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  • Writer's pictureMartin Polanco

The Ibogaine Experience: A Qualitative Study on the Acute Subjective Effects of Ibogaine.

Originally posted May 15, 2020

This is a recent study on the subjective effects of ibogaine as experienced by 21 individuals that went through a therapeutic treatment. The purpose of the study was to understand the effects of ibogaine and to learn about the internal processes of individuals while under its effects. The individuals had all gone through an ibogaine treatment for different purposes including for addiction detox and personal growth, at different locations and with various settings. They had all recently taken ibogaine and were interviewed months later while the memory of the experience was still fresh. The interviews were conducted from February to April 2016 and the study was done by Maja Kohek, Maurice Ohren, Paul Hornby, Miguel Ángel Alcázar‐Córcoles, José Carlos Bouso, published in 2020.

The study focuses on the effects of ibogaine according to the different stages of the ibogaine experience, it is divided into categories of the acute subjective effects of ibogaine: physical effects, sensory effects, visual effects, cognitive effects, auditory effects, adverse effects, anti-dependency agent, and after effects.

The ibogaine experience lasted from 24 hours to a maximum of 96 hours. The duration of the experience was perceived to be in stages. The first stage was described as physically uncomfortable and rough due to the ataxia (lack of movement coordination), intense nausea and vomiting, tachycardia, and the sensation of dying, lasting from 2 to 14 hours. The second stage is more physically comfortable, the person has more control over the body and can interact with the surroundings. It is the stage with the most visionary experiences, a dream-like state (although not always). This stage also was experienced as introspective and analytical. The third stage is when the experience starts to gradually end, ibogaine is still felt in the body, there’re less visions, and the person feels physically and psychologically exhausted. This stage lasts from 12 to 72 hours. The fourth stage is when the acute ibogaine experience has ended while the impact lasts for weeks or even months.

The following are the categories that were collected from what participants shared in the interviews about the physical and psychological effects of the ibogaine experience:

Physical effects that were experienced at the different stages:

  • Vibration in the body

  • Perception of weight -Heaviness of body

  • Perception of temperature -Hot/Cold

  • Lack of appetite

  • Lack of physical balance

  • Decrease of spatial orientation

  • Dizziness

  • Impaired motor control

  • Movement caused nausea and vomiting

  • Heart irregularities- tachycardia or bradycardia

  • Less common: gassy, constipation and tremors

  • With low dose: increase in stamina and libido

Visual effects during the ibogaine experience:

  • Open eyes: Some visual alterations with open eyes were reported. Some patterns and details of the external world were seen more vividly and with brightness which were not acknowledged before. The colors would appear more vibrant or could change. Some cases geometrical patterns (e.g., pink triangles, circles), fractals, or light trails were seen.

  • Closed eyes: A great part of the experience was happening internally. The visionary experience was like having a dream while being awake, was experienced by many individuals and described as profound images or movies playing out in the head. Most described the images as being very intense, rapid, and containing a lot of information, even unnecessary information, which was, in some cases, perceived as confusing. The content of the imagery could not be greatly influenced by the individual, however, the visuals would generally terminate with opening the eyes.

  • Ancestors and entities: Individuals reported seeing ancestors, who could be either ancestors they actually knew (deceased grandparents or parents) or rec- ognized ancestors they did not know personally.

  • Sceneries and landscapes: The landscapes seen in the visions were earthly and/or cosmic. Many felt like they were in space, seeing the earth and the moon. They traveled to continents like Europe, Asia, or America in different historical or futurist times. They were shown the history of the planet, the evolution of living beings, and the beginning of the universe itself. Less com- monly experienced were African themes.

  • Horrific scenarios: Common were feelings of impending doom and visions of apocalyptic scenes, or just darkness accompanied with a profound feeling of aloneness. The imagery was on occasion historical such as the mistreatment of women in the middle ages, or contemporary, like the controlling role of media and its influence on society. Sometimes futuristic scenarios of destruction on the planet were seen, such as scenes of wars, fires burning, and bloody images of dead animals and bodies.

  • Auditory effects: Most study subjects experienced enhanced auditory sensitivity and distortions like a buzzing sound or the sound of waves. If music was played individuals experienced increased music appreciation and felt more connected to it. In rare cases the music was disturbing due to bad recording or personal dislike of the chosen music.

  • Sensory effects: As the effects were getting stronger, the individuals got extremely sensitive to external stimuli such as light, sound, and smell. Also, touch and taste were affected. These sensations were often described as a “reset,” making subjects more susceptible to everything in the surroundings.

