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Designing an exploratory outcome study of the long-term efficacy of ibogaine therapy in subjects with substance addiction


By: Valerie Mojeiko

Reprinted from the Bulletin of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), volume xiv number 1 summer 2004

With the help of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), I have been creating a protocol for an exploratory study on the long-term efficacy of ibogaine therapy in the treatment of drug addiction. This study will analyze survey data collected from two ibogaine treatment providers: the Ibogaine Association in Playas, Mexico and the Iboga Therapy House in Vancouver, BC. Ibogaine is legal in Canada and Mexico, where these clinics are located, although it is scheduled in the U.S.


Randy Hencken manages the Ibogaine Association from an office in San Diego. The clients, who are mostly from the US, meet with Randy before they are bused to the clinic itself, a six-bedroom facility located just south of the US/Mexico border in the city of Playas. Most treatments at the Ibogaine Association cost $3,300, except for treatments of methadone addicts and physically-dependent alcoholics, which take longer and cost $4,500. The clinic primarily treats people with opiate addictions, but has also seen clients with alcohol and stimulant problems. While ibogaine therapy is not specifically approved in Mexico, Mexican law allows Dr. Polanco to use this experimental procedure to treat the life-threatening condition of substance addiction. Jill Stammer is the aftercare coordinator for this clinic, as well as a member of the caretaker team.


The Iboga Therapy House (ITH), managed by Sandra Karpetas, is a hidden sanctuary amid the hustle of downtown Vancouver. The staff's Feng Shui mastery is apparent in their transformation of a sterile apartment on the eighth floor of an upscale condo building into a peaceful spiritual retreat, complete with psychedelic art, African masks, and other wall-hangings. The apartment is temporary; they are looking to move to a more natural setting--a larger house with a garden away from the noise of the city--hopefully in the next few months. Aftercare coordinator and caretaker, Leah Martin, will be working closely with MAPS to provide us with valuable information collected as part of their aftercare program.

Abusers of a more even distribution of substances--opiates, cocaine/crack, alcohol, methamphetamine--are seen at the ITH, where there is no fee charged for treatment. Rather, the ITH operates solely on charitable contributions from Cannabis seed entrepreneur and marijuana activist Marc Emery. The clinic is currently seeking funding from additional donors. The ITH is not a licensed facility, as a license is not necessary in Canada.


Both clinics primarily administer ibogaine for the treatment of substance addiction, though a few clients have come in for personal or spiritual growth. For the purposes of this study, we will only be tracking the people who come in for substance-related problems.

Both clinic’s aftercare programs are paid for by a grant from MAPS. We will track 20 clients who complete treatment sequentially at each of the clinics. The clients will receive a one-year series of basic follow-up questionnaires with surveys on substance use patterns, quality of life, and mental health, as well as an initial assessment of the depth of experience (using the Addiction Severity Index, Beck Depression Inventory, Beck Anxiety Inventory, Subjective and Objective Opiate Withdrawal Scales, and the Peak Experience Profile). In place of drug testing, which is expensive and time-consuming, the clinic’s aftercare coordinator will periodically check-in with a significant other associated with the client to verify the information about their recovery. The survey information, collected by each of the clinic’s aftercare coordinators, will be analyzed by MAPS’ research team. The end product will be a research paper to submit for publication in a scientific journal.

This will be the first scientific study of the long-term efficacy of ibogaine therapy. Ibogaine offers a unique inroad to studying the therapeutic applications of psychedelics for two reasons: it is relatively obscure and lacks the stigma of other more recognized psychedelics, and it has the potential to gain approval from both opponents and sympathizers of psychedelic therapy because of its application as a treatment for drug addiction. Another similar study is being conducted by a research team at the Free University of Amsterdam, using an online questionnaire to reach those who have had ibogaine treatment, at http://www.med-old.vu.nl/ibogaine/. Hopefully both studies will generate new data, new questions, and new research about the efficacy of ibogaine therapy.

Ibogaine is acceptable as a treatment for drug addiction because of its pharmacological mechanisms of relieving opiate withdrawal. What makes it exceptional is that this efficacy is related in part to its potential to catalyze a powerful mental experience. In this way, ibogaine therapy may create a paradigm shift that would allow mainstream medicine to consider altered states as therapeutic opportunities. We hope that this project will inspire more research into the psychotherapeutic uses of ibogaine, as well as research into the similar applications of other psychedelics.

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