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Iboga: Traditional African Plant is a Powerful Healer of Addictions and the Subconscious


Posted by admin on November 3, 2012


The Iboga Insurrection (Pt.1)

By Charles Shaw | Reality Sandwich


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 with this Bilbo-Baggins-meets-David-Crosby vibe. 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.

Ibogaine works a mysterious voodoo that combines the spiritual and
the biochemical. More than anything else, it challenges the legitimacy
of the “disease” model of addiction, and no one anywhere on the health
care food chain wants to hear that, especially if they are profiting
from the immiseration caused by drug abuse.

So what is ibogaine? The two-volume reference bible Psychedelic Medicine classifies ibogaine as a naturally occurring alkaloid of theTabernanthe Iboga plant
native to West Central Africa. The iboga root bark contains a powerful
psychedelic that has been used as a religious sacrament for centuries.
In the colonial era, iboga served as a vital instrument of
psycho-spiritual resistance for the indigenous population against the
encroachment of the white man.

Today iboga is used primarily by the Bwiti religion of Gabon in their
initiatory rites of passage, like those described by Daniel Pinchbeck
in Breaking Open the Head (credit
the Bwiti with the title, it’s their term for what happens when one
takes the drug). During the ritual large amounts of iboga are consumed
and the initiates are known to enter visionary states where they meet
their deceased tribal elders — what they call “the work of the
ancestors” — and confront their shadow selves as a means of becoming
aware of negative behavior patterns and character traits which cause
illness and impede spiritual growth.

The person credited with introducing iboga to the U.S. is the
Godfather of the movement, Howard Lotsof, a former heroin addict turned
ibogaine evangelist who died last month of liver cancer at
the age of 66. In 1962 Lotsof stumbled across ibogaine’s effectiveness
with addiction when he found that after one dose he had lost his craving
for heroin, and had miraculously leapfrogged the brutal and potentially
fatal withdrawal process.

Lotsof tirelessly lobbied public officials and dogged researchers and
pharmaceutical companies to investigate his claims about iboga’s
miraculous properties. By the 1980s he was lay-administering the
alkaloid ibogaine in capsule form to addicts in the Netherlands and was
given a U.S. patent. Lotsof felt ibogaine’s true significance was in
unlocking the mysteries of the neurobiology of addiction. By virtue of
its origin he also believed it could serve as a means of reconnecting
shamanic medicine to Western medicine. Secretly, he and his inner circle
harbored fantasies of a revolution in consciousness, and ibogaine was
one of their most viable Trojan Horses.

Here’s how the miracle works. The conventional approach to treating
opiate addiction is to employ a substitution therapy like methadone or
suboxone, maintenance drugs that keep the addict addicted to a less
potent, more manageable opiate analog. This means that the only
available treatment does not actually stop the addiction. So what’s the
point?

Ibogaine works, it is believed, by filling in the receptor sites that
the opiate molecules once sought, ending the craving for the drug,
while at the same time metabolizing in the liver into noribogaine,
which is thought to have powerful detoxifying and anti-depressant
properties. The million dollar jackpot is that ibogaine can eliminate
the exceedingly painful and dangerous opiate withdrawal process,
sometimes in a single dose. In effect, it has the power to hit the reset
button on the brain’s neurotransmitter mechanism.

Ibogaine has never been popular as a recreational drug regardless of
its legal status. There is not a single recorded case of ibogaine
addiction anywhere. Those who use it do so infrequently, because, like
ayahuasca or peyote, it takes a toll on the mind, body and spirit, never
mind that most folks don’t consider vomiting and diarrhea to be
particularly social activities. Only two iboga-related arrests are known
to have occurred in the U.S., and roughly twenty people are on record
as having died within 72 hours of taking ibogaine, mostly due to either
heart complications or drug contraindications.

This specific focus on the treatment of addiction is what
distinguishes the ibogaine underground from other psychedelic
subcultures, like the rapidly growing ayahuasca community. Writing on
the “ibogaine medical subculture” for the Journal of Ethno-Pharmacology,
Alper and Lotsof describe the underground as, “…homes, hotel rooms and
private clinics in North America and Europe, [where] individuals in
increasing numbers are taking ibogaine in what has been termed ‘a vast
uncontrolled experiment.’”

