Many of my patients struggle with the affliction of opioid addiction year after year. Getting clean for a month or two, sometimes weeks, relapse and repeat is just par for the course. For most, it becomes a never ending pattern of defeat and misery. There has been a lot of research done on why this particular addiction is so hard to beat but the answer remains unclear, amidst a nation wide race to at least slow down the destruction opiate addiction leaves in its path. An opioid epidemic, some call it, sweeping across this vast country, affecting almost everyone. Pure desperation has led to researchers looking for more alternative possibilities, in the least of all likely corners of the earth. Is is possible that a rock unturned, literally a plant based solution has been available all along?
Theories on why opiate addiction is almost impossible to kick range from neuro-researchers poiting towards changed reward pathways in the brain to psychologists studying family dynamics. I sometimes wonder if its just unlucky genes...a bad hand of biological cards that drives the addict's seeming inability to walk away from the dragon. "Chasing the dragon", an old term to describe the seductive highs and lows of opiate dependence. Recently research as well as compelling anecdotal evidence has risen to the surface with information about a mysterious but naturally accruing psychadelic drug with the power to rewrite neuro-pathways in the bran, resetting it to a pre-addicted state after just one very high dose.
Research that apparently has been around since the 1960s but ignored, suppressed or at the very least avoided due to government restrictions and societal perception on mind altering substances. The information coming out now is so powerful, that the FDA has approved second clinical trials of research at university's NYU and John Hopkins to continue testing on how potent psychedelic drugs can treat common but debilitating mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and yes....addiction. Sound too good to be true? Lets find out more.
Medically Assisted Treatment for Opiate Addiction
There is so much anguish and desperation. Failed attempts, overdoses, near death experiences and then the rehabs and programs....nothing works. Methedone, Suboxone and anti-depressants are the most common medically assisted maintenance programs to get heroine addicts clean and stay clean but some argue that even then its not true sobriety because one crutch has been traded in for another.
As a doctor of psychology and licensed clinical psychologist specializing in substance abuse, specifically opiate addiction, I have to say that so far Suboxone is by far the closest we have come to keeping opiate addicts alive and out of institutions long-term. Unfortunately, the stigma surrounding Suboxone is still based on dated misinformation and judgement without clinical basis, making it so that even those who are living successfully on Suboxone, experience shaming from others and internal conflict due to still being on "something" or "not really being clean". For more information on the misconception of Suboxone maintence treatment long-term, check out this short clip on how Suboxone saves lives.
Is There a More Natural Alternative for Addiction Treatment?
What if there is an alternative treatment for opiate addiction that isn't accessible in the United States? Rumors and urban legend tell stories of a friend of a friend who finally got sober with the help of a highly potent psychedelic drug that has the power to rewire our pleasure circuitry, tell the brain it no longer needs heroine. Are these stories true or just a scam created to take advantage of an already down-and-out community? Or perhaps, wishful thinking that there is an answer that can once and for all put an end to this hell on earth.
Word Of Mouth
Here is one story in the words of a recent patient of mine that made me question whether or not there could be something to these whispers of an alternative treatment to opioid addiction. Anecdotal at best.....or perhaps a clue to the answer so many of us are searching for.
Miracles of the Earth
How Ibogaine / Plant Medicine Saved My Life
"I do not believe that I was born an addict. I don’t be believe I was destined from the beginning to live a life of misery, fear, and destruction. However, despite my best efforts, that’s exactly where I ended up. For one reason or another, my life was a constant battle against fears and trauma’s that I clung too from the past. These fears dictated my behavior, and I suffered greatly. I became a prisoner to my thoughts and a slave to getting high. Down the rabbit hole I went, to the depths of a bonafide junkie. From this emerged numerous bottoms which would produce attempts to reclaim myself. Each one bringing new promises and new resolves; and although genuine at the time, they never seemed to hold much water."
"Traditional rehab would give me brief moments of clarity and clean time. But my obsession never left. It was as if I truly felt like I had no choice in my decision making. The smallest impulse to use would send me into full blown obsession which always lead to a relapse. This pattern was demoralizing and made me question my ability to do anything. Ten rehabs later, I was desperate. I could not understand why this was not clicking for me. I had watched other friends of mine get and stay sober, so why couldn’t I? They told me that I should be on Suboxone for the rest of my life. I could not accept that."
