Is Ibogaine the Solution to the Opiate Epidemic in Vermont?


The small and beautiful State of Vermont has been struggling with one of the country’s worst heroin and opiate painkiller epidemics. In 2014, Governor Peter Shumlin dedicated his State of the State Address to the growing problem. He said that in the prior year, nearly twice as many people died of heroin overdoses as the year before. And since 2000, the number of people entering treatment for heroin had increased more than 770%. In a state of 626,500 people, that meant that 4,300 entered treatment.

It’s appropriate for Governor Shumlin to make heroin prevention and recovery a top priority for the state. But then in April 2015, legislators in Vermont announced a bill to provide state funding for a trial of the hallucinogenic drug ibogaine for the treatment of heroin addiction. Would this be a wise move for the Great State of Vermont?

What is Ibogaine?

Ibogaine plant

Ibogaine is a substance taken from the bark of the iboga tree. As a hallucinogen, it causes hallucinations like those of LSD or mescaline. Among African tribes, iboga has long been used during spiritual practices. In the last sixty years, ibogaine began to be used to treat those addicted to a variety of drugs, but most specifically opiates. Because its use is not legal in the United States, a person wishing this treatment usually travels to a clinic in Mexico, Canada, South America, some African or European countries, Thailand or Bali.

A person is expected to go through one day of heavy hallucinating followed by several days of introspective feelings in which they may be instructed to analyze their hallucinations. The hallucinations may be terrifying, and most people are exhausted for days. One report stated that 1% of those going through the experience needed medical treatment afterward, although no other specifics were provided.

Mortality and Effects of Ibogaine

According to one organization supporting the use of ibogaine, the mortality rate of ibogaine is one in 300. How does this compare to drugs that were removed from the market because of their dangers? Vioxx is a pain reliever pulled from the market because it was killing people. The number of deaths from the use of Vioxx was estimated at 165,000. If Vioxx killed at ibogaine’s rate, a quarter million people would have died.

If ibogaine actually began to see widespread use, it could become the most deadly drug to ever hit the market. It is unlikely, then, to ever arrive in the legitimate US drug market, as long as its risks are known.

The further side effects of ibogaine include changes in blood pressure and pulse, nausea, dehydration from vomiting, heart arrhythmias, terror and loss of muscle control.

Why Would it be Unwise for Legislators to Bring Ibogaine into the State?

There are a couple of reasons. The primary one is that there is minimal scientific evidence of its workability. Estimates of its effectiveness are inconsistent. One of the few studies that exists is from the Netherlands. It states that the median length of sobriety achieved by those who went through ibogaine treatment was only six months.

The second is that when something sounds to be too good to be true, it usually isn’t. In this case, the idea that decades of addiction can be overcome by a single administration of a hallucinogen does not line up with the lessons we learn from life.

What Can We Do for the Addicted Instead?

There are many radical methods that have been used as treatment for addiction, including electric shock and use of the psychedelic drug LSD. Many people feel that the only hope for those addicted to heroin or painkillers is to keep them on a drug like methadone or buprenorphine, both addictive opioids and both drugs of abuse. But these are not the only choices.

Fifty years of Narconon program delivery have proven that thorough detoxification plus social education can help a person build new abilities that enable them to live drug-free. Without new life skills, a person may be triggered to crave drugs again by people or places they associate with past drug use or trauma. It takes strengthening of the mind, body, and spirit to leave addiction fully behind and this is what the Narconon program focuses on.

When a person arrives at the Narconon program, innovative techniques make withdrawal tolerable – some say the most tolerable withdrawal they’ve ever been through. A deep, sauna-based detoxification follows, providing a fresh new outlook on life once residual drugs stored in the body have been washed away. And then life skills training provides the ability to forge new habits and ways of thinking that go deep. The person who graduates from the Narconon program has new abilities – ones he (or she) may have lacked all his life. Many graduates never refer to themselves as “recovering addicts” again, knowing they have left that phase of life behind completely.

With the Narconon program, it’s possible to achieve stable sobriety because a new way of living is learned. It’s not necessary to be maintained on an addictive drug or participate in questionable, unstudied treatments. It’s only necessary to be willing to learn and truly want a new life of sobriety.


Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.