By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Beal shrugs off the criticism, arguing that grassroots activism is the only way to ensure that politicians will endorse ibogaine. Besides, he adds, the government stopped funding ibogaine research long before he was arrested.
“[The scientists] think if they stay away from us activists, NIDA will bless them,” says the self-styled rabble-rouser. “NIDA is not blessing them. They’re washed up and on a strange beach. How will they get FDA-approved clinical trials without activists? Explain to me a way that works, and I will do it.”
Earlier this year Beal contacted the legislative offices of Missouri congressman Russ Carnahan. The St. Louis Democrat is the sponsor of the Universal Access to Methamphetamine Treatment Act, and Beal aimed to persuade him to earmark federal dollars for ibogaine research. Asked about Beal’s proposal, Carnahan spokeswoman Sara
Howard explains that the legislator thought it unadvisable to specify any substance, particularly an illegal one. “It’s Schedule I, so it falls outside the categories [included in the bill],” she says.
Beal jokes that the best advertisement for ibogaine might be an episode from the 11th season of Law & Order: Special Victim Unit in which a heroin addict who needs to testify in court is administered ibogaine to make his withdrawal symptoms disappear overnight.
“Maybe Congress will watch SVU and say, ‘Maybe we should check this out — wow! — it works for methamphetamine too?’” he says sarcastically.
In truth, ibogaine’s effectiveness against meth has already helped it gain acceptance abroad. Lawmakers in New Zealand, where methamphetamine use has skyrocketed in recent years, recently tweaked the nation’s laws to allow physicians to prescribe ibogaine. Dr. Gavin Cape, an addiction specialist at New Zealand’s Dunedin School of Medicine, says the nation’s doctors are so far reluctant to wield their new anti-meth weapon.
“[There are] no true controlled studies to give evidence as to its safety and effectiveness,” Cape says. “There is a strong advocacy group [in New Zealand] for ibogaine, and it may turn out to have a place alongside conventional therapies for the addictions, but I’m afraid we are a few years away from that goal.”
Last month dozens of ibogaine researchers, activists and treatment providers gathered for a conference in Barcelona, where topics included safety and sustainable sourcing of ibogaine from Africa. Dr. Kenneth Alper was among attendees who gave a presentation on the benefits of ibogaine to the Catalan Ministry of Health. The NYU professor believes ibogaine's most likely path to prominence in the U.S. will be as a medication for meth addiction, for the simple reason that doctors and treatment providers have found that small daily — and thus drug-company-friendly — doses seem to work better for meth addiction than the mind-blowing "flood doses" used on opiate addicts.
Alper says no one thought to try nonhallucinogenic quantities of ibogaine until recently. Ibogaine treatment providers tend to have been former ibogaine users, and most assumed that the introspection brought on by tripping was key to overcoming their addictions. "That's just how it evolved," he says, noting that large doses do seem to work best for opiate detox.
"The visions have some psychological content that is salient and meaningful," Alper adds. "On the other hand, there is no successful treatment for addiction that's not interpreted as a spiritual transformation by the people who use it. It's the G-word. It's God. We as physicians don't venture into that territory, but most people do."
Ron Price first came to Tijuana for ibogaine in 1996 and has been back six times, including his October stay. "Every time I feel like I'm getting out of control, I come here," he explains, his voice a gruff mumble. "The very first time, I had a bit of visuals. It's supposed to take six months to get off methadone. With this it was one day. It was incredible. I haven't had a craving for methadone since then."
That first time, Price took a "flood dose," enough to keep him tripping for hours. During this stay, Wilkins started him off with a tiny dose and gradually increased the amount he ingested each day. At the same time, she was weaning him off OxyContin.
"We reduced your Oxy dose from 240 milligrams to 120 milligrams, in what, two weeks? That's rock 'n' roll!" she says encouragingly.
"He was fantastic," she adds proudly. "He developed a routine in his day. He was getting up and watering the garden, and not staying in bed and watching TV. He was walking the dog and wanting to go out — he was eager to go home, not scared."
Now, seated at the Pangea kitchen table, Price reflects on what has been most helpful during his time in Mexico. The ibogaine lessened his cravings for drugs and alcohol, he says, but eventually the effect will wear off.
"It's no magic thing," he offers pensively. "It's creating good habits and creating a support system. Ibogaine just strips you of the cells and walls you build up for yourself. It allows you to go AA meetings — which I'll do when I get home. It at least gives you a fighting chance to make your own decision."
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