FAMILY: Apocynaceae (Dogbane Family); Subfamily Plumerioideae, Tabernaemontaneae Tribe
COMMON NAMES: Abona, Abonete, Aboua, Ahua (Pahuin), Bocca, Boccawurzel, Boga, Botola, Bugensongo (Ngala), Dibuga, Dibugi, Difuma (Eshira), Eboga (Fang), Eboga Bush, Eboghe, Eboka (“miracle wood”), Elahu (Mongo), Eroga, Gbana (Gbaya), Gifuma, Iboa, Ibo’a, Iboga (Galwa-Mpongwe/Miene), Ibogakraut, Ibogain-pflanze, Iboga Shrub, Ibogastrauch, Iboga Typique (Congo), Iboga Vrai, Ibogawortel (Dutch), Ibogawurzel, Ikuke (Mongo), Inado a Ebengabanga (Tshiluba), Inaolo a Ikakusa (Turumbu), Inkomi (Mono), Isangola, Leboka, Liboko (Vili/Yoombe), Libuga, Libuka, Lofondja, Lopundja, Mabasoka, Mbasaoka, Mbasoka (Mitsogo), Mbondo (Aka Pygmy), Meboa (Bakwele), Minkolongo (Fang), Moabi, Mungondo (Eshira), Obona, Pandu (Mongo), Sese (Fang), Wunderholz
An evergreen shrub, Tabernanthe iboga grows to a height of 1.2 m with a spread of 1.5 m. The stem is erect and branching; the leaves are dark green, opposite and narrowly ovate-acuminate; the flowers are white to yellowish and expand widely in a tubular formation. The yellowish root is the part of the plant which contains psychoactive compounds. A native of Gabon (Africa), it prefers well-composted, well-drained soils in a protected, partly shady area, and is drought and frost tender. It propagates by fresh seed or cuttings (Ratsch 1998, 490).
Ibogaine is a restricted substance (possession is illegal) in some countries, including the US, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium.
TRADITIONAL USES: Iboga is the basic entheogen of the Bwiti and other secret societies in Gabon and the Congo. It has been used in these areas and throughout West Africa since ancient times, and has long been held as a symbol of the power of the forest (Ratsch 1998, 489).
The Bwiti formed sometime around 1890, after a group known as the The Fang combined Christian beliefs with the ancestor ritual of the Apinji and Metsogo tribes, who had previously learned of Iboga from the Pygmies. The Bwiti cult branched off into numerous sects, each containing several communities that average around 50 people each. The sects delineate based on their degree of Christian influence. Iboga is used traditionally amongst the various Bwiti sects as the “one true sacrament”. The complex ceremonies and the tribal dances associated with Iboga vary greatly from locality to locality, but the application of the drug is fairly consistent (Samorini 1993).
According to natives, an initiate cannot enter the cult until he has seen Bwiti, and the only way to see Bwiti is to eat iboga. Within the group, iboga has several applications. Sorcerers take the medicine to seek information from the spirit world, and leaders of the group consume iboga for a full day before asking advice from ancestors. Hunters also use the medicine to stay alert and to revitalize themselves during extended hunts (Ratsch 1998, 489-490).
“Iboga is intimately associated with death: the plant is frequently anthropomorphized as a supernatural being, a “generic ancestor” which can so highly value or despise an individual that it can carry him away to the realm of the dead. Indeed, there are sometimes deaths from the excessive doses taken during initiations. The intoxication usually so interferes with motor activity that the initiates at first can only sit gazing intently into space, and eventually collapse and have to be carried to a special house or forest hideout. During this almost comatose period, the ‘shadow’ (soul) is believed to have left the body to wander with the ancestors in the land of the dead. The banzie (angels) – the initiates – relate their hallucinations as follows: ‘A dead relative came to me in my sleep and told me to eat it’; ‘I was sick and counseled to eat Iboga to cure myself’; ‘I wanted to know God-to know things of the dead and the land beyond’; ‘I walked or flew over a long multicolored road or over many rivers which lead me to my ancestors who then took me to the great gods'” (Hofmann et al. 1992, 113).
Another common theme is the giving of sermons by Bwiti priests at special temples that are reserved for iboga rituals. Before a priest gives his sermon, he often lies for hours after taking iboga in a “grave” until he is suitably inspired, at which point he ascends and delivers his nkobo akyunge, or “amazing words” (Fernandez 1966).
The ritualistic use of iboga has emerged in Europe and the United States as well. Certain groups are said to take cues from American mushroom circles and peyote meetings. Within these groups, iboga root is most often combined with 50 micrograms of LSD. Sometimes in these circles, the pattern will follow a medicine circle pattern – those sitting in the south take Trichocereus pachanoi, those in the east a species of Psilocybe mushroom, those in the west Ayahuasca, and those in the north iboga (Westerhout 1996 cited in Ratsch 1998, 492).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATIONS: There are several different methods preparations for iboga, all of which center around the root. In Gabon, ground or rasped iboga root is consumed or, less commonly, made into a tea. The root is always taken from live plants (in such a way that allows the plant to live and produce more root). In the Congo, iboga root is extracted into palm wine to produce a visionary beverage with aphrodisiac properties (Ratsch 1998, 491).
