Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Ibogaine to treat addiction

 July 6, 2022 at 6:00 AM PDT

S1: From KPBS and Pyrex as stories port of entry.
S2: Where we tell cross-border stories that connect us. I'm Natalie Gonzalez.
S1: Easily Alan Lilienthal.
S3: I started kind of praying and I thought I was going to die , to be honest.
S4: There's no going back.
S2: Or willing to change your mind.
S5: It's like it takes you to a different dimension. I could I all I could feel through my entire body in my head was this intense vibration. Like it was the Earth's vibrational frequency. Like I could hear it and feel it , you know ? And I mean.
S1: Maybe just once. Oh , no , it's. It's , um. It's not something that you want. It will want to repeat.
S2: These folks are talking about their experiences with Ibogaine , a psychedelic plant based medicine that some believe can help people addicted to opiates. Detox , sometimes , if they're lucky , in just one dose.
S1: Now , we all know that drug addiction is a major issue in this country , and in recent years , it's only gotten worse.
S2: The pandemic and social isolation caused fentanyl to be everywhere. And the Centers for Disease Control says in the 12 month period ending in November 2021 , more than 100,000 people died in this country of drug overdoses.
S1: That's up 16% over the past year.
S2: And those numbers don't even account for the people whose lives are broken , marriages and businesses and families destroyed and everything because of addiction.
S1: Yeah , it is a crisis , no doubt , but it's really hard to get off opioids. Withdrawal is heavy and relapses are very common for many people struggling with addictions of all kinds. They are desperate for a cure , a way to get clean and go on with their lives. Meet Tim.
S5: I am Timothy Martin from Philadelphia. I've been a poly substance abuser my almost my whole life. I smoked pot , did coke , meth , acid , dust , PCP. I didn't get addicted to any of them. I was able to stop and start at will. But all of them. But opiates is an actual physical addiction and it's a whole different animal.
S2: So team was ready to make a change. He did a ton of research on the Internet , on Reddit , and decided that Ibogaine , a treatment that has not gone through real scientific review , has significant risks and is actually legal in the US. Was his answer.
S5: Because my girlfriend says , I like when I make a decision , I just make it and I'm doing it. So one day I was like , I'm done with Suboxone. I'm doing this ball go. And that's that.
S2: He found the clinic in Rosarito.
S5: Just research in different , different clinics. And I wanted to Rosarito as opposed to like Cabo or something like that because I don't want to have to fly internationally , you know. I'd rather drive or walk across the border , if possible.
S2: Ibogaine is a super potent substance extracted from the roots of a plant native to Africa. It was used traditionally by some African tribes for medicinal and ritual purposes.
S1: In the 1960s , a young heroin addict in the US discovered the drug caused his opiate cravings to disappear with few withdrawal symptoms. Since then , some have championed the drug in the fight against addiction.
S2: Like we said , it is not legal in the US or in most of the world.
S1: It is fully legal in New Zealand , in Canada and a few other countries. Ibogaine is a controlled substance , available by prescription only.
S2: In Tijuana and Baja , California. The dozen or so clinics that treat patients with ibogaine are unlicensed and unregulated. Team arrived in San Diego last year on a flight from Philadelphia. We met him at the airport.
S1: How's it going ? What's your name ? Tim. Tim. Nice to meet you. Welcome to San. Diego.
S5: Diego. Thank you. Looks beautiful. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. Same here. Yeah.
S5: Yeah. Yeah. I've never been this far west. I lived in Arizona for a little while , but my first time in California.
S1: First time in California. First time in Mexico.
S2: Team was crossing the border to get ibogaine treatment for his drug addiction.
S1: This is Port of entry.
S2: Today , we continue with stories about crossing the border to change minds.
S1: In this episode , a story about people who cross the border searching for a cure for opioid addiction.
S2: Stay with us.
S1: Someone's pronto. I know someone. Estamos a regreso con port of entry.
S2: Jimmy is a working class guy from Philly with a shaved head , a beard and a sleeve of tattoos. Tim says in his mind he doesn't have a drug problem. He has an opioid problem.
