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Why Thousands Are Turning to a Psychedelic Plant from Africa for Release from Severe Addictions

A psychedelic plant from Africa has sparked an underground revolution in medicine.

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This specific focus on the treatment of addiction is what distinguishes the ibogaine underground from other psychedelic subcultures, like the rapidly growing ayahuasca community. Writing on the “ibogaine medical subculture” for the Journal of Ethno-Pharmacology, Alper and Lotsof describe the underground as, "...homes, hotel rooms and private clinics in North America and Europe, [where] individuals in increasing numbers are taking ibogaine in what has been termed ‘a vast uncontrolled experiment.’” 

Because a safe and legal alternative is not available in the U.S, the ibogistas have been forced on to more tolerant legal climes in Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Europe in order to avoid becoming de facto criminals. For those who remain in the states as lay-providers, they role the dice every time they take an addict’s life into their hands, but they feel, unequivocally, that the medicine is safe and the risk is worth it.

Alper and Lotsof claim that the ibogaine subculture is not a counterculture because “its identity is not defined on the basis of opposition to conventional medicine” and it “shares with the conventional medical culture the common goal of providing treatment, which it emulates in the medical model.” This is partially true, and really more a matter of opinion. To many, the ibogaine underground is very much a counterculture, and its hard to argue that it is not defined on the basis of its opposition to the disease model of addiction. Additionally, the “medical model” they refer to --in which licensed physicians conduct treatments that usually take place in a hospital or clinic -- is only one of five elements of the ibogaine underground that make up the full typology of the subculture. These include evangelizing addicts and lay providers, activists, and ritual/spiritual shamans.

The Addict as Healer

Tijuana is a junkie that is hitting bottom. She’s dying. Strung out, desperate, unable to kick, her streets are empty and decaying, her shops are closed. All across this sprawling border city of more than 1.5 million you see the shaky, splintered shells of abandoned developments. It’s as if everyone just up and vanished. It’s a ghost town, replete with a legion of narcotic zombies shuffling to and fro.

We talk about a drug war in the United States, but south of the border this war is real. It’s a shooting war that has decimated this once thriving city. In the four years since Felipe Calderon became Mexico’s President and sent in the Federales, over 16,000 people have been killed, 7,000 in the last year alone, 1400 of them in Tijuana where three different cartels battle for control. Tourism and development have evaporated, and Tijuana starves.

The American model of fighting the drug war has failed miserably in Mexico. As is usually the case, the arrest of several high-profile traffickers has done nothing to impact supply or demand. The much-maligned $1.4 billion Merida Initiative, a kind of Mexican “Plan Columbia,” has also been a dismal failure. So Mexico got creative, and decided to try something new.

Despite much wailing and gnashing of teeth from politicians in Washington, the Mexican government finally decriminalized personal drug possession in August of 2009 (four days later, Argentina did the same, releasing 150 million Latin Americans from the criminalization of their lifestyles). This was done to shift law enforcement priorities away from the users to the cartels, which is good because business is booming. The streets are filled with junkies shooting up in plain sight as you drive along the Segunda Benito Juarez border highway. There is much poverty and suffering here, and no one should be surprised that people want to escape. And if they can’t escape across the border, all they have left is to escape into dreamland.

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