What if you could take a pill to heal the past. A one-shot medicine to make you a better, more spiritually-aware person. Would you take it? Ibogaine is an indole alkaloid derived from the African shrub Iboga. The Bwity, a religious sect in West Africa, gives this plant medicine to the children in a coming of age ceremony. It is extreme. There are side effects. But as with any great rite of passage, the rebirth into adulthood is not easy.
Ibogaine first attracted attention in the 1960s when it was discovered that just one dose removed the difficult physical symptoms associated with opiate withdrawal. Perhaps more extraordinarily, the medicine helped users to understand and resolve the issues behind their addictive behaviour.
“The fact that iboga reduces opiate withdrawals is a cosmic joke,” says Lex Kogan, former actor in the Sin City Diaries and an ibogaine developer who now helps addicts in Costa Rica. “The real importance of this plant is as the Bwity have seen it for many years. It frees people from behavioural patterns, addictions, post traumatic stress syndrome, depression – all the things that plague mankind. We all have unresolved issues and Ibogaine cures them.
“A lot of people compare ibogaine to psychoanalysis and it’s a great comparison, but when you really break it down, the interesting thing is that some things cannot be resolved by words alone. Ibogaine takes us to a level where non-verbal thought begins.”
Lex Kogan, whose father died when he was a child, had major issues with fear and anger. “This was mainly stemming from fear, but I was presented with anger because of the fear. I felt like I never really had any structure in my life.” Eventually he became addicted to prescription painkillers and was introduced to ibogaine by chance.
“When I came out of my first ibogaine experience, I knew that not only would my life never be the same, but I would never look at the world in the same way. It was like waking up out of a dream.” Sounds trippy? It is. But not in the way you might associate with other psychedelics.
The Ibogaine experience
Ibogaine is described as a grandfather-like presence. A masculine guiding spirit, whether people want to believe there’s an entity there, or whether the medicine touches the area in psychology which governs the paternal elements in ourselves, our instincts and intuitions about our father, even before we meet him.
The trip is divided into two phases. Phase 1 is psychoactive, but there are no hallucinations and no geometrical patterns as is associated with other psychedelics. Instead, there’s a massive increase in rapid eye movement – much more so than dreaming, so you are seeing through the lens of imagination.
The images seen are random and unreferenced, with many thousands happening within the first 40 minutes to 4.5 hours. Everything from the memory banks is laid out for you. This might be referred to as the visionary phase.
“For me, that part wasn’t hard,” explains Lex . “I was able to resolve things very quickly. I saw myself walking with my father when I was a kid, then a beam of light came out of the sun and took him out. It was very symbolic and simple and quick like that. Then I would revisit the images from different perspectives, for example, seeing my face as it happened.”
While the first phase is entertaining, the second phase is more like work. The feeling and sensation in the back of the mind moves down towards the solar plexus, the heart centre – the area where our emotions are felt. “I always felt there was a shift,” says Lex. “While the first stage is psychoactive and visionary, the second phase is more reflective. But the same element of intensity is going on in the solar plexus. You have this release in response to the brain.”
Getting over the past
When we remember something horrible that happened to us, we never get away from our intense ‘fight or flight’ reaction to it. On Ibogaine, people who have experienced trauma are able to see the things that happened to them without experiencing this reaction.
“You’re able to process things as though whatever happened to you doesn’t have to be yours,” says Lex. “It takes away the fear, the shame and the insecurity. Ibogaine puts you in the state where there’s nothing to be scared of as far as that inner dialogue goes, so you’re really communicating with the misguided areas.”
After taking ibogaine, one of Lex Kogan’s best friends told him how she had been raped by her father at the age of four. “It was one of the most horrible things I had ever heard, but she told it to me as though it had happened to a character in a movie. That’s why it made sense years down the line when we started treating so many people with PTSD.”
“With ibogaine there’s a real sense of forgiveness in all directions at once. There is no forgiving others without forgiving yourself first. It’s a celebration in a sense – saying its ok. We’ve all been victimised by the past whether its guilt, or something that happened to us, and that all comes to light very quickly on ibogaine.”
Rites of Passage
“The west doesn’t really have a rite of passage. Or at least not a proper understanding of the insecurities of the self. We have a celebration that now we’re supposed to be an adult. Before that, at some point in our lives as westerners, we start feeling responsible – we start feeling we’re not in the land of innocence anymore. It’s an important thing for a human being, and if it wasn’t then it wouldn’t exist in every single indigenous culture on the planet still in existence. Ibogaine is collectively available to everyone without saying you need to be a certain religion. All you need is to be a human being.
“I see it as a reference to the Garden of Eden. It only grows in Africa, the birthplace of humanity and an area the world has extremely violated. An area which has become a source of pain for many different cultures. It’s the only psychoactive that grows in the ground so it’s kind of symbolic in that sense. It comes from a root and it takes you right down into yourself. It’s magic.”