The Ibogaine Dossier
The Ibogaine Dossier

Self-Help graphic
Art Buro, Amsterdam
Squatter Movement

Prepared for ICASH
International Coalition
for Addict Self-Help

Nico Adriaans, harm reduction worker and activist
The late Nico Adriaans.
Human being, harm reduction worker and activist.

Nico had a way with words.
"People expect I will introduce
myself as a heroin addict. Would you introduce
yourself and say, Hello I'm a coffee drinker?"

Right panel from tryptich the Rise and Fall of Addiction by G. Frenken
right panel
Rise and Fall of Addiction
© G. Frenken
Main | What's new | Search | Science | Opinion | Literature | Art | Links | Treatment | Bookshop | Feedback
The Ibogaine Dossier

My Iboga Experience - A Journey of Self-Discovery

by Tom Cahill

Like the merchants of Venice who supplied both sides in the many Crusades to Christianize the "Holy Land," the United States Government is making money and political hay from both sides of the War on (some) Drugs. Why else would the Drug Enforcement Agency and others spend so much effort in eradicating marijuana when so many legal drugs like cigarettes, alcohol, and even aspirin are far more harmful? And marijuana, like aspirin, even has some medicinal benefit which is more than can be said for alcohol and cigarettes. But there is more evidence that the ruling elite in Washington does not (repeat not) seriously want to cut down on abuse of illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin whose profit margin is higher than that of precious metals. Just Google "Iboga" or "Ibogaine" and you'll see web site after web site about the drug that for decades has been used to cure all kinds of addictions including opiates as well as serious emotional trauma and lately has been growing in popularity. And wouldn't you know it, Iboga is illegal in the U.S.A. but in no other country of which I'm aware. There are even clinics north and south of the U.S. border. [editor's note: Ibogaine is illegal in Denmark, Sweden, Switherland, Belgium and Australia.] Made from the bark of a tree in Africa and used in ritual there for centuries much like peyote has been used among American Indians, Iboga is not a recreational drug. And it's so powerful, its use requires supervision by health care professionals and/or spiritual guides. According to Howard Lotsof, elements within the U.S. Government has been sabotaging efforts to fairly test Iboga. For more than four decades, Lotsof has tried to get a fair hearing for Iboga from the Feds. All these years later, he has remained one of the leading exponents of the drug.

I first learned of Iboga early in 2005 from my friend Phil B. who told me a story that immediately rang true for me considering what I've long known about the so-called "War on Drugs." In 1963, Phil had been living in an unhealthy environment in New York City, smoking three packs of cigarettes daily, selling pot and experimenting with other drugs. One day, his friend Howard Lotsof told him about an African psychedelic Iboga that he had tried and was legal at the time and that had helped him get a better grip on his life. Without any expectations and under Lotsof's supervision, Phil tried Iboga. "Ibogaine may have saved my life," Phil told me. "It definitely changed me." It was not a pleasant "trip" for him. He experienced his own birth several times and his life played out in his mind's eye as survivors of drowning have sometimes described. His Iboga experience sounded to me like a journey of self-discovery few people experience even in years of introspection and/or psychotherapy. Phil stopped smoking cigarettes immediately and hasn't used nicotine since. Within a week, he stopped selling marijuana and moved to a farm in New Hampshire. A short time later, he moved to upstate New York where he began teaching at an alternative school. While Phil was still telling me his story, I clicked on the Internet and looked up "Ibogaine." There were so many web sites, I was shocked that I had never heard of the drug till then. Even though I used psychedelics only a few years (from 1968 to 1972), I have remained interested in illegal narcotics and especially how the government has dealt them (as in trafficking) and dealt with their use (as in imprisoning users and small-time dealers). But I was not surprised to find that Iboga is illegal in the United States. Over time, Phil and I communicated with Lotsof and other proponents of Iboga and received from some of them CDs and DVDs about the drug and its use in helping cure serious addictions and trauma. In May 2006, a friend and I tried Ibogaine.

