddicted guru through the miracle of one Ibogaine dose. By the time I first read this tale in the 1990s, it was already part of the counter-culture mythology. Lotsof eats the Ibogaine, visits his psychiatrist in the West Village, and during the session his positive associations around heroin transform to intimations of death; later, after an intensely visual trip he goes to bed exhausted and wakes refreshed to find his craving for heroin is…nil. In this telling, the drug was The Cure.

But read the fine print. By his own frequent retellings, he was “a very young addict,” 19—with a five-month habit—when he was set free by Ibogaine way back in 1962. More troubling perhaps was Lotsof’s revelation that he only stayed clean for “around three and a half years,” at which time he “got re-addicted, and got on a methadone program.” This information was somehow omitted from Lotsof’s obituary in  The New York Times in 2010.

 
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