Weird Medicine

This Detox Drug Could Get You Hooked And Kill You

There is no medically approved single-dose cure for opioid addiction in the United States or anywhere alse in the world for that matter.

Those that want to quit opioids on sheer willpower alone are fighting a losing battle and are in for the hell of an experience -- literally. Immediately withdrawing from an opioid or going cold turkey can make a user wish he were dead.

Once an opioid is removed, "the body responds with mayhem -- diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, shivering, palpitations, anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and, weirdly, interminable yawning and sneezing," Dr. Clayton Dalton, an emergency medicine physician in Boston, who set out to investigate a rogue treatment for highly-addictive drugs such as heroin and methamphetamines called "ibogaine," said.

Anecdotal reports from Americans that have tried ibogaine said one dose of this drug extracted from the root of a West African plant kept them free of opioids for at least six months. Just one dose and you're clean for six months. And this comes painlessly and without the horrific withdrawal symptoms listed down by Dr. Dalton above.

Ibogaine remains illegal in the U.S., however. Americans that are anxious to drop the opioid habit are hurrying south to Mexico where a network of unregulated clinics offers ibogaine for a hefty price.

Dr. Dalton explained ibogaine produces psychedelic effects similar to a waking dream. People that have successfully used ibogaine to kick their opioid habit said the drug "spirits away" withdrawal symptoms with a single dose.

The result is users that are sober and uninterested in opioids, heroin or any other highly addictive drugs. But ibogaine's promise comes with a huge caveat.

There's a good chance ibogaine might kill you, said Dr. Dalton.

Nevertheless, he remained intrigued by a drug that provides rapid detoxification from opioids in a single dose. This capability "struck me as hugely promising. It could change everything, unless the risks were real," he said.

"I wanted to see for myself how it was being used."

That being said, Dr. Dalton traveled to Mexico.

Ibogaine is extracted from Tabernanthe iboga, a perennial shrub endemic to Western equatorial Africa. European chemists took an interest in Tabernanthe iboga and isolated a compound from its root in 1901. They called the compound, ibogaine.

Dr. Dalton related that in a New Jersey suburb in 1962, a 19-year-old recreational drug enthusiast named Howard Lotsof acquired 500 mg of powdered iboga root. Lotsof's  interest wasn't in curing addiction. Instead, he’d heard that higher doses of ibogaine produced a bizarre trip lasting as long as 36 hours.

Uncertain of the veracity of the rumors, Lotsof gave the iboga powder to a friend. A month later, his friend called and excitedly told him the iboga powder was so revolutionary they had to “tell Congress” about it.

Lotsof then tried it himself. He said later his first experience with the drug was unlike anything he'd ever had. He recounted endless hours of weird visions such as dancing Neanderthals rolling a giant stone heart. He also swore he saw his own birth in reverse: He plunged back into his mother’s womb from a diving board.

When it was over, Lotsof noticed something odd: He was addicted to heroin. But after tripping on ibogaine, he felt no withdrawal -- and no craving. He later told a friend who published Lotsof’s story as a book.

“For the first time in months, I did not want or need to go cop heroin," the amazed Lotsof said. “I looked down the street, at the trees, the sky, my house, and realized that for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel afraid.”

He gave the drug to 19 friends, seven of whom were addicted to heroin. He said five of the seven reported their symptoms of dependence evaporated for up to six months after a single dose of ibogaine.

In 1982, Lotsof established a nonprofit and solicited donations to promote ibogaine. He filed a patent for the use of ibogaine in the treatment of addiction.

He went to Gabon and bought 40 kilograms of iboga root. Lotsof and Dutch researchers partnered then saw the publication of a 1988 study, confirming ibogaine attenuated opioid withdrawal in rats.

A later study in rats confirmed ibogaine’s effect on withdrawal and showed that ibogaine decreased self-administration of morphine, cocaine, methamphetamine and nicotine in the animals.

Drug Addiction Children who live in homes where drug abuse is prevalent are often at risk themselves. How can we prevent this cycle from occurring? Paula Bronstein/Getty Images

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