Common names: Iboga; Black bugbane; le bois sacre (sacred wood)
Plant source: Tabernanthe iboga (perennial shrub with orange fruit)
Legal status in Canada:
- Tabernanthe iboga – legal, unscheduled
- ibogaine – legal, unscheduled
Being welcomed into the lives of the Yanomamo people has been surreal, but I have worried deeply about my presence influencing their culture, and I am ready to move on to the next phase of my journey. This time I feel ready to try another substance as well.
I have arrived in the Republic of the Congo in Africa to learn from those who practice Bwiti spirituality.
The Bwiti use Iboga heavily for ceremonies, as well as in small doses for less significant rituals and dances. It is also used as a stimulant to support hunting.
In the Western world, ibogaine, the main psychoactive substance present in iboga, is undergoing research for detoxification and cessation of addiction to other substances. It is legal in Canada, but as it’s a controlled substance in the United States research efforts have been slow to make progress. In addition to its perceived physical effects in counteracting chemical addiction, ibogaine users experience spiritual growth and positive psychological exploration, further contributing to psychological change necessary to prolong the discontinuation of an addiction.
Tabernanthe iboga is native to the rainforests of western Central Africa, and has been used traditionally by adherents of Bwiti spirituality.
Botanical aspects and preparation
Tabernanthe iboga is a shrub that can grow into a small tree with pink or white flowers and distinctive orange fruits. The bark of the roots is consumed to produce hallucinogenic effects and it is usually eaten or chewed in shredded form.
Chemical constituents and neural action
The pharmacological activity of iboga is caused by ibogaine it contains. Ibogaine is an indole alkaloid that exerts its effects on many different neurotransmitters. It is a stimulant at low doses, while higher doses will produce hallucinations and dissociation.
After spending some time in the Congo staying in the home of a kind Bwiti follower, who seemed like a happy, healthy soul, I felt truly ready for a new journey into an alternate plane of consciousness. With no other tourists partaking of the iboga alongside me, I felt reassured by the ease and comfort with which the adherents of Bwiti spirituality talked about their experiences (at least, the translator made it seem as if they were all very at ease).
I would not have the privilege of participating in a true ceremony, but the friends I had made agreed to share some iboga with me and support me in my experience. We gathered in the early evening, and after settling in I was handed an unappetizingly large pile of shredded root bark. As I chewed it, I felt my mouth going numb, and was assured that this was a normal part of the process. It tasted earthy and bitter. I’m still waiting for one of these plant medicines to taste good!
We sat together quietly waiting for the visions to begin, and we waited so long (at least an hour) that I nearly feel asleep. Before I dozed off I began to feel heavy in my body, alternating with an odd feeling of being weightless. High pitched noises came and went, which I perceived to be auditory hallucinations. My visual hallucinations were somewhat indistinct. The objects in the room flickered, and cracks seemed to form in my field of vision. I sat peacefully observing my new environment for what seemed like a couple of hours. At this point a beautiful feeling came over me. It was a pure lucidity, a oneness with the world and an acceptance of myself as I was. It was as if I had died and decided to forgive myself, and I looked back on my life and explored the edges of my soul as a non-judgmental being.
The feelings and the hallucinations made for a state that was peaceful and comfortable to maintain for the 6 hours the effects lasted until peaking and subsiding. Happy tears fell from my eyes as I embraced the Bwiti people who had accepted me and shared this beautiful gift.