The psychedelic drug ibogaine is known for two things: its reputation in some circles as a panacea for addiction and the visceral hallucinations it induces. Positive anecdotes abound from people who have sought out the illegal drug at underground clinics. Just one dose, they say, brings near-instant relief from cravings and withdrawal symptoms, a veritable miracle for seemingly intractable addictions. But the side effects of this plant-derived substance can be dangerous or even deadly. Now, with encouraging evidence from animal studies, drugs are being developed to replicate ibogaine’s impact on addiction without the side effects. A drug that is chemically related to ibogaine but lacks its hallucinogenic properties is set to begin phase II clinical trials in California early this year. If the results continue to be promising, addiction treatment as we know it could change radically.
For decades research on ibogaine has been stymied by its classification as a Schedule I drug, the most tightly regulated category. Yet the results of animal studies have been intriguing. In May 2016 a meta-analysis examining 32 such studies, mostly in mice and rats, found that ibogaine reduced self-administration of cocaine, opioids and alcohol. An earlier study from 2015 found that noribogaine, the substance that ibogaine breaks down to when ingested, reduced self-administration of nicotine in addicted rats by 64 percent.