While just six to 10 g of the powdered root is considered to be a psychedelic dose, the initiation rites of the various Bwiti sects call for anywhere between 50 – 200 g. The smallest effective dose is a heaping teaspoon, though at that level iboga acts as more of a stimulant/euphoric than a psychedelic. 2 – 10 mg of plant matter per 1 kg of body weight produces a stimulating effect, though entirely different than that of amphetamine. 40 mg per 1 kg of body weight produces psychedelic effects. (Brenneisen 1994 cited in Ratsch 1998, 491).
Iboga root is sometimes combined with other plants, such as Cannabis, Alchornea floribunda, Elaeophorbia drupifera, and yohimbe. Many other plants yet to be identified are also traditionally used in tandem with iboga (Ratsch 1998, 491).
MEDICINAL USES: In addition to its visionary qualities, iboga has a variety of medical applications. The root has been used in West African folk medicine as a stimulant, tonic, and aphrodisiac for hundreds of years at least. It is also utilized to combat severe cases of nervous tension, as well as fever, high blood pressure, and toothaches, as it has anesthetic properties (Ratsch 1998, 492).
The Metsogo use iboga root as a medical diagnostic tool; it is thought to provide insight into illness. Iboga is used in the Congo to combat malaria. The French have claimed to have successfully used iboga root extract to treat myriad diseases, most notably syphilis and neurasthenia. Homeopathic medicine makes use of iboga root extract for a number of ailments as well (Ratsch 1998, 492-493).
The chief active component of iboga, ibogaine, is given to patients in special addiction clinics who are going through heroin withdrawl. It has also been used with success in reversing addictions to methadone, tobacco, cocaine, crack cocaine, and alcohol. However, since 2005, production of ibogaine has slowed to the point where it is not available as a treatment to most addicts seeking therapy worldwide (Vooglebreinder 2009, 323).
The substance was first introduced to modern psychotherapy as a “fantasy-enhancing drug” by the Chilean psychiatrist Claudio Naranjo in the 1960s. Ibogaine helps opiate addicts by calming the motor activity that is present as a result of their drug use. A chiropracter, Karl Naeher, states that “Ibogaine, when taken in one high dose by an opiate addict, drastically reduces withdrawal symptoms and, a the same time, causes a ‘trip’ that reveals such deep insights into the personal causes of the addiction that the majority of those who undergo this type of therapy can go for months without a relapse. But several additional sessions are required before a lasting stabilization is evident” (Hofmann et al. 1992, 113).
Iboga seems to alter addiction patterns by changing the part of the brain related to addictive or compulsive behavior, resulting in a complete erasure of cravings and withdrawal symptoms for up to six months. Patients also often find a new lease on life from their experience with iboga, and are able to make concrete, lasting changes (Voogelbreinder 2009, 323).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: There are several alkaloids present in iboga root; chief among them is ibogaine,which is responsible for the vast majority of the plant’s psychoactive properties.
Common themes amongst reports of iboga experience include a sense of interconnectedness with the forest, to the point where the sense of self and the forest cease to exist as separate entities, and, of course, connection with ancestors. The Fang describe iboga’s ability to merge the natural and supernatural realms, and the living and dead. According to several Westerners that have gotten a chance to try iboga root, the term ancestor can be taken broadly to include animals and the ancients. The effects of iboga usually last eight to twelve hours (Fernandez 1982).
Mild doses of iboga generally cause some CNS-stimulation, mild dissociation, and increased alertness and endurance. Fully active doses, which are generally only consumed once in one’s life, during the Bwiti initiation ceremony, cause nausea and vomiting early on, followed by agitation, termors, mood shifts, changes in blood pressure, and respiratory depression. About ten hours after consumption open-eyed visuals appear, followed by a lucid dreaming state in which the initiate is able to make contact with spirits and the ancestors (Sandberg 2009).
Deaths can occur with extremely high doses in weak or young people, although in a ritual setting the condition of the initiate is usually monitored and the ceremony stopped if the situation seems risky. Individuals with heart troubles or high-blood pressure are advised not to consume iboga (Sandberg 2009).
Bakalar, James B. and Lester Grinspoon. Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered. 1979. Web. 6 December 2009 <http://www.lycaeum.org/leda/docs/150.shtml?ID=150<>>.
Fernandez, J.W. Bwiti: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982.
———. “Unbelievably Subtle Words: Representations and Integration in the Sermons of an African Reformative Cult.” Journal of the History of Religions 6 (1966): 53–69.
Hofmann, A., Ratsch, C., Schultes, R., Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Rochester: Healing Arts Press, 1992.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Samorini, G. “Adam, Eve and Iboga.” Integration 5 (1993): 105–114.
Sandberg, Nick. “An Introduction to Ibogaine.” Web. 6 Dec. 2009 <http://www.ibogaine.co.uk/
Voogelbreinder, Snu, Garden of Eden: The Shamanic Use of Psychoactive Flora and Fauna, and the Study of Consciousness. Snu Voogelbreinder, 2009.