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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.

The first time I heard former Yippie activist Dana Beal mention ibogaine I couldn’t have cared less what he was talking about. I had booked him to speak on political theater and creative resistance...you know, Yippie shit...as one of a dozen speakers featured at an all day Green Party rally we held in Washington Square Park during the 2004 Republican National Convention. Beal is a shady, self-promoting character. Instead of offering something useful to the crowd, he gave a rambling sermon on the miracles of this obscure drug that cured junkies of addiction. Holding up a collection of papers no doubt meant to imbue his message with gravitas he ranted through a byzantine cosmology of all the evil forces that were arrayed against this miracle substance becoming a mainstream treatment.

I had no idea what ibogaine was nor that Beal was a member of the “ibogaine underground,” an ad-hoc network of doctors, researchers, activists, shamans and lay-providers who believe that this substance is the key to not only treating but unlocking an entirely new paradigm in the understanding of addiction. This network is underground because ibogaine and the iboga root from which it is made are illegal in the U.S., designated Schedule 1 with a “high potential for abuse or addiction and no known medicinal applications.” Anyone in the underground will tell you that’s patently ridiculous, “patently,” they say, because the real root of ibogaine prohibition is not that it causes addiction but that it might cure addiction, sometimes with a single dose, and that sure is bad news for an industry built around a so-called “chronic” disease.

The numbers are still small. Of the 26 million estimated addicts in the United States, only a few thousand have tried ibogaine, and there are only a handful of active practitioners around the world who are giving treatments, so few that they all know each other. But this underground is on the move, growing at a rate of some 30% a year. The reason for this is quite simple: The War on Drugs is over, and drugs won.

None of the medically sanctioned forms of addiction treatment have any success rate to speak of, particularly those for hard-core addictions to opiates, alcohol, cocaine and meth. 90% of all those who enter treatment will use again within five years, and half go right back to active addiction within a year. Worse, with the ever-increasing amount of drug-related arrests each year, what starts out as a fixable public health issue becomes a lifelong socio-legal handicap.

Ibogaine smashes through all of this orthodoxy.  Since its inception in the 1980s, the ibogaine underground has been building an alternative treatment infrastructure that completely redefines the approach to addiction. Aside from the novelty, and irony, of a psychedelic drug containing a potentially single-dose cure for drug addiction, ibogaine therapy is also attractive because it redefines success not as abstinence but as a measurable improvement in an addict’s quality of life, and this is because ibogaine is not about prohibition or substitution, it’s about spiritual evolution. Like other plant medicines, if you’ll pardon the pun, iboga is about gettin’ at the roots of the sickness. Consequently, it is leading a kind of awakening, and it will only be a matter of time before millions begin to seek it out.

Hitting the Reset Button

The story of ibogaine begins with addicts trying to help other addicts, but along the way we find it's also about the conflict between natural and Western medicine, and the moral bankruptcy of the pharmaceutical industry, who are interested in developing maintenance drugs, and not cures. And like any tale of revolution, this story is about the internecine battles, personal perils, and professional pitfalls of trying to change the paradigm. What sets this movement apart from others is the unanimity of purpose: everyone involved in the underground wants to heal.

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