S5: So in 2008 , I developed an addiction to OxyContin and that got like really , really bad. My oxycodone habit was probably seven or $800 a day. HAMMER Jesus. Yeah , I was taking it off to kill a horse. Wow. Yeah.
S1: I do sustain that. That's a lot of money.
S5: I was selling them to pay for them. And then in 2013 , 2014 , I started taking Suboxone. And I've been on Suboxone ever since. And I never realized what a nightmare it is to get off of Suboxone.
S1: Suboxone is a medication used to treat opioid addiction. But like Tim says , it has its own addiction issues.
S5: You know , like I was always a functional addict. I maintained a job the whole time , paid my bills. You know , I even even built my credit. But the Suboxone got me back to total , normal life. You know , I wasn't run in the street selling drugs at tonight and waking up in the morning and going to work. So I was just living a normal life , waking up , going to my 9 to 5 , coming home , doing what normal people do , you know. But next thing you know , almost ten years went by. You know , it's 20 , 21 now. And like , that just blew my mind when I thought about it. I don't want to be on Suboxone in my fifties or sixties. You know , I'm 46 now , so.
S2: But ibogaine is wisdom in that doesn't work if you're trying to get off Suboxone. So in order to do the treatment , he went back to opioids for the 60 days before he came to Rosarito. And even when he arrived.
S5: I was high the day I went in. I don't know how much it took , like 350 , maybe 400 milligrams of oxycodone before I went. I was popping them at the border and then I threw my stats away at the border.
S1: At the border on the Mexican side to meet up with a clinical psychologist , a guy named Armando Camacho.
S5: Yes , sir. Hey , Amanda. Nice to finally meet you.
S1: How you guys.
S5: Doing ? Good. Good.
S1: Hey , if this show on the.
S2: Driving through the streets of Tijuana team in Armando headed to the neighborhood called Baja Malibu , near the beach where the clinic is located. And Tim wanted to know how Armando got involved with Ibogaine.
S1: I became through Airbnb. What ? See , Armando is a psychologist , but he also has a side gig as an Airbnb host. A few years ago , one of his guests got stuck in a ditch. Like , really , really stuck. We were like , he was in a ditch. It was like a really bad ditch.
S2: And as they waited 4 hours for a truck to come to pull this guy out of the ditch , the Airbnb guest told Armando all about this Ibogaine clinic where he was working and convinced him to come check it out.
S1: So Armando went to the clinic and met a woman who was struggling with heroin addiction. And when I saw her , she. She looked like a zombie. She. I just see her face. And it was just like. Like it was bad , you know ? It was bad. She said , I feel like I've been doing I've been trying to get off of this thing for almost 20 years now and nothing has worked out.
S2: Amanda worked in more traditional drug rehab clinics at the time. He knew all about the 12 steps and how rehab worked or didn't work , so he was skeptical. And then he saw this woman after her ibogaine trip.
S1: And then I went back in three days. Completely different person. Just her attitude. And she was happy and she was you know , she was she was a completely different energy. And I told everyone I want in. I like I want to , you know , help people. I yeah , I want in. This is Bob Marley. Yes , this is the.
UU: One of the entrance to it. Yeah.
S5: Yeah. This is cute. Looks like good surfing. They look like good tacos , too.
S1: Looks like a very fancy community. Were entering through a gate and. Yeah , it looks very well designed. Well built. Very new , right ? Yeah.
S5: That's a gorgeous view. Yes.
S1: Yes. This is all the clinic , five acres. We have a lot of projects we have. We wanted to continue care. We want to build a house here for people that are not ready to go back to home yet. We want to build a pathway so you can go around the clinic on a bill to jam. We have the sun , we have a Jacuzzi. We'll give you a tour. I'm not going. Yeah. The clinic is like a beautiful spa overlooking the Baja coastline. Take a quote. Transformation vacation , the website says Where Natural Medicine meets spa.
S2: But it is pricey. A seven day treatment at this place will run you about $8,000. And of course , none of that is covered by insurance because , well , it's illegal in the U.S..
