Powerful psychedelic offers promise in opioid addiction treatment

Apr 4, 2024

In recent years, new research studies have identified ibogaine, a potent psychedelic extracted from the roots of a shrub native to Central Africa, as a new drug candidate for treating opioid addiction and mental health issues.

Specifically, several studies have shown that between one-third and two-thirds of study participants with addiction to opioids or crack cocaine reported that ibogaine eliminated or drastically reduced their withdrawal symptoms, often following a single treatment session.

The results of another recent study published in the journal Cell carried out by researchers at Yale University demonstrated that ibogaine was effective in treating symptoms of depression, anxiety, and opioid withdrawal in a mouse model.

So far, it has been shown that ibogaine can act as a transporter of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is a mechanism of action similar to that of antidepressant medications. Further research to uncover ibogaine’s effects on addiction is underway. For instance, the U.S. drug company Atai Life Sciences has spent millions of dollars researching the compound, while some U.S. lawmakers have been urging the government to promote ibogaine research for substance abuse and mental health illness.

“Ibogaine is not a silver bullet, and it won’t work for everybody, but it’s the most powerful addiction interrupter I’ve ever seen,”

Dr. Deborah Mash, neurology professor University of Miami

Another study published recently in the journal Nature Medicine showed that U.S. military veterans with traumatic brain injuries who underwent a single ibogaine therapy session had a significant reduction in disability and psychiatric symptoms, as well as improvements in cognition.

“These are the most dramatic drug effects I’ve ever captured in an observational study,” said Dr. Nolan Williams, the study’s lead author and professor at Stanford University.

There have also been concerns regarding the feasibility of ibogaine becoming a broadly accessible addiction therapy. Specifically, these include high costs of treatment in a medically supervised setting and incompatibility with the co-morbidities often found in individuals affected by opioid addiction as ibogaine has been shown to induce arrhythmia, which could lead to fatal cardiac arrest.

According to Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute of Health (NIH), ibogaine has significant anti-addiction potential, while also carrying cardiac risks. “In addition to existing effective medications, there is a need for treatment options that are different from the ones we currently have,” she said in her interview with the New York Times. “We need to break the way we have been doing things and explore what the science is showing us.”

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has already begun funding animal studies on ibogaine analogs to create a compound with its therapeutic benefits but without the potential risks. However, the F.D.A. has not provided comment on whether it would support ibogaine studies in the future.