Because a safe and legal alternative is not available in the U.S, theibogistas have been forced on to more tolerant legal climes in Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and Europe in order to avoid becoming de factocriminals.
For those who remain in the states as lay-providers, they role the dice
every time they take an addict’s life into their hands, but they feel,
unequivocally, that the medicine is safe and the risk is worth it.

Alper and Lotsof claim that the ibogaine subculture is not a
counterculture because “its identity is not defined on the basis of
opposition to conventional medicine” and it “shares with the
conventional medical culture the common goal of providing treatment,
which it emulates in the medical model.” This is partially true, and
really more a matter of opinion. To many, the ibogaine underground is
very much a counterculture, and its hard to argue that it is not defined
on the basis of its opposition to the disease model of addiction.
Additionally, the “medical model” they refer to –in which licensed
physicians conduct treatments that usually take place in a hospital or
clinic — is only one of five elements of the ibogaine underground that
make up the full typology of the subculture. These include evangelizing
addicts and lay providers, activists, and ritual/spiritual shamans.

The Addict as Healer

Tijuana is a junkie that is hitting bottom. She’s dying. Strung out,
desperate, unable to kick, her streets are empty and decaying, her shops
are closed. All across this sprawling border city of more than 1.5
million you see the shaky, splintered shells of abandoned developments.
It’s as if everyone just up and vanished. It’s a ghost town, replete
with a legion of narcotic zombies shuffling to and fro.

We talk about a drug war in the United States, but south of the
border this war is real. It’s a shooting war that has decimated this
once thriving city. In the four years since Felipe Calderon became
Mexico’s President and sent in the Federales, over 16,000
people have been killed, 7,000 in the last year alone, 1400 of them in
Tijuana where three different cartels battle for control. Tourism and
development have evaporated, and Tijuana starves.

The American model of fighting the drug war has failed miserably in
Mexico. As is usually the case, the arrest of several high-profile
traffickers has done nothing to impact supply or demand. The
much-maligned $1.4 billion Merida Initiative, a kind of Mexican “Plan
Columbia,” has also been a dismal failure. So Mexico got creative, and
decided to try something new.

Despite much wailing and gnashing of teeth from politicians in
Washington, the Mexican government finally decriminalized personal drug
possession in August of 2009 (four days later, Argentina did the same,
releasing 150 million Latin Americans from the criminalization of their
lifestyles). This was done to shift law enforcement priorities away from
the users to the cartels, which is good because business is booming.
The streets are filled with junkies shooting up in plain sight as you
drive along the Segunda Benito Juarez border highway. There is much
poverty and suffering here, and no one should be surprised that people
want to escape. And if they can’t escape across the border, all they
have left is to escape into dreamland.

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.

Clare proved to be an autodidact, an honorary Ph.D in addiction like
Howard Lotsof, but she also knew that if she really wanted to understand
this medicine she needed to reach out to Lotsof in person, to pay her
respects to the Godfather.

“I called and introduced myself to Howard when I bought the clinic.
He asked me for my C.V. which I didn’t have, so I felt embarrassed. But
he understood. He faced the same challenges in life, not having any
formal training (Lostoff had a degree in film from NYU). He treated me
like a colleague and told me that the underground was vital to the
success of this medicine. He was right. I’ve learned more from the
underground than anyone else.”

In a span of less than four years Lotsof would become Clare’s friend,
mentor, and spiritual father. She loved his compassion and drive and
the way he seemed to lack judgement, which she felt made him the perfect
advocate for addicts. She started booking treatments immediately,
modeling her approach after Lotsof’s and mostly learning on the fly.
Within six months she moved Pangea into a new space, and paid off the
purchase to Polanco in only eighteen months. To date she has given over
400 treatments.

They are not cheap. A full 10-day detox program runs about $7500, not
including travel. The marked increase over Polanco’s fee reflects
improvements Clare made in the treatment protocols in the wake of
Valerie Mojieko’s bad experience, and deaths at Polanco’s clinic and
others within the underground, even at Pangea under Clare’s supervision,
which caused everyone in the ibogaine underground to take a good hard
look at their own protocols. As a result, many of them, including Clare,
implemented more medical safeguards.

