By Naomi Carr

Last updated: 08 May 2024 & medically reviewed by Dr. David Miles

Ibogaine is a psychoactive substance found in a plant from West Africa and a powerful hallucinogen. It has been used as a traditional medicine and ceremonial plant for many centuries and is now believed to have potential benefits as a treatment for substance use disorders. Although there have been positive outcomes of ibogaine use, it has also been reported to cause severe and even fatal effects.

Key takeaways:

Ibogaine originates from the Iboga plant of Western Central Africa

Ibogaine: Origins, Effects, and Opioid Addiction Treatment

What is ibogaine?

Ibogaine is a substance that produces mild stimulant effects in low doses and psychedelic effects in higher doses. The substance is found in the iboga plant that is native to West Africa, where it has been used for centuries as a traditional healing or ceremonial plant. Despite its psychedelic effects, ibogaine is not typically used as a recreational drug like other psychedelics such as LSD and psilocybin.[1][2]

In recent years, ibogaine has been studied as a treatment for substance use disorders, including opioid dependence. In several countries, such as Mexico, ibogaine is legal or unregulated, where it is often used in substance use disorder treatment.[3][4]

In the United States, ibogaine is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, which means that it is deemed to have no medicinal purpose and a high potential for abuse. However, studies in the US are ongoing, with which researchers are investigating the dosage, effects, and risks of ibogaine for substance use disorder treatments.[5][6]

Ibogaine origins

Ibogaine is a substance found in the plant Tabernanthe iboga, commonly known as Iboga. It is a shrub native to West Central Africa, particularly Gabon, where it has been used for many centuries in spiritual and healing rituals and initiation ceremonies in the Bwiti religion.[5]

The iboga plant contains several alkaloids, including ibogaine, in the root bark. This bark is then chewed or brewed into a tea and drunk to produce its effects. In small doses, it would be used as a mild stimulant, to increase alertness while hunting, and to reduce hunger, thirst, and fatigue. In large doses, it produces a significant psychedelic effect, which is utilized during ceremonies.[1]

In many parts of the world, including Mexico, Brazil, New Zealand, and Canada, ibogaine is unregulated, legal, or available on prescription. Many of these countries utilize ibogaine for its anti-addictive properties, where it is administered as a treatment within a clinic or medical facility.[5][7]

In the 1960s, ibogaine was noticed for its potential to reduce addiction, prompting investigation and scientific study, mostly conducted on rodents. However, in the early 1990s, ibogaine research was halted in the US due to concerns about side effects, and it gained its classification as a Schedule I controlled substance.[1]

During recent years, the use, popularity, and research of ibogaine as a substance use disorder treatment has increased around the world. This has prompted new research in various countries and within the US.[8]

What does ibogaine feel like?

Studies and anecdotal reports suggest that a dose of ibogaine has an effect for over 24 hours, during which time the individual experiences a range of mental and cognitive states.[1]

The initial 4-8 hours are reportedly experienced in a dream-like state, during which the individual might experience internal visions, often recalling or reliving early memories, or might feel like they are in an altered sense of reality or dream-like state.[5]

Following this, during hours 8-20, the individual might experience intense introspection and reflection. Some have reported emotional insights and an increased understanding and awareness of the self, life, and death during this period.[1]

After this, sometimes for up to three days, the individual may then experience a mild stimulant effect. During this time, they may notice a change in their perspectives and behavior.[1][5]

Compared with other psychedelic substances, ibogaine is reportedly much more intense and can produce a far more extreme psychedelic experience. Reports suggest that, for some, this can be positive and life-changing, while for others, it can be frightening and feel unmanageable.[1][5]

Ibogaine side effects

The effects of ibogaine can vary depending on the individual, the dose, the method of administration, and the person’s mental and physical well-being. 

Some of the common side effects of ibogaine include:[1][5][8]

  • Altered sense of reality

  • Dream-like state

  • Vivid internal visions or memories

  • Mood changes

  • Anxiety

  • Reduced appetite

  • Increased alertness

  • Reduced need for sleep

  • Headaches

  • Changes in heart rate

In some cases, severe side effects of ibogaine have been reported. This can include:[1][2][7][9]

  • Severe heart issues: Some serious and even fatal effects have been reported, including an extremely reduced heart rate (bradycardia) or irregularities in heart rate (arrhythmia).

  • Pulmonary embolism: There have been reports of blood clots being caused or worsened by ibogaine use, which then circulate to the lungs and cause severe problems.

  • Severe mood changes: Some people, particularly those with pre-existing mental health issues, may experience extreme changes in mood and behavior, including anxiety, paranoia, and psychotic symptoms. 

Because of these risks, it is advised that people with heart conditions, those with vulnerabilities to blood clots, or those with severe mental illness do not utilize ibogaine treatment.

Is ibogaine safe to use?

Ibogaine can be safe to use, in a controlled environment, with professional administration and monitoring, and following appropriate health checks. Many studies, clinics, and anecdotal reports indicate that ibogaine can be a beneficial and safe treatment.[3][4]

However, there have been several reports of severe or fatal consequences of ibogaine use, often related to heart failure. In some of these cases, additional substances had also been used, which may have increased cardiac risks. Some of these instances involved ibogaine that had been bought online, without knowledge of product quality, appropriate dosing, or risks.[1]

Factors that may increase the risks associated with ibogaine use include:[1][5][6]

  • Buying products online, as these products may be of a lower quality, contain other substances, or be stronger than advertised

  • Using ibogaine without professional advice or monitoring of physical health symptoms before, during, and after treatment

  • Using large doses, particularly if the individual has not used ibogaine before

  • Attending a treatment facility that is not accredited or where inappropriate practices take place, such as poor physical and mental health monitoring

  • Mixing ibogaine with other substances, which may increase the risk of heart issues

Ibogaine for opioid use disorder treatment

Ibogaine impacts several aspects of the brain and body, including serotonin, dopamine, and opioid receptors. Its impact on these neurotransmitters and receptors contributes to its effects on mood, perception, and cognition, and is also thought to contribute to its anti-addictive properties.[8]

Research and anecdotal evidence suggest that ibogaine, even just one dose, can result in positive outcomes for individuals with opioid dependence. Studies show that this treatment can lead to reduced cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and sustained abstinence.[6][10]

For example, one study (Noller et al, 2018), conducted in New Zealand, investigated the effect of one dose of ibogaine on the use of opioids in dependent individuals. This study found that cessation or reduced use of opioids was maintained for 12 months, with fewer withdrawal symptoms, improved interpersonal relationships, and reduced depression symptoms.[3]

In the US, ibogaine is not currently legal as a treatment for opioid use disorder.

Other uses for ibogaine

Research into the potential uses of ibogaine is ongoing and increasing, with new findings continuing to be discovered. Some studies suggest that ibogaine can be helpful for various mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and other substance use disorders.[4][8][11]

Because of the potential risks, many studies are investigating the effects of ibogaine analogs, which are substances that are chemically similar to ibogaine but with slight differences. These studies aim to find analogs that provide the same benefits for mental health and addiction conditions but without the risk of side effects and cardiac issues.[9][12]

One study (Cherian et al, 2024), has investigated the use of magnesium alongside ibogaine to alleviate cardiac risks. This study found that magnesium-ibogaine treatment on war veterans was able to reduce many effects of traumatic brain injury, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.[11]