Ibogaine — an hallucinogen that was NOT a factor in the 1972 presidential campaign

August 29, 2012, 7:02 pm

★★½☆☆

Fatalities Temporally Associated with the Ingestion of Ibogaine. Alper KR et al. J Forensic Sci 2012 Mar;57:398-412.

Abstract

Ibogaine is a psychoactive alkaloid found in the bark of the root of the iboga plant (Tabernanthe iboga), a shrub that grows in the rain forests of western Central Africa. The plant  is an important adjunct to Bwiti religious ceremonies in Gabon. Ibogaine causes hallucinations that apparently are mediated, not through serotonin receptors, but rather muscarinic cholinergic pathways involved in dreaming and memory.

The authors write that:

. . . the psychoactive state associated with ibogaine is experienced most intensely with the eyes closed and has been decried as “oneiric” and likened to a “waking dream,” with interrogatory verbal exchanges involving ancestral and archetypal beings, and movement and navigation within visual landscapes. Another frequently described experience is panoramic memory, the recall of a rapid, dense succession of vivid autobiographical visual memories.

In the mid-twentieth-century, ibogaine was marketed in France under the name “Lambarene” for dieting and as a stimulant. Ibogaine is banned as a Schedule I substance in the United States, but is used in some areas to treat addiction to opiates and other drugs.

This paper analyzed data from 19 identified fatalities that occurred within 76 hours of the victim taking ibogaine. These deaths were often associated with pre-existing medical conditions and/or withdrawal from alcohol or benzodiazepines. Unfortunately, the retrospective and autopsy-based nature of the study makes it impossible to determine what specific role, if any, ibogaine played in the outcomes. Although ibogaine has been associated with a prolonged QT interval, it is unclear if any of these patients developed EKG abnormalities or torsades de pointes.

The paper does, however, remind us that ibogaine has a long and fascinating history. For example,  in the book Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, Hunter S. Thompson claimed that Democratic primary candidate Edmund Muskie was addicted to ibogaine:

Not much has been written about The Ibogaine Effect as a serious factor in the Presidential Campaign, but toward the end of the Wisconsin primary race — about a week before the vote — word leaked out that some of Muskie’s top advisors had called in a Brazilian doctor who was said to be treating the candidate with “some kind of strange drug” that nobody in the press corps had ever heard of.

It had been common knowledge for many weeks that Humphrey was using an exotic brand of speed known as Wallot . . .and it had long been whispered that Muskie was into something very heavy, but it was hard to take the talk seriously until I heard about the appearance of a mysterious Brazilian doctor. That was the key. . . .

It is entirely conceivable — given the known effects of Ibogaine — that Muskie’s brain was almost paralyzed by hallucinations at the time; that he looked out at the crowd and saw gila monsters instead of people, and that his mind snapped completely she he felt something large and apparently vicious clawing at his legs.

We can only speculate on this, because those in a position to know have flatly refused to comment on rumors concerning the Senator’s disastrous experiments with Ibogaine.

They don’t write campaign coverage like that anymore! Of course, it never happened. Thompson made it all up — or hallucinated it himself.

Earlier this year, National Geographic aired a TV special on hallucinogens. The section on ibogaine starts at 21:44.

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