Ibogaine is most often sought out for treating dependencies to substances such as amphetamines and opiates, and is shown in various studies to have a robust effect on abstinence syndromes. Ibogaine not only interrupts physiological dependencies to these chemicals, it can also provide deep insight into our processes around self-harm, habituation and attachment.
Addiction could best be described as repeatedly engaging in a behaviour despite harmful consequences. Our perspective at Pangea is that everyone, to some degree in their lives, exhibits symptoms of addiction. We all have unconscious behaviours that we engage in even though they harm us, many times because they have reached a point of habituation. How do we stop doing something that seems to have become a part of ourselves and our character?
“We see that substance addictions are only one specific form of blind attachment to harmful ways of being, yet we condemn the addict’s stubborn refusal to give up something deleterious to his life or to the life of others. Why do we despise, ostracize and punish the drug addict, when as a social collective, we share the same blindness and engage in the same rationalizations?” Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
There is a spectrum of addiction, from someone who cannot stop using drinking despite being diagnosed with hepatitis c to someone else, who continues to eat pizza even though it gives her a stomach ache. Others work so much they forget to eat. Some people chew and bite their nails, some people cut themselves. In this broad sense, addiction is something that we all experience. It is human. It is not a phenomenon that will stop with one ibogaine treatment. Of course, habits can be interrupted, and dependencies shed. But what is the difference between someone who has a habit and someone who is an addict? People are usually referencing illicit drug users when they use the term “addict.” What happens when someone needs to have coffee to perform at work? When does habituation become addiction? Who is “diseased?” Where is the line drawn?
It is important to create this frame of reference because addiction has been widely misunderstood. Moralizing and criminalizing contributes to even more suffering on the planet, when drug users are sentenced to prison for their behaviour.
In the 1970 study, dubbed Rat Park, Dr. Bruce Alexander and a team of researchers at the University of British Columbia was able to demonstrate how environment affects choice and health related to drug use. Rats that were given free space to run, other rats to interact with, were shown to lower their self-administration of cocaine and morphine. This became the basis for Alexander’s social dislocation theory of addiction, which weighs the effects of geography, social class, family, and societal pressures.
We believe that any person who wants to use drugs has the right to be able to ingest whatever substance they wish into their body. We also believe, as one of our mentors Howard Lotsof put, “any person who is addicted to drugs who wishes to be free of that addiction shall be able to have that choice.”
The term “internal freedom” has emerged very recently in research to describe a success measure for treatment. We believe that this is what ibogaine can help to facilitate, and that it is the most ethical and empowering way to approach the treatment of substance dependence.
Ibogaine is not only a tool to free from dependency, but a tool to gain awareness about how we live our lives, so that we can choose in a clear judicious manner how we organize our relationship to all substances – whether food or drug – in order to live a more fulfilling life.
Harm and Harm Reduction
There is a wide spectrum of consequences for our behaviour, from an action that enriches family and community life and the well-being of others, to a behaviour that is destructive to our own health, or to our ability to make conscious, judicious decisions. Harm occurs when a behaviour begins to adversely affects our physical and mental health, and when it concurrently becomes habituated and difficult to cease without punitive results.
It’s difficult to assess how deeply it affects of our lives, but the Global Burden of Disease Report shows that self-harm is now the leading cause of death for people aged 15-49. Although in many senses our quality of life seems to have been improved through technology and social development, the multitude of stressors that we face in the contemporary world is unlike any other historical period.
Certain behaviours are formed as a strategy to manage stress or pain, yet continue even after it becomes obvious that they are ineffective. Opiates can eventually begin to contribute to, rather than alleviate chronic pain once a tolerance develops; alcohol can become a depressant and form of social isolation rather than a social lubricant when used too often; constant worrying or negative thinking reaches far beyond an exercise in concern or humility to become a form of psychological suffocation.
“It is impossible to understand addiction without asking what relief the addict finds, or hopes to find, in the drug or the addictive behaviour.” Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
Pain is the body’s messaging system, an informational transmission about where to direct attention and care. These messages can be overwhelming, but they provide the information that our body uses to inform us what it needs in order to recover and thrive. Over time, suppressing discomfort prevents us from attending to the underlying issue that is asking to be addressed in the pain.
Key principles in harm reduction are compassion and non-judgment. To meet the client where she is standing. We do not have an agenda for your state of mind. We prefer to co-create a specific and tailored approach to your individual biochemistry. Some people do not want to completely get off all drugs. Certain people like to continue to drink alcohol; others prefer to go back on their opiates as a solution to pain management, or for pleasure enhancement. Harm reduction is an evidence-based approach that decreases disease and overdose, and increases quality of life. It is a vital component in our method.
Treating a Dependency
Habituation is a form of learning in which our response to a drug or behaviour is decreased after repeated action. Dependence is when a habit becomes so entrenched that it is difficult to stop with serious or dangerous side effects.
Certain medicines, such as benzodiazepines, have so much binding power that they can cause seizures if removed too quickly. It is important to understand how specific drugs work on the human body, and what the effects are if they are removed. Certain antidepressants have withdrawal symptoms that can be extremely debilitating, such that doctors encourage patients to stay on their medication while pregnant, despite the possible risks of birth defects. For many people, the loss of time, energy, sleep when trying to remove a certain drug from their system makes the endeavour impossible.
There seems to be a biochemical basis for specific drugs we lean toward. Certain drugs block the removal of dopamine from the synapse so there is a flood of dopamine in the brain. This is the case with cocaine. For those who do not produce enough dopamine, cocaine can feel like the perfect medicine. Valium and alcohol act on the GABA system, causing the electricity to quiet in the brain. For people who do not produce enough GABA, people who are anxious and fidgety, their bodies, thirsty for GABA, will seek out where it is available…in a drug that binds to the GABA receptors, such as alprazolam, gabapentin or alcohol.
Part of the habituation to drug use includes the ritual and routine. It seems that we all seek some kind of ritual in our lives. For some it occurs in church, for others it is in a bathroom. In addressing any habit, it is important to look at its function, primarily. What is it serving? Does the alcohol relax you? Help you ease your anxiety for a bit? Does the methadone help you function and get to work? In the detoxification process, we need to assess what exactly the body receives from the drug it is trying to leave behind, because if you just remove the drug, you will still be left with that need.
Ibogaine has been shown to be highly effective in treating active chemical dependency. There is no other pharmacological tool that pierces uncontrollable drug use as ibogaine does, reversing tolerance, drastically reducing cravings and attenuating withdrawal symptoms so that the body’s natural sensitivity towards sensation and it’s own painkillers and mood stabilizers can build up again.
Our repeated low dose protocol allows this detoxification to take place gradually, resulting in a safer treatment with longer lasting results. For one, it also allows this process to unfold with a high degree of self-reflection. Rather than a passive process, it becomes a journey of active engagement and choice. While bringing personal revelations to the surface, ibogaine allows you to navigate the material with new perspective and increased awareness. In addition to giving relief from physical withdrawal, ibogaine can prompt deep insight into behaviors that are physically, mentally, emotionally, or socially debilitating, and show us how can perhaps harm ourselves and others less.