Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive substance found in a number of plants, principally in a member of the Apocynaceae family known as iboga. The primary method of production of ibogaine is through extraction from this plant source, which is endemic to the tropical rainforests of the Congo Basin in Equatorial Africa, principally Gabon.
Recently there have been reports that iboga may be threatened in this natural habitat, and that access has decreased for traditional knowledge holders. If these reports are verified, the ramifications could be far-reaching, including considerations for the future availability of some aspects of ibogaine therapy, as well as for Gabonese culture.
This episode of the Gabonese television program Ca S’explique (“It is explained”) was produced based on Guignon’s 2012 report. English subtitles provided by GITA.
In 2000, the former president of Gabon, Omar Bongo, declared T. iboga a “cultural heritage strategic reserve.” It is now governed by several laws, most notably the Convention on Biodiversity (Rio 1992, ratified Gabon 1997), Loi n 2/94, Law for the Protection of Cultural Goods (10 Dec 1994), and the Nagoya Protocol (Signed, Gabon July 2012).
At GITA’s 4th international conference on ibogaine in Durban, South Africa, Yann Guignon and associate Jean-Nicolas Dénarié from Traits d’Union in Gabon offered a report on the current status of Tabernanthe iboga in Gabon and surrounding regions. Guignon’s presentation was based on his written report that was commissioned by the Gabonese government and submitted in July 2012, under the supervision of Professor Jean Noel Gassita. It suggested that there are seven primary factors contributing to a reduction in the supply of wild iboga that is being witnessed in Gabon, resulting in lowered availability for traditional knowledge holders, which includes pygmy tribes and Bwiti communities.
There are currently several important projects underway to alleviate the burden on the traditional plant source of iboga. The most promising is the production of ibogaine from voacanagine, an extract of Voacanga africana, another medicinal African tree that is currently produced agriculturally. There are several producers of purified ibogaine using this method and supplying clinical practitioners worldwide.
Purity & Effects
Ibogaine is the most prominent and the most potent, but only one of 12 alkaloids often found in Tabernanthe iboga. It is theorized that some of these other alkaloids can contribute to potentiating ibogaine’s effects, or offering comparable effects of their own. These can include psychoactive effects, but also physiological effects such as QT prolongation.
Due to different refining processes, the voacanga-based ibogaine used in treatment is often more pure than ibogaine produced from T. iboga. For this reason, people have suggested that the effects of purified voacanaga-based ibogaine could include less potential complications.
Other Potential Methods
There are several other natural and scientific methods for the production of ibogaine are at various stages of development. Several of these involve other plant sources, such as those found in Australia, Mexico and other parts of the world, which also contain ibogaine and/or other similar alkaloids.
The Nagoya Protocol and Iboga
The Nagoya Protocol is an international treaty that is designed to protect access and benefits for traditional knowledge holders of a genetic resource. It gives power to each of the current 92 signing states to define exactly what those terms are for “genetic resources” that originate in their territory.
Iboga tree products are subject to the treaty whenever it originates in Gabon. Iboga that comes from Cameroon, the Congo or some other outlying regions is not subject to the treaty, although authorities in any Nagoya-signing country could request for internationally recognizable documentation in order to prove the origin of any iboga tree product, especially because of afformentioned evidence of smuggling from Gabon to other source countries.
The Gabonese authorities have not clearly defined access and benefits sharing, but in place have a series of laws that simply prohibit the export of iboga tree products from Gabon without express permission from the Ministry of Culture. This permission is available to serious research projects that benefit traditional knowledge holders or the public interest.
Image © 2011 Spencer Woodard. Used with permission.