Pangea’s comprehensive treatment is a complete holistic integrative
health plan, and the price tag reflects the doctors, nurses, EMTs,
massage therapists, and nutritionists she employs, a staff of twelve
with monthly expenses of around $30,000. Ultimately, though, the medical
staff are subordinate to Clare, who is the lead therapist and “guide”
during sessions. Unlike Polanco, who was often absent, Clare is present
for every one of her client’s sessions.

Clare is quick to point out that half of the 400 treatments she has
given were either subsidized or free, which she says is common in the
underground. She also mentions that three of her former clients formed a
not-for-profit called “The Healing Experience” that raises money to
provide free treatments for those who can’t afford them. Lots of former
addicts pay for treatments for others, or assist with sessions, she
tells me. It’s part of their healing process.

“The only way this message is received is if its carried on the backs
and in the hearts of addicts,” she says with utter conviction. “It only
works if addicts help each other.”

Bringing it Home

It pains me to think about what my life might be like today had I only known Clare Wilkins ten years ago. As my book, Exile Nation, chronicles, I spent nearly a dozen years in flagrante delictowith
a brutal crack addiction, which I managed to kick the hard way shortly
after 9/11. After two decades of abuse and recovery, I prided myself on
knowing as much or more about addiction than any specialist, and the one
thing I was clear on was that the existing methods of treatment left a
lot to be desired. I am deeply cynical about the medical establishment’s
position on addiction. I firmly believe, like Carl Jung did, that
addiction is a spiritual sickness, and that it is not chronic, but can
be cured. One does not have to saddle oneself with the
“addict/alcoholic” label for the rest of their lives. It’s a permanent,
and unnecessary, handicap.

At the same time, however, I began to have some ambivalence about
taking ibogaine. Since I did not need detox, the technical term for the
type of treatment I was going to take is called “Psycho-Spiritual.” But
let’s be frank, I also knew that there was fifteen odd years of hairy
addiction shit to cull through as well, and since I had heard iboga was a
harsh taskmaster and didn’t pull any punches, I was growing afraid of
what I was going to have to face.

After nearly four months of trying to coordinate our schedules, Clare
and I finally settle on the second week in February for me to travel to
Tijuana (of course, those who have taken iboga will tell you that the
medicine makes itself available to you when the time is right, and not
one minute before). I was in Los Angeles preparing for the trip when we
all got word that Howard Lotsof had died. Clare was distraught and
headed off to his funeral in New York and didn’t know if she’d be back
in time for my visit.

I spent the week prior to the treatment on a strict diet of mostly
fruits, greens, and nuts. I had no alcohol, very little caffeine, and
drank gallons of detox tea. I crossed the border on the morning of
February 8th with my close friend Kristin, a psychotherapist
specializing in addiction and PTSD who works part-time at Pangea. There
was no traffic going into Mexico, and nearly a two-hour line cued up on
the other side waiting to get out. The night before at her place in San
Diego, Kristin showed me Ibogaine: Rite of Passage,
an eight-year-old film set in a Bwiti medicine ritual in Gabon, and at
Polanco’s clinic in Tijuana, that featured Howard Lotsof and Randy
Hencken. Kristin takes great care to point out that Clare’s protocols
are nothing like what I was seeing in the film.

“You’re probably not going to take the medicine right away,” Kristin
tells me, “you’re just going to get your intake work done, and prepare
your system. You also need to acclimate to the setting. When the moment
is right, Clare will appear out of no where and tell you its time. It
could be days.”

I went through a comprehensive intake that included a clinical
history, complete blood and urine panels, cardiac enzymes, the whole
enchilada. I found out I was healthy as a pack mule, albeit slightly
anemic. Later that night I was given the most sublimely painful two-hour
deep tissue detox massage by a Thai man named Neil who had worked with
ibogaine for psycho-spiritual purposes and told me it helped him heal
wounds stemming from his childhood in Thailand when he was abandoned by
his family, and as a result, could not experience intimacy with anyone,
including his wife and children.

“The med-cine keep working with you for many year,” he said in broken
English. “It working when you not know it working, and den one day you
say, ‘Ah, now it make sense!’”