S1: But , yeah , this is this is pretty much one of the biggest rooms we have where we've had famous rappers twerking all over the place and in addition to the sauna and Jacuzzi. The psychologist and reportedly great food. The clinic is staffed by doctors and EMTs who put clients through a series of tests before they are administered the drug.
S2: And the clinic is equipped with crash carts in case of possible serious cardiac side effects from ibogaine. Yeah.
S1: Yeah. And over here on this side , we have most of the rooms will be this one. They're just getting it ready. Yeah. Nice sound. Yeah. Oh , yeah. And you have. You'll have an ocean view. There is little scientific or medical research on the efficacy of the drug in curing or treating addiction. And there are risks. Again , it's not legal in the U.S. so it is very difficult to carry out the kinds of tests and trials that need to be done to even get close to legalizing the treatment in the U.S..
S2: Ibogaine is categorized as a Schedule one drug in the U.S. , which means it is a drug with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. One of the few people who has studied ibogaine treatment for drug detox is Thomas Kingsley Brown , a researcher at UC San Diego. He followed 30 people for a year after undergoing ibogaine treatment for addiction at a clinic in Bath.
S1: He says anyone considering crossing the border for ibogaine treatment should make sure the clinic is taking adequate safety precautions there.
S6: There is some horrible toxicity where they have a game and preferably during treatment. There should be someone who is trained as an EMT or or a medical doctor.
S2: Brown estimates that since the early 1960s , at least 30 people have died after taking ibogaine. Maybe not directly as a result of the drug , but as Brown puts it , that's secured in close temporal proximity , like pretty much around the same time as taking the drug.
S1: At the same time , he also estimates that between 15 and 20,000 people have been treated safely with ibogaine. Do you want to do the honors ? Well , as a our patient , our staff patient , Johnny , for that. So , John , by your experience.
S5: This one , this one , this one.
S1: Was a screamer. Ibogaine.
S4: Ibogaine. So I could tell you that I did a lot of different treatment centers I've been using for over 15 years and I just chronic relapsed or chronic just relapse. Relapse , relapse.
S2: Johnny is from New York , as you might have figured out. He had quite a story to tell of his addiction and treatment.
S4: I was a heroin addict. Oh , yeah. Serious , serious heroin addict. I , I when I get clean , usually I switch it to Xanax and wine. Like , every time I get clean , I still have withdrawals , so I have to take something.
S1: This time he tried ibogaine and like a lot of other people who trip on ibogaine , he says it gave him visions of people in his past and helped him realize why he had sunk into addiction.
S4: Everything , just like opening up things that like from my relationships to me always like thinking that I'm like sneaking around , but really I'm just screwing myself over. It was just like a life changing experience. I saw a lot of things in my past that just popped up. Like , it's just flashes. Flashes , and everything's fast. It's like a train ride. It's quick , quick , quick , quick , quick. And , you know , obviously always my worst enemy and like everything I did. But when it's like pictures in your face and boom , boom , boom. And , you know , I just feel like a ton of energy now. Like , I want to I have zero urge to use opiates. It's brand new , it's fresh. But I know that it's like a good base , a good start to work off of. But the best thing is I have zero withdrawals whatsoever , which is a miracle. And I'm ready to move forward in my life and do the best they could possibly do.
S2: So we met another client at the clinic. His name is Valentino Meet and from Phoenix. He is tall , he is merino and wear skull gauges and he's ear loops with black hair pulled back into a membrane.
S1: He went into the treatment skeptical , thinking some plant from Africa was not going to help him. But he definitely had a crazy trip that brought up all kinds of visions from his past.
S3: I don't know if it was the devil or of my own negativity. It was some type of evil presence that was like trying to tell me all these evil thoughts and evil like people are trying to hurt me and people are out and I'm not good enough. And I said , I told him , I told God. I was like , If you're ready to take me , I'm ready to go. But just know that if you could forgive me of all my sins , and that's when everything kind of like slowed down. And then it was like more like , I can feel the presence of God. So it's kind of like it was that little judgment. First I went to hell , then I went to heaven. And then I just asked God if he could just. Just take this , this this high , this high away. Like , I don't want to feel this. This no more is too too great. It's too intense on the brain.
