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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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Yet it is here, in the dark center of Mexico’s drug war, where a powerful ray of hope shines in the battle against addiction. Tijuana is home to Pangea Biomedics, more commonly known to those in the underground as the “Ibogaine Association,” one of only a handful of ibogaine treatment centers in the entire world.

Pangea’s facilities are located in an enormous home inside a secure gated community that’s situated in the Costacoronado hills high above La Playas de Tijuana. Yeah, it’s true, Tijuana is dangerous, and you can’t take too many precautions these days. But Pangea’s owner Clare Wilkins swears they’ve never felt anything but welcome and blessed in their relationship with their host city.

Born in South Africa and raised in Los Angeles, Clare first learned of ibogaine at age 30. She had been addicted to opiates since she was 15, half her short life, and she was entering her eighth year on methadone. Her sister Sarah, another former opiate addict who is now Pangea’s chef and nutritionist, gave her a copy of “Tripping on Iboga,” Daniel Pinchbeck’s 1999 Salon.com article. It took Clare a few years to build up both the courage and the cash to afford the $3500 treatment fee, but in 2005 she eventually made her way down to Tijuana to the Ibogaine Association, which was then owned by a man named Martin Polanco.

Polanco was a fixture in the ibogaine underground for many years, particularly in Mexico. He is credited with breaking open many heads, including Rocky Caravelli, the owner of the “Awakening in the Dream” ibogaine therapy house in Puerto Vallarta. Pinchbeck did his second journey with iboga at Polanco’s, where he met Randy Hencken of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), who had just started overseeing a MAPS ibogaine program and would later collaborate with Polanco on a study, only to have things go terribly wrong.

MAPS tapped Valerie Mojieko to design the study and sent her down to undergo the treatment. Unbeknownst to her, Polanco was developing a bad reputation for being a provider who gave poor-quality treatments. Consequently, Mojieko had a very stressful and unpleasant experience, at one point believing she was having major heart complications. Her bad trip was made worse by the language barrier of Polanco’s staff and, ironically, their lack of training in how to care for people having difficult psychedelic experiences, a major focus of Mojieko’s work. Shortly thereafter someone died while being treated by Polanco, and the clinic had to be shut down. The MAPS study was dead in the water.

Around that same time Clare Wilkins came to Polanco for treatment and she had a similarly alienating experience. Although as an addict she respond well to the medicine, she was unable to connect with either the setting or the treatment staff on hand. None of them were addicts, and none of them had ever taken ibogaine.

“I was left completely alone when I did my treatment,” Clare says, making sure I understand how un-kosher this is. “I was the only person in the clinic at the time. It was terrifying. I didn’t want to ever see another addict go through that if I could help it.”

Intending only to volunteer for Polanco in order to have at least one other addict present who knew what the patient was going through, Clare, who has no formal training in addiction, psychology, or medicine, ended up buying the Ibogaine Association from Polanco when he ran into trouble. A chance meeting with MAPS founder Rick Doblin at the 2006 Burning Man festival led to a renewed relationship with the organization, and a new study.

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