NIDA Curious About Ibogaine’s Potential

An African plant used by indigenous peoples in rites of passage contains a substance, Ibogaine, that many who’ve struggled with Opioid addiction claim has cured them of their condition.

Now the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is taking notice and working with a pharmaceutical startup to figure out exactly how Ibogaine and its analogues might best be used to beat drug dependency.

Recovered Drug User Praised Ibogaine

The healing power of Ibogaine has been a story whispered — and, occasionally, shouted — by individuals in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction for some time.

The late Howard Lotsof, a former Heroin user who became one of Ibogaine’s biggest advocates, was initially looking to get stoned when he tried Ibogaine.

The plan backfired, however, when the substance ended up relieving Lotsof of his addiction — permanently.

“The next thing I knew,” Lotsof declared to The New York Times after taking Ibogaine, “I was straight.”

According to the Times, Lotsof began a foundation hoping “to develop ibogaine as a medication, to disseminate information about chemical dependence and to refer people to treatment…[he helped to treat] 30 addicts from around the world, two-thirds of whom stopped using drugs for periods ranging from four months to four years.”

Taking The “Trip” Out Of Tripping

One reason some who live with problematic drug use haven’t taken Ibogaine (besides the fact that they may not know of its existence) is that the substance can produce powerful, disorienting, terrifying, and even ego-destroying hallucinogenic phenomena.

But the pharmaceutical startup now working with NIDA, Delix Therapeutics — based in Massachusetts — has made it their mission to create a chemical clone of Ibogaine that works just as well as the original does to treat Opioid dependency; the psychedelic component of the experience, however, could be removed entirely.

The “chemical clone” Delix Therapeutics is working on, called Delix-7, might work to stimulate neuroplasticity in the brain; in other words, it might help the brains of drug users to make new connections, learn in novel ways, and get out of cognitive or neural “ruts” that may be perpetuating addiction.

Research is unfolding at a breakneck pace as some of the brightest minds and most compassionate hearts around the globe work to solve a mystery of the inner puzzle of consciousness that, once reckoned, could spell relief for millions — at the same time, some voices are calling for temperance.

“We’re very excited about this as a possibility,” Dr. Wilson Compton, NIDA’s deputy director, said to Forbes. “But it remains very speculative and a possibility, not a reality.”

Grant Money Can Save Lives

Ultimately, it seems both the possibility of a breakthrough of such magnitude and what the world already knows about psychedelics like Ibogaine thus far have been enough to capture the imagination and ambition of a large part of the scientific community — and funding is starting to find its way into the pockets of the people holding the microscopes.

Not only is NIDA working with Delix Therapeutics, but the National Institutes of Health (NIDA’s parent agency) just this October endowed Johns Hopkins Medicine with a grant for the study of Psilocybin, another mind-altering compound credited with anti-addiction properties.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, “This is the first NIH grant awarded in over a half century to directly investigate the therapeutic effects of a classic psychedelic, consistent with a recent study published online that searched NIH funding and found zero grants were awarded between 2006 and 2020.”

Apparently, in the realm of addiction science and treatment, it’s the beginning of a new era. The moment couldn’t come too soon: over 100,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in the 12 months between April 2020 and April 2021.

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William Henken

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  • Will Henken earned a B.A. in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Central Florida. He has had his work published in the Orlando Sentinel, and has previous experience crafting copy for political action committees and advocacy groups dedicated to social justice. Addiction and mental health are personal subjects for him, and his greatest hope is that he can give a helping hand to those seeking healthy and lasting recovery.

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