S1: So what happened to Tim on his trip ? And what about Johnny and Valentino ? No.
S2: And Angela ? So we met up with Tim after his seven days at the Ibogaine Clinic in Rosarito.
S1: He described how they got him ready for the ibogaine trip , checking his heart and vitals , figuring out the dosage. Cleaning ceremony with Sage. And then he tripped.
S5: The most intense trip of my life. Like I don't even know how to describe it. It's like it takes you to a different dimension. I could. I all I could feel through my entire body in my head was this intense vibration. Like it was the Earth's vibrational frequency. You know , you can think a little clearer and you start reflecting back on your entire life , you know ? I mean , and I was always an angry , like kid. So , like , where do where does anger come from ? 15 years older. You know , to me.
S2: He uncovered memories. His dad was a Vietnam vet with PTSD , he says , and his mom was not well either.
S5: It was the ibogaine that made me think at all and go all the way back as far as I can remember , to maybe five or six years old , you know. And that's where the anger started , because I had no no parental unit at all from five on , you know. So I just got angry and nobody could tell me anything. So , like , I literally processed all that. I cried , man. I sat there. I cried for a while. And I talked to my mom and dad and I let it go.
S1: Tim was happy with the end results of his ibogaine trip.
S5: Absolutely did everything I wanted it to do. And more and more because now I realize the things I got to work on all my life. So yeah , when I get home , I'm going to get a therapist. I got to talk to my girl because all my girlfriends , I've always been kind of closed off because I've always just I never let anybody help me. I always depended on me and me alone. I'll get it done , you know ? So I kind of keep people at bay a little bit. So I'm going to go home , sit down with my girl , explain everything to her , and work on getting calls , you know , developing a deeper relationship with her. I was already done with it. I was already done with it. That's what I why I was on Suboxone , but I just couldn't get off of the Suboxone. I was desperate to get off the Suboxone. Now that I'm free , all that it never turning back ? No.
S2: When it comes to drug addiction , it is rarely something that you are done with.
S6: The addiction is one of those really intractable sorts of problems. And that is why ibogaine is such a breakthrough treatment , is that the standard treatments simply don't work very often.
S2: That's Tom Brown , the researcher from UC San Diego , who recruited 30 people and followed them for one year after ibogaine treatment.
S1: In his very small study , he found ibogaine really works in taking withdrawal symptoms away or reducing them a lot.
S6: And the other finding that we had was that primarily their opioid use dropped dramatically from the time that they were treated for 12 months. So at one month the effect was quite dramatic and that effect was effectively sustained for 12 months following treatment.
S1: But relapse has happened all the time. How people responded to those relapses was super important. Most addicts will go back to using , Brown says.
S6: And so it's it's good to look at it as as an in a way as a as a harm reduction approach. That is , people will use less. They will go with longer periods of time with being abstinent. They will also have more control over whether they get a use or not.
S2: Few months after we met up with Valentino and Johnny at the clinic. Check in. Hi.
S6: Hi. You've reached Jonathan Thorne. Please leave the details message and he will get right back to you. Thank you and have a great day.
S1: Hey , Jonathan , this is Alan. We met at the center in Baja , where you were leaving after your ibogaine sessions that you had. I just wanted to check up on you and see how you're doing. See how the past few months have been since you left. If you can give me a call back , I hope you're doing all the peace.
S2: We never heard back.
S1: We did find Valentino , the guy from Phoenix. Hi.
S1: We met in in in Baja when he was leaving the ibogaine center.
S6: Oh , okay. Hold on.
S1: Alan , right. Yes. From KPBS.
S3: So I kind of messed up a little bit and I went through another little treatment. Okay.
S1: Okay.
S3: But I'm sober right now and everything's good. But I'm just I'm still kind of kind of struggling.
S2: Valentino's that his issue was the mental part of the addiction journey. He said the physical cravings were gone , but he was still kind of stuck in his old ways.
S1: Yeah , his mom confirmed that she actually reached out to me a couple of weeks after I talked to Valentino.