  • Cognitive effects: The individuals experienced wakefulness for at least 24 hours. This state was accompanied with enhanced analytical capabilities and thought connectivity where abstract and fluid thoughts were making seemingly unrelated ideas intertwined, resulting in an abundance of new and insightful ideas. This effect had an influence also on the increase of creativity experienced by most individuals, producing enhanced problem-solving capabilities, child-like fascination, increased appreciation of things, and an over- whelming feeling of profoundness. Among the most common cognitive effects was immersion and memory enhancement, which enabled the individual to easily access stored memories and recall them. Many individuals reported experiencing deep understanding of everything (e.g., the organization or structure of the universe, consciousness, everyday life, causalities) due to enhanced conceptual thinking. The information was perceived both in its entirety and in overwhelming detail. The individuals were very introspective, in a mindful, meditative-like state, with attention focused on the immediate experience. Some individuals experienced vomiting as part of “quieting the mind.” Time perception was distorted, as a feeling of timelessness or irrelevance of time.

  • Self-psychoanalysis enhancement: Most individuals described the experience as an accelerated psychoanalytical treatment. Many experienced an abreactive process or resolution of personal issues, either during or after the experience, by reliving a traumatic event emotionally, coming to terms with it and moving forward.

  • Observer quality: A number of individuals felt as if they were in a state of witnessing, a unique state of being emotionally distant from the personal imagery seen. This spectator quality of ibogaine is distinct from any other serotonergic hallucinogens.

  • Catharsis: Many individuals report seeing specific, very factual events in life, events from their childhood, relationship with parents or romantic partners and friends. The memory seen can be a traumatic event or simply a trivial memory of a seemingly insignificant event, yet one that influenced the individual one way or another. The focus is not on the trauma per se; the individual was not only remembering a specific memory but also gained insight into the culmination of events that led to it, how it developed, and what it caused. Such understandings lead to a more objective perception of the event and consequently changed the impact that the event had on the individual. Profound realizations about understanding one’s own behavior and the behavior of others were gained.

  • Ego dissolution (death and rebirth): Many individuals experienced a symbolic death and rebirth process. Usually it was connected to physical symptoms such as heart rate that triggered the fear of death. However, with the exception of one study subject, none of them was in actual risk. While some were conscious that they were not in a life-threatening situation but still experienced the fear, others truly believed they were going to die on the spot. Once they had accepted their own mortality and came to terms with it, the unpleasant physical effects generally subsided along with the very intense, confusing, and uncontrollable imagery.

  • Empathy, love, and prosocial behavior: A recurring effect was the suppression of personal bias, showing the individual the many aspects of the objective reality and allowing them to understand situations and events bias free. Such alterations were in many cases perceived as irreversible. Study subjects very commonly reported a prosocial quality of the experience. They felt great empathy for people by whom they were hurt and saw situations when they were the ones hurting others. The feelings that accompanied this experience were initially those of guilt and remorse, yet once they came to terms with it acceptance, forgiveness, and unconditional love followed. This not only helped them to reconnect with their loved ones and improve relationships in the work environment but also gave them a sense of understanding of one’s self and people in general.

  • Spiritual states:Spiritually, a sense of unity or interconnectedness was experienced by most. While many gained an understanding of spiritual roots, the source of life or life’s purpose, all agreed they had become better persons. Most importantly, the experience brought a sense of hopefulness for the future, especially in cases of drug dependence.

  • Anti-dependency agent:Treatment of drug abuse represented one of the most common reasons for taking ibogaine. Because the purpose of the study was to assess the acute subjective effects of ibogaine, we interviewed individuals who had recently taken ibogaine and still had a fresh memory of the experience. Six individuals took the ibogaine not more than 3 months before the interview. Long-term effects on craving or relapse, therefore, cannot be clearly determined yet. Up to the point of the interview, however, all of them were abstinent with no intent to return to previous lifestyles.

The effects of ibogaine are unique and are different from hallucinogens such as psilocybin, LSD, or ayahuasca with regard to the duration of the whole acute experience, the observer quality of the experience, and the long-lasting after-effects, as well as the anti-craving and anti-withdrawal properties. The categories of the acute effects found in the study may provide a better understanding of the subjective effects of iboga and ibogaine, in particular its potential in personal growth, prosocial behavior, psychotherapy, and anti-dependency treatments.

For the complete study published in Anthropology of Consciousness, follow the link “The Ibogaine Experience: A Qualitative Study on the Acute Subjective Effects of Ibogaine.”

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