"Suddenly, I was called by Ibogaine, an ancient plant medicine known for it’s ability to treat addiction. A friend of mine had recently received Ibogaine treatment and told me that it was something I needed to do right away if I wanted a real chance at living out a healthy life. I was very intrigued. As someone who holds a strong belief towards the benefits of Entheogen’s, I was quick to look into this option. I researched. I learned that Ibogaine is the main psychoactive alkaloid in the Tabernanthe Iboga shrub which grows in central western Africa. The Bwiti tribe have used Iboga for centuries, using it as a ceremonial initiation plant. In the early 1960’s, Ibogaine was recognized in the USA for it’s powerful ability to ‘interrupt’ addictions, specifically to Opiates, Cocaine, and Alcohol. Of course, it was made illegal due to it’s psychedelic properties. However, enough people recognized it’s incredible ability to dissolve addiction patterns and it’s research and use continued to be utilized in Ibogaine Clinics around the world."
"It became understood that Ibogaine resets the brains neurotransmitters and restores damaged receptor sites to a pre-addicted state.
I made a decision. I felt like there was something to this Ibogaine treatment and I was ready to find out. Within no time, the plans were put together and I was packing a bag with a one-way ticket to San Diego, where I would drive across the boarder into Mexico. Was I nervous? Yes. Going to another country to take a non regulated plant medicine was not somewhere I saw myself ending up. Something about it felt right though, and I had high hopes for this treatment."
"The treatment center sat in a beautiful villa along the pacific ocean called Holistic Hope House. It was a cozy place with professional nursing staff which put me immediately at ease. And so it began, a week long deep cleanse of the body in preparation for the plant medicine. A non gmo all organic diet, no processed foods, raw juice cleanse, three organic coffee enemas daily, as well as Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide (NAD) I.V therapy daily. At the same time, being slowly tapered off of opiates using morphine. They even took me for a stress test, echocardiogram, and EKG to make sure I was a good candidate for the treatment. They have developed this protocol over many years with outstanding results. Although not easy at times, they told me the preparation is a sacrifice to the plant in return for a beautiful experience and a
new way of life."
"This preparation went on for a full 7 days, which at the end, left me feeling cleaner than I have ever felt in my entire life. But that was just the beginning.
The eighth day I was ready for Ibogaine. My GI track was aligned and clean and my liver was expunged of toxins and ready to absorb the plant medicine. They laid me in bed, fit me to a heart monitor, and placed headphones on my ears and blinders on my eyes. I took the first capsule of Ibogaine, swallowed it, and sat back to relax."
"Over the next 4 hours, I would take another 4 doses of Ibogaine, bringing me deeper and deeper into the experience. An experience that can only be explained as divine. An engulfing, ultra-spiritual ocean of lessons to harness and discover. The ability to observe ones patterns from a third party perspective. A beautifully intense experience which demands respect. Some hours later, I ‘awoke’ from the experience feeling worn out and exhausted. But something was different. Not only did the thought of doing a drug disgust me, but I had no withdrawals whatsoever. The obsession and the withdrawal had been lifted over night, literally."
"My Ibogaine experience remains the most profound experience of my life. I was able to successfully move on from my Ibogaine treatment with a completely new outlook on recovery and being sober. Ibogaine plugged me into a spiritual belief system that keeps me going every day, which is a piece of the puzzle I was never able to form on my own prior. For the first time in a long time, I actually felt alive and in touch with myself and my surroundings. Suddenly nutrition was important to me. Treating my body like the temple that it is finally made sense to me. I was able to shed the negative people out of life with no hesitation. Ibogaine gave me new eyes to see."
"The treatment reintroduced me to my soul and gave me an actual choice in life. Combined with further efforts, Ibogaine treatment saved my life, and I feel obliged to pass the message on to other addicts like me. I pray more addicts find Ibogaine and able to escape the maze of addiction once and for all."