S1: You texted me a few weeks ago. I'm the person from KPBS who was in who talked to your son about his ibogaine treatment.
S6: They're going to say what they that we want. You know , they want what we want to hear. But the reality of it is , the same day my son came home , he used to.
S1: Really ? Yes.
S6: Same day. The same day we came. We used because the parents are going to know the truth. Just like my son gave you all these high hopes and years and years. But that's not really the parents are going to really know what they're really up to. That's why I went back and I found your number and I actually called a couple of different numbers that were not you. Mm hmm. And then I found you , and then I'm like , I'm going to let you know that they're going to see the world and they're clean and like my son did. And it was nothing clean. But if you hear it from the parents , then they'll tell you what's really going on. Skittles. Mm hmm. You know , he's ashamed. Of course he's a chef. He's not going to say I went right back to the streets.
S2: Valentino was in jail when his mom called us , and she hopes he stays there and gets clean. Hello.
S1: Hello.
S5: No trouble.
S1: Hey , there's Tim. Yeah.
S5: Yeah.
S1: Since we last saw you. Oh.
S5: Oh. You know , this could seem well , I mean , it's cold as hell here right now , so it's a little miserable. But , yeah , I've been doing good.
S1: Tim actually dosed himself with a , quote , booster of ibogaine after he got home. He was still experiencing some withdrawal symptoms like restless leg , and he felt he needed some extra help.
S2: As we have said , ibogaine can be risky and it's not legal , so don't try this at home.
S5: So I did it again and it was interesting for my girl. She was like , holy. But yeah. So after that , like , I just like stopped drinking or eating any caffeine and sugar. I mean , it brought up like , almost every drama , you know ? And she was right here next to me while I was doing it. So. And a lot of that came up , and my girl didn't know , like , all that much about my life , my younger life , like because she's 22 years younger than me , as a senior , knows about like my teenage years , my twenties or my thirties. And a lot of that came up.
S1: He's clean , he's happy. He and his girlfriend are talking and communicating and they're , frankly , searching for ways to keep improving the relationship and themselves. Next , they want to go to Peru , he says , to try ayahuasca.
S5: I want to do ayahuasca , to be honest. I don't know. I don't know who the hell I am. And most people don't. We've been conditioned from birth to be whatever this is. You know , like , I talk a lot. Me and my girlfriend , we tell people , like , you realize you've never had an original thought in your life , right ? Like , people don't really understand that that's true. So , yeah , I don't even know who I am. And I and from what I understand , you Bulgar and ayahuasca kind of help you tune in into that. I guess you would call it the spirit realm.
S1: On the next episode of Port of Entry.
S6: We are making something happen in a way that we are being told all the time shouldn't be. Possible.
S2: Possible.
S6: And we are proving that it is possible.
S2: We talk with the directors and creators of an interactive , bilingual theatre experience called the Full Theatre Project in Business.
S1: They are lugares sobre la possibilité controller's asterisk TV , Amazon , La Frontera. We also learned some of the perks and challenges of being a fronteriza artist and trying to display your art in a place far away from home. This episode of Port of Entry was written and produced by Elisa Barba with help from Kinsey Moreland.
S2: Alhambra Lobos is the director of Sound Design.
S1: Elisa Barba is also our editor.
S2: Lisa marie Set is operations manager and John Ducker is Interim Associate General Manager of content.
S1: This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting , a private corporation funded by the American people. So you are on TV and then.
S2: You just say not allowed on that list , which I guess is.

Tim and Armando at the Rosarito Ibogaine clinic.
Kinsee Morlan
Tim and Armando at the Rosarito Ibogaine clinic.
Thousands of people cross the U.S.-Mexico border every year to take a psychedelic known as ibogaine. But this isn’t for pleasure, this drug spins most people into a terrifying psychotic trip…but it’s a trip that may help some kick opiate addiction. We follow one man with an addiction issue as he takes this trip, and meet others that are trying to overcome their own drug habits.

Port of Entry is back, this time with a series of stories on how the border can change minds.