Veteran Pot Activist Sees Ibogaine as Plant Ally in Addiction Fight

The founder of High Times, Tom Forcade, had committed suicide and people were trying to bring heroin into the magazine. Then Reagan won the Presidency, and chances of legalizing pot went up in smoke. In December, 1980 a psychedelic pioneer and a Yippie joined forces to respond to the dark side of drug use in the marijuana movement. That researcher, in his own right, had reached back to African plant medicine to seek a cure for addiction.


Years earlier, pioneering ibogaine researcher Howard Lotsof had protested at his 1966 trial that he was no drug dealer but a legitimate scientist who had discovered that ibogaine is extremely effective in treating addiction to heroin and cocaine, but the Judge disallowed that testimony, intent on bringing the first-ever LSD conspiracy trial to a speedy conclusion. “A conspiracy to sell the BNDD water,” as Norma Lotsof likes to say: Water with so little LSD in it that it was destroyed in testing, so there was none left-over for the actual trial.

Editor’s note: As reported in Part I of this series, ibogaine, a plant medicine extracted from Africa’s iboga bush, has been demonstrated effective as a one-treatment “cure” for addiction.

In 1967, while Lotsof was locked away in federal prison, the predecessor agency to the federal DEA, the BNDD, moved a supplemental list of substances with the potential to foster an “LSD-like phenomena or movement” into the Federal Register and added DMT, Toad-venom (bufotnin) and ibogaine.

A fortuitous connection

Lotsof served 18 months behind bars then went on to meet Dana Beal in December, 1973, through a mutual acquaintance, “Ask Ed” Rosenthal. Beal was a Yippie who went on to become a noted marijuana activist who launched the annual “Global Million Marijuana March,” held around May 1 each year to legalize cannabis.

“It wasn’t until a week after Nixon resigned that Lotsof told me ibogaine had stopped him and four of his friends from doing heroin or cocaine for extended periods of time,” recalled Beal. “I had an a-ha! moment because of a lifelong quest to turn a mostly alcohol and tobacco world into a mostly marijuana world but we didn’t do anything about it until Reagan was elected and we had to bite the bullet that pot would not be legal in the next 18 months. Plus, the heroin problem in our own scene was getting really bad and ibogaine was a much better alternative to associate with cannabis activism.”

Not only that, as  as Howard worked through the 80s on the patents, the two discovered that, unlike cannabis, under the Single Convention Treaty ibogaine was legal practically everywhere.

International law allows ibogaine therapy, clinics active in other lands

Today it remains legal by prescription in New Zealand, South Africa and Sao Paulo state in Brazil. There are 30 clinics in Mexico, alone, plus Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Brazil, Argentina, S.A. of course, Spain, Czech Republic, Cryprus, Nepal, Thailand, Australia and N.Z., Serbia and Russia. The doctors in Serbia and Russia were trained by Martin Polanco in Cabo San Lucas in 2007.

The principle stumbling block to getting ibogaine everywhere is getting local approval to be administered as a medicine. Both the DEA and the proponents of substitution therapy, including legalizers, don’t want a nerve growth medication added to the standard repertory of agonists and antagonists.

“Open Society Foundation, for example, is involved in trench warfare at the UN trying to force Russia to adopt methadone and claiming Putin is anti-treatment,” said Beal. “But what if Russia turns to a better treatment — one where the next dose of drug doesn’t go to the same client, but is available for the next client and the one after that?”

That opposition seems to be fading. The Drug Policy Alliance, the drug policy wing of OSF, has supported both maintenance treatment and ibogaine, however. In February 2016 the group pointed to the Brazilian experience and called on the US to begin ibogaine trials. The organization likewise endorsed a 2016 global forum on ibogaine to “Re-Define Ibogaine’s Place in Changing Drug Policy Environment.”

Clinical trials not feasible given magnitude of problem

The clinical answer in the addiction field is the line that ibogaine is unproven in the absence of phase 3 doubly-blinded placebo-controlled trials (which would cost millions) and insist that, absent that proof, ibogaine is not effective, period. Therefore countries like Afghanistan, which gets some black market methadone for Iran and has 600 official methadone slots, must be content with at most another 300 slots for now, even though Afghanistan has almost 2 million junkies, and and at one dose per addict, can much more afford the ibogaine alternative.

“Creeping” ban leaves available islands of ibogaine treatment

Unfortunately the bureaucratic imperative of the DEA is to extend US style prohibition everywhere, so we’re in danger of one country after another being picked after another by a creeping ibogaine ban, even though ibogaine is 10 times safer than continuing to use, and 5 times safer than lifetime methadone. Yet at almost the same time patient “D” found his Parkinson’s cure, Canada put a hold on importing ibogaine on account of risks that only occur at the flood dose.

In February, 2016 Beal appealed to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs (UNGASS) not to give in the US ban. Undissuaded, the Italian government banned ibogaine and kratom around the same time the DEA tried to schedule kratom here.

“That move provoked an uproar in the US that temporarily put the kibosh on making this important herbal adjunct for chronic pain a schedule 1 here,” noted Beal. “The fall of the Italian government gives us a chance to revisit the ban of kratom and ibogaine there as well.”

Cannabis wealth could expand access to ibogaine worldwide

What is needed, in light of statistics showing a 25% decline of opiates in states that bring in medical marijuana, is a global strategy to allow the use of all three “unconventional” detoxes — cannabis, ibogaine and kratom — for a opiate problem that ranges in severity in most countries around the globe. Methadone and suboxone are not enough.

One clear difference between cannabis and ibogaine is that, whereas cannabis producers generate large sums of money on the black, gray and licit markets with few options on how to invest it, ibogaine treatment needs investors to get its treatment programs started. Once treatment programs are in place, government subsidies, insurance companies and patient payments can make the programs self-sustaining and provide a solid profit for investors.

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