Anna-M. and I are both survivors of sexual violence and have been through much psychotherapy that we feel has helped us. But we were both curious to know just how much we've healed and how much more work we have left. We were also eager to learn more about ourselves as Socrates and others urged. Anna-M. and I have known each other almost twenty years and consider each other close and trusted friends. Both of us are long-time political activists and, more than once, have even been arrested together for civil disobedience. In May 2006, Anna-M. was 58 and I was 69. I took the Ibogaine first. Tuesday, May 16, I swallowed a gram of the powder in two and a half capsules. The following Saturday, Anna-Marie swallowed one and a half capsules of what some refer to as the "sacrament." Anna-M. was with me most of the time, often urging me to report my experience into a voice-activated tape recorder. I had fasted and was drinking ginger tea to ease the expected nausea and to keep from dehydrating. Because the nausea kicked in when I was upright, I lay prone all the time under the influence. I also wore an eyeshade to better "see" any visions that might float into my consciousness.

Soon after beginning the "journey," I spoke into the recorder that I took full responsibility for taking the drug and thanked everyone who had helped me get to this point of my life. I had read enough about Ibogaine to have a healthy respect for the drug and knew that at my age, I might be risking my very life. About 45 minutes into the experience, my hands and feet began tingling. A short time later, I could clearly feel and hear my heartbeat. Ominous signs! One early vision, of doors opening and closing, wasn't very exciting. Another early vision, of a seemingly endless number of dwarfs in colorful, clown-like costumes sliding down a curved, wooden spiral, was at least entertaining. If I lifted the eyeshade, the vision would disappear. About three hours later, I reported, "Nothing revealing, nothing illuminating." But when I got up to urinate, it was difficult for me to walk because in addition to my legs feeling like soft rubber, the floor felt like the rolling deck of a ship. And I vomited a small amount of the ginger tea which had white specks in it, probably some of the Ibogaine, Anna-M. thought. At one point, I "saw" a bunch of shrunken heads. Another time I "visited" the grave of Tom Mix, the cowboy film star of the 30s and 40s. Another time, a friend, Raul R., long dead, "visited" me and I described him glowingly on tape. He was an elderly, political activist I knew in Texas in the late 60s. He was and remains a role model and a father figure. I don't remember it, but on tape, I was delighted to hear that I asked my late ex-wife, Sedonia, to "visit" me and she did late in my Ibogaine experience, as I clearly recall when I really needed her love and support.

Phil had suggested to me that I try the drug with no expectations. Totally unable to heed his advice, I had hoped for an epiphany that would lead to a new, more productive, and exciting chapter of my life. My wish list included increased self-awareness and some indication that I was close to being finished with the worst part of my emotional trauma and bi-polar illness. What I got out of the drug was far more than I had hoped for. But while under the early influence of the Iboga, little seemed to be happening until I relived the worst experience of my life. While jailed for civil disobedience in 1968, I was beaten, gang-raped and otherwise tortured for some 24 hours. Years later, in addition to being diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome, I was also told I was manic-depressive. On my own, I discovered I was co-dependent which psychoanalysts and therapists don't seem to take too seriously, but I do because of the trouble it has gotten me into. On the Ibogaine, Red "visited" me. He had been the ringleader of the attack on me in 1968. He looked so pathetic, I felt sorry for him. Much later I thought this vision was probably accurate. Undereducated, with a low IQ and a criminal record of violence, what kind of life could he have led in the past three plus decades, I thought to myself. The vision of the attack was so quick and emotionless for me that it seemed to have happened to someone else. This may have been the evening of the first day of my Iboga trip. For at least the next 24 hours, I seemed to have laughed more than the rest of my life combined. For one thing, I sounded to myself like Woody Allen which I mentioned more than once into the recorder. At the same time I felt a bit disappointed that, "Nothing exciting to report," I got an attack of the giggles. "At least the Ibogaine stopped my heroin habit and cigarettes and drinking," I joked to myself, of course never having used heroin or having these other addictions.

After Anna-M. went to bed, I reported into the tape recorder, "I'm entertaining myself, enjoying my own humor." Never in my life had I laughed so much it seemed, at so little, for so long. "Some of my thoughts may not be so funny when I come down," the tiny machine recorded me saying. And late in the second day, when I began reading, I quoted the Dalai Lama as having said, "No one comes to self-knowledge without finding much to laugh at." Many of my thoughts were silly, embarrassingly silly. And some made no sense at all, yet, over and over, I would laugh till I coughed. To call this experience euphoric may be accurate. In addition to the almost hysterical laughter, I had a sense of well-being. At one time, I recorded myself saying, "Today is the first day of the rest of my life. I want to live it to the max."

