San Francisco Chronicle: New Hope For Opioid Addicts with Innovative Ibogaine Treatment

Summary: Grace Shohet publishes her experience helping her son overcome his opioid addiction through ibogaine therapy in the San Francisco Chronicle. “My 24-year-old son is finally clean after a three-year intravenous heroin habit, and I have a more specific suggestion: Fund clinical research on ibogaine. It saved my son’s life,” says Shohet.

Originally appearing here.

With the American death toll from opioid overdoses topping 42,000 a year, we hear story after story of families doing everything they can to save their sons and daughters, and failing. Stories of hope are few. But I have one, and it centers on a young man from San Francisco.

The White House Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis recommends increasing funding on developing and testing “ innovative medications,” including “drugs used for detoxification.” My 24-year-old son is finally clean after a three-year intravenous heroin habit, and I have a more specific suggestion: Fund clinical research on ibogaine. It saved my son’s life.

Daniel’s drug problem began at 13, blossoming into full-blown intravenous drug use five years later. My husband and I are both professionals: educated, upper-middle-class parents fortunate to be able to spend money searching for a cure. Over nine years, Daniel tried almost every available treatment option, including therapeutic schools, psychotherapy, psychiatric medications, AA, residential treatment programs, intensive outpatient programs, methadone, Suboxone, and, of course, time in jail.

In 2015, after an unsuccessful attempt at detoxing in treatment to avoid a jail sentence, Daniel wept in our living room. He told me he would be a “junkie” all his life because he couldn’t stand the dope sickness and cravings that beset him when he tried to come off heroin.

One last possibility remained. Daniel told us about ibogaine, a derivative of a West African root and a strong psychedelic used for centuries in coming-of-age ceremonies. Heroin users who have tried it say that it practically eliminates the sickness of withdrawal. Apparently, it somehow resets the brain’s opioid receptors.

But ibogaine is illegal in the United States. Several states have looked at allowing research into it. But the federal government abandoned researchinto ibogaine in the mid-1990s, and without further clinical research, the medical establishment won’t touch it.

We were lucky. A friend and former user said he knew a guy who used ibogaine to kick heroin. When I spoke with my friend’s connection, I had the most encouraging conversation I’d had in years. Here was a 30-year-old man who’d been profoundly addicted, in and out of jail, Narcanned back to life from overdose three times. Now he was sitting in a cafe talking about his second semester at college. If he could do it, maybe Daniel could.

We found a clinic in Mexico, where ibogaine is unregulated. We got Daniel the necessary blood tests and EKG, and took an enormous chance.

On Jan. 15, 2016, Daniel received a single flood dose of ibogaine. Hallucinations last up to 24 hours, and it is not a fun trip. Two days later, he checked into a Las Vegas rehab facility specializing in post-ibogaine treatment. He spent four months relearning how to feel healthy, instead of sick, without drugs.

That June, Daniel wrote on his Facebook page:

“Huge thanks to the awesome people and plants that transformed this bottom-of the-barrel Tenderloin dope fiend into the real boy I am today … without all of you I’d probably be back in jail with no hope, but my addiction is to life now, and for that I’m truly grateful. Also of course Mom and Dad for dealing with my junkie antics for years but finally finding something that worked, love you guys.”

Ibogaine doesn’t cure addiction. But it can interrupt it, giving a person breathing room to develop a healthy lifestyle without the intense cravings that so often result in relapse. The drug has its dangers and its detractors. It is not for everyone. But as my son’s experience proved, neither are any of the other available treatments.

The 56 recommendations of the White House opioid commission suggest that a “try everything” approach is called for. People’s experience with ibogaine can be considered not as mere anecdote, but as patient-derived evidence justifying additional study. Tens of thousands of our fellow Americans are dying each year from opioid overdoses. Shouldn’t the government look at funding research into what could be a life-saving tool in the struggle against addiction?

My wonderful son Daniel has been off heroin for over two years now, and works helping others at a Mexican ibogaine clinic. That’s the kind of hopeful ending I wish for everyone who loves a person with addiction.