There were two other clients at the clinic, a 26-year-old Orange
County princess strung out on Oxys, and a poly-addicted guy in his early
thirties from Detroit who was as magnificent a shit-talking addict as I
have ever met. When you’ve been an addict and spent your life around
them, at home, in school, at work, in bed, you very quickly come to see
who’s serious about cleaning up and who’s not. I had strong doubts about
both, particularly the kid from Detroit, about whom I would prove
correct. Both of them screamed I’m enabled, what’s your name?!

Clare and her sister Sarah show up at the house a couple hours after I
arrive. They both stand just over five feet tall, and have no physical
resemblance beyond that. Bespectacled Clare resembles a hippie
accountant, while ink-and-bleach Sarah is more skate punk. They both
project substantial presence.

Later that afternoon Chris Bava and his wife, Cat, stop by. Both are
artists and former clients who are renting a beautiful beach house just
down the hill from Pangea. Chris was a Category 5 poly-addicted mess,
hooked on heroin, ketamine, crystal meth, and methadone. He had done
three years in a federal joint for a drug related offense, and was clean
and sober for a number of years before falling back into addiction.
Clare had saved both of their lives through ibogaine therapy, and they
now paid their respects, as many former clients did, by volunteering
their time at the clinic.

“You can’t really use me as an example, though,” Chris says, waving
me off. “I’m not an an ibogaine success story, it didn’t work on me the
first couple of times.”

Cat quibbles, “After the second treatment he went on a ketamine
rampage and we had to commit him. That was when he was ready to quit,
that third time. And it worked.”

Later the three of us are walking on the beach together while Jeff,
another former addict who is part of a provider training program, is
keeping an eye on the guy from Detroit, who is throwing balls to Chris
and Cat’s dogs. Jeff is making sure Detroit doesn’t try to cop dope from
someone on the beach or street. The addicts who come to Pangea often
need constant monitoring, like this guy. Within a day he is caught with a
smuggled set of works and it becomes apparent to the staff that he has
broken into the med closet and stolen methadone and valium. After
hanging around for a week, on his parents dime, without undergoing the
treatment, he eventually decides to leave, and Clare ends up having to
drop him across the border.

Cat pulls up alongside me as we shuffle through the sand.

“I wasn’t expecting anything when I took ibogaine,” she says in a
thick Aussie drawl, “but I found it cured me of smoking, and nicotine
was definitely my drug of choice. I smoked for 35 years! I expected to
die of lung cancer. I can’t tell you how surprised I was not to crave a
cigarette. I was simply baffled.”

The next day I fast after gagging down a handful of supplements with a
macrobiotic vegetable juice Sarah makes me, part of Pangea’s
neurotransmitter replacement therapy regimen. The supplements are meant
to prep the brain for the ibogaine, and most of the addicts coming in
for treatment have depleted neurotransmitters and are suffering from
various degrees of depression, chronic fatigue, liver issues, or viral
infection. In some cases patients have to be stabilized with
benzodiazapines before they can undergo the treatment, hence the valium
on site. For the more benign cases, marijuana is provided for anyone who
wants it, to combat anxiety, nausea, and depression. It’s also
available because it’s considered medicine, and it’s not illegal. This
small detail alone would be considered radical, and most likely
dangerous, across the border, where just up the road in San Diego legal
medical marijuana clinics are raided on a weekly basis. To be honest,
the weed makes for a nice vibe, and in a place like this — a trip
factory, a healing center — vibe is everything.

The last step in the preparation procedure is for me to take it in
the ass, literally, with a 48oz coffee enema, what Clare calls a
“crappuccino.” She takes me into the bathroom to explain to me how to do
it properly.

“This significantly helps with absorption and detoxification. You
need to hold it in for 15 minutes. That’s optimal because the liver
cycles out toxins every 5 minutes, so we need you to hold it in for
three full cycles. Just don’t take it in too fast or you’ll get
involuntary contractions and it will come back out even faster and we’ll
have a hell of a mess to clean up.”

We don’t get around to beginning the procedure until nearly 10pm.
While I settle into my bed, Joaquin the EMT hooks me up to a cardiac
pulse/ox monitor and inserts an IV port into my arm in case of
emergency. I’m given one last dose of aminos along with omeprazol and
metoclopromide to combat nausea, and then Clare appears with the
ibogaine.


Thanks to: http://www.thehealersjournal.com



  

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