Then it happened. It was sometime during the second night. My attack of laughter had infected Anna-M. and she joined me in the large, canopied bed. The giggling and cackling eventually calmed down and we began to make loveless sexual than affectionate--for the first time in the almost 20 years we had known each other. I had been celibate more than 20 years and she, almost ten. Soon afterward, we had our first argument. She insisted she seduced me. I insisted I seduced her. And we started laughing, giggling, and cackling all over again. Again we calmed down and again we made love. Afterward we agreed that we may have been in love with each other for some time and that the Ibogaine may have eased our fears of relationship since we had each had several broken marriages. This time, I saw behind a curtain in the corner of the room, Sedonia-- smiling at us. And I remembered someone once saying, our departed loved ones are always a thin veil away. All these many months later, Anna-M. and I remain committed to each other and plan to marry. We spend most weekends together and would probably be living together now if one of our homes was big enough or if we could afford to rent a bigger place. Another long term effect of the drug may be what I consider my strengthened spirituality. I have long been a syncretist in that I embrace all religions much like Gandhi. And having been reared a Roman Catholic, I still maintain a deep reverence for Mary, the mother of Christ. A particular icon of Mary, that I made a visit to in 2001, is Our Lady of Czestochowa, Poland, also known as the "Black Madonna." I had forgotten the message of this particular "face" of Mary until I took the Iboga, then it became and still is my mantra, "Abandon fear and embrace grace." I interpret grace here as meaning decency, mercy, beauty, thoughtfulness toward others, strength of character, etc. And the entire message may be a prayer for courage to face the daunting future, my own in aging and that of humankind threatened as it is by capitalism.

It was on the third day, I finally began eating. This was probably the end of the most intense part of the Iboga experience that had lasted for me about 60 to 70 hours. And on the fourth day, when I felt rested enough, Anna-Marie took the dose with which she felt most comfortable, one capsule less than I took. At least partly because of less of a dose, her experience lasted only a day and she ate supper that evening. Early in her experience, she said into the recorder, "My body is porous, like a colander, a very thin membrane with a lot of holes." The holes she described as an energy exchange. "I can feel your energy, Tom," she said. And she asked me to put my hand on her forehead. Later a sensation "hit" her hard. A bright green light passed through her brain. "I can see men and women as energy," she said into the recorder. "Tell Zac (her oldest son), he has to watch Ian (her grandson) with electricity for the next few years," Anna-M. requested of me. She remembered this later and explained how inquisitive Ian was and she feared him putting something other than an electric plug into an electric outlet. Anna-M., too, experienced one of the worst (if not The worst) experience of her life. And, like mine, it didn't upset her much. Afterward we talked about it and commiserated with each other. We agreed that perhaps we were through with most of our healing, that we were ready for a mature and long-lasting relationship. And I shocked both of us by using the "m" word (marriage). Thus, effortlessly, perhaps even serendipitously, we became "engaged." And at the time of this writing, six months later, we're still planning a Spring wedding.

Phil tried Ibogaine again in October 2006. He took two grams, double my dosage, but reported his experience was much more subtle than his first one in 1963. For sometime after his first experience, he had a feeling of well-being. This time, he had the same feeling during the drug experience. He can't recall much about his recent experience, but he feels that it was positive and that his mental processes seem to be clearer. [editor's note: Phil's first experience with ibogaine in the 1960s was with purified ibogaine while his second experience was with a total alkaloid extract. The differneces between these two substances may have accounted for some of the differences between the experiences.]

There has been at least one death I know of attributed to Iboga. A heroin addict with a serious heart condition failed to disclose her condition when asked. And though also cautioned not to use any heroin for a period of time before taking the Iboga, she ignored the warning. So until Iboga is thoroughly and fairly tested by the formidable medical establishment in the U.S.A. there will, of course, remain some doubts about the drug. In the meantime, the message of the Black Madonna has for me more meaning than ever, Abandon fear and embrace grace.

Main | What's new | Search | Science | Opinion | Literature | Art | Links | Treatment | Bookshop | Feedback

ibogaine molecule

© 1999
The Ibogaine Dossier