Ibogaine Compared to other Treatments for Mental Health
After hearing Steve's story, I was hopeful but skeptical. Typically speaking, when you hear about a quick, pricey and permanent
cure to any type of mental health condition, I know better. So I decided to do a little of my own research. Here is a brief synopsis of what I found.
Ibogaine has been shown to work for some people and for some people not, just like other forms of mental health/substance abuse treatment, for example, inpatient rehab, outpatient rehab, anti-depressants, Suboxne and traditional 12-step programs like Narcotic Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous or the new cognitive behavioral based program Smart Recovery(www.SMARTRecovery.org). So far, Suboxone still has the highest success rate but there isn't a clinical research or empirical data that has been produced as of yet to support or challange the anecdotal evidence that psychadelics like Ibogaine actually work. That could be changing as we speak. Big universities like New York University and Johns Hopkins now have the green light from the FDA to continue on to second clinical trials. They must be confident that they are on to something big, otherwise they wouldn't being devoting so much time and money to looking for a better alternative treatment for addiction, depression and anxiety.
How Ibogaine Works
Bare with me. The following explanation is complex and to be honest, the article in The New York Times describing the mechanism of action of Ibogaine was ambitious at best. In summary, heroin disrupts receptors in your brain making it next to impossible to stop using because your brain thinks opiates are a necessity. The more an addict continues to use heroine, the hungrier the brain receptors become. In fact, they tell the addicted brain it is starving for more opiates. Ibogaine takes the hunger away by resetting receptors back to their pre-heroin state, much like a computer or cell phone which can be reset to go back to its original settings before viruses and malware disrupted its operating system creating dysfunction. Called an “addiction interrupter,” Ibogaine simply interrupts the chemical addiction, so it removes withdrawal and craving symptoms.
That being said, as you just read, Steve was weaned off of opiates and his systems was flushed before the actual Ibogaine "trip" so whether or not Ibogaine actually stops withdrawl is difficult question to be answered by an addiction specialist physician. Ultimately though, now that the brain has been rewired and no longer believes it needs opiates, life can resume in a productive and healthier way.
It should be mentioned briefly here that a recent article discussing this process specifically talks about how powerful psychadelics are now being studied and have shown to at least temporarily quiet the part of the brain we know as the "ego". A term coined by Sigmund Freud to describe the part of our brain which cares about what other people think and constantly works to make sense of the world based on how we view ourselves. In other words, that constant chatter criticizing ourselves, speculating other people's motives and trying to determine how we measure up. Researchers are now trying to find a way to reset the brain back to our "original"selves before the world and life "got in the way."
The Power of Thought When Combatting Addiction
One more questions remains in my mind. Why is it that there are so many different types of treatments available for addiction and sometimes they work for different people and sometimes they don't. Or perhaps nothings seems to work for one person the first three times and then boom something clicks and they get sober for 10+ years!
How can this be explained? Some argue it has to do with loved ones no longer enabling the addicted individual. Some addicts themselves have told me they just got sick of their lives the way it was. Perhaps a neurologist would explain that their brain chemistry shifted. As a believer in the power of thought and mind over matter theories such as cognitive behavioral therapy, I understand that if you believe your "healer" has the power to help you, if you believe a placebo drug has helped many before you, there is a direct impact on recovery.
I know as a clinical psychologist the most important beginning steps of psychotherapy is to build rapport and establish trust and confidence in the patient. Why? Because if the patient likes, trusts and believes the therapist "knows what they are doing" then the research shows that patient is more likely to experience a reduction in symptoms and improve.
The Search for a Cure to Opioid Addiction
Is it possible if you really believe Ibogaine is going to rid you are the rotting disease of addiction, and deep down inside that human being is ready to change, perhaps traveling to a mysterious and uncharted destination across the border, taking a natural and mind-altering substance can jump start him/her into thinking differently about ourselves, others and the world around us? And that change in thinking changes the behavior and the change in behavior changes the life? Its one possibility among many in the search for a cure for addiction... certainly worth looking more deeply into.
Rest In Peace Steve
If you would like to speak with an addiction specialist about possible treatment options, schedule an appointment with us today.
Written by: Blair H. Mor, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
MorMindful Therapy & Psychiatry
For more information, check out this article recently published in the New York Times called: The New Science of Psychadelics