What is iboga
Tabernanthe iboga is an African species of Tabernanthe used for entheogenic purposes. It grows naturally in forests and savannah, and the plant is also used for medicinal purposes. Iboga has been reported to have properties similar to that of THC and psilocybin, two active compounds of cannabis. Also, Tabernanthe iboga is well known in Central Africa; as the root is very important in the initiation ceremonies of the Bwiti tradition in Gabon; which has expanded to southern Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea Congo and DR Congo.
The root bark is eaten whole, or crushed and ground, rolled into small balls, sometimes mixed with other ingredients; sometimes a decoction of the crushed roots is taken. The root is mainly employed as a hallucinogenic; a catalyst for spiritual discovery, and to seek information from ancestors and the spirit world, hence ‘coming to terms with death’. After the initiation ceremony, the initiate is reborn as an adult in the tribe; having been cleansed of illnesses and socio-psychological blockages accumulated during childhood.
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Iboga is taken in these ceremonies in large quantities. Ceremonies are also held for diagnostic or therapeutic reasons, and the quantities of iboga taken there are in general much lower, allowing the participant a certain agility and endurance. A root decoction can also be taken as a tonic to combat tiredness, hunger and thirst when it is necessary to overcome physical stress, e.g. for hunting or formerly in tribal wars. It is also considered aphrodisiac, as is the leaf decoction.
A root decoction is taken as a febrifuge. In DR Congo the decoction is used for eye drops to treat conjunctivitis. The pounded roots are also used in the curing ceremony (called ‘zebola’) for psychosomatic afflictions. In Congo a root macerate in palm wine is taken to soothe coughs, and the root decoction is drunk to treat urinary infections. In traditional medicine, the latex is taken as an anthelmintic and warmed leaves are rubbed on the gums to calm toothache, as they have an anaesthetic activity
The active compounds in the root, root bark, stem bark, leaves and seeds of Tabernanthe iboga are indole alkaloids. About 20 have been identified so far; the highest concentrations occur in the root bark (5–6%), followed by the roots (1–2.5%), stem bark (2%), seed (1%) and leaves (0.4–0.8%). Ibogaine (ibogan class) is the most important alkaloid present in all plant parts except the seeds. Ibogaine can be synthesized from nicotinamide via a 13- or 14-step process, but the yield is too low to be economically attractive. The main activities of ibogaine are on the central nervous system and on the cardiovascular system. Alkaloids structurally similar to ibogaine have analogous effects.
At low doses, ibogaine exerts primarily a stimulant effect, increasing alertness and reducing fatigue, hunger and thirst. At higher doses, the primary effects are hallucinations, with unpleasant possible side effects such as anxiety and depression with fear or rage. The peak effect is reached 1–3 hours after swallowing the drug; it subsides gradually, ending in complete insomnia and lethargy.
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These effects can last for 2–5 days. Apart from the psychological effects, the physical effects include tremor, light sensitivity, nausea and vomiting, loss of muscular coordination and prolonged and often painful muscle spasms, all in a dose-dependent way. Toxic doses may produce convulsions, paralysis and death from respiratory arrest. Most activities have been tested with purified ibogaine, but during initiation ceremonies powdered root bark is usually taken; which is more powerful as it contains a range of related alkaloids. Ibogaine is a potent cholinesterase inhibitor; and the root extract is even 100 times stronger in its inhibitory effect because of the additional effects of the alkaloids tabernanthine; ibogamine and the more distantly related iboluteine.