Sometimes referred to as a cure for addiction, ibogaine has become famous for its ability to remove withdrawals, dramatically reduce cravings and reset certain aspects of the psyche. The more we learn about how ibogaine affects the brain in order to produce these effects, the better we can understand how it can be most effectively used as a treatment for addiction.
The anti-addictive properties of ibogaine are likely to be caused predominantly by its ability to bind to mu-opiate receptors in the brain, thereby keeping withdrawals and cravings at bay. Yet addiction is about so much more than physiological dependence, and recovery requires the adoption of new modes of thinking, behaving and living. This means that ibogaine alone is not a magic bullet for addiction, and those who truly want to recover will need to work on their self-awareness and mindfulness, while also making vital adjustments to their lifestyle. However, ibogaine may make this process easier by increasing the brain’s capacity to develop new patterns of connectivity. It does this by interacting with N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain. NMDA receptors play a role in regulating synaptic plasticity – that is, the formation of new neural pathways and the breaking of old ones – which means that ibogaine actually facilitates the creation of new modes of cognition and ways of thinking. Making the most of this opportunity is essential, and working with an experienced ibogaine counsellor in order to learn how to develop these new patterns of thought and behaviour is often the key to lasting recovery.
Ibogaine also creates an ‘afterglow’ effect by blocking serotonin and dopamine reuptake receptors in the brain. This typically results in more balanced moods and a reduction in depression, anxiety or excessive mental chatter for a period of up to three months. However, this feel-good effect does eventually wear off if the right steps are not taken to harness its benefits and use them to transform one’s life. This temporary reduction in withdrawals, cravings and negative thinking should therefore be viewed as a window of opportunity to work on one’s issues and tackle the unhealthy elements of one’s lifestyle that may have been reinforcing their addictive behaviours. Those who choose not to do so are always the ones who end up relapsing.