Our Founder: Howard Lotsof

Artistic rendering of GITA’s founder, the late Howard Lotsof

Howard Lotsof was the first individual to observe the therapuetic effect of ibogaine in detoxification from heroin. He subsequently originated patents for the use of ibogaine in substance use disorder treatments for opioids, cocaine and amphetamine, alcohol, and nicotine.

Mr. Lotsof continued his devotion to ibogaine until his last days, and is widely credited with catalyzing ibogaine research, as well as the international community of ibogaine therapists. His life’s work holds a great deal of promise for the over 200 million people around the world who are affected by substance use disorders.

Biography

Howard S. Lotsof, loving husband of Norma Alexander, died of liver cancer on January 31, in Staten Island. He was 67. He leaves a legacy as an innovator, advocate and activist for the therapeutic administration of ibogaine. His devotion to this medicine took him from the 1960’s Lower East Side drug scene to the halls of the National Institute of Drug Abuse to Gabon, Africa.

In 1962, as a teen drug user from the Bronx, Mr Lotsof inadvertently discovered the unique anti-addictive properties of the psychedelic ibogaine, an indole alkaloid derived from the bark of the root of a Central West African shrub, iboga. He noticed after a several-hour trip that though he had not used any heroin, he had no withdrawal symptoms.

“Afterwards, I was walking and I looked at this tree, and as I looked at it I realized I no longer had any fear of death. Also that I was no longer addicted to narcotics.” He administered the drug to a number of his addicted friends and noticed similar results: ibogaine interrupted addiction and provided the user with insight into the causes of their addiction, often by showing the addict, through ‘visions’, the roots of their problems —all of this without withdrawal symptoms.

Mr Lotsof began a lifelong marriage and business partnership with Norma Alexander in 1964. In 1966-67 Mr Lotsof received a prison sentence for conspiracy to sell LSD. He continued his education at NYU and worked in the television and film industry and in music promotion. Meanwhile, in 1970 the Scheduled Substances Act was ratified by Congress, and ibogaine was included with other psychedelics as a Schedule I drug with potential for abuse and without therapeutic value.

Mr Lotsof became involved with ibogaine again in the 1980’s, acquiring patents for it in 1985 and 1992 as a treatment for acute addiction. By the mid 1980’s he had arrived at the origin of the plant, equatorial Gabon, where the animist system Bwiti uses iboga as an initiatory tool and sacrament. Then-president of Gabon Omar Bongo personally presented Mr. Lotsof with iboga, telling him “This is Gabon’s gift to the world”.

Mr Lotsof’s work took him next to Amsterdam, where he initiated substantive research into ibogaine and related compounds in the mainstream scientific community. He provided pilot data to the National Institute on Drug Abuse that became the basis for a program of research on ibogaine that generated scores of peer-reviewed publications and led to the approval by the US Food and Drug Administration of a Phase 1 clinical trial. With Norma by his side, Mr Lotsof established a medical team in Panama to continue clinical testing. He worked there in a hospital with a team of doctors and scientists.

At the same time, Mr Lotsof treated addicts and provided ibogaine to The Junkie Bond, a group of drug user activists who did self-treatments, establishing and improving a protocol for ‘underground’ ibogaine administration. This was the beginning of an alternative, harm reduction-based, non-clinical treatment modality: users helping users. Ibogaine treatments represent an alternative and unconventional approach to acute drug addiction; those most vocal in advocating its use continue to be those users who have been helped by it.

Beginning with research funding provided by Mr Lotsof from his for-profit company NDA International, Stanley D. Glick, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Director of the Center for Neuropharmacology and Neuroscience Albany Medical College, has produced a body of work on ibogaine and related compounds that includes over 60 peer-reviewed publications and has been supported by the National Institutes of Health for more than two decades. Mr. Lotsof authored or coauthored scientific papers on ibogaine in respected academic publications such as the Journal of Ethnopharmacology and the American Journal on Addictions. He also produced the seminal ibogaine web portal for scientific studies and lay information, the “Ibogaine Dossier” and its “Ibogaine Patient’s Bill of Rights”. Mr Lotsof accomplished all of this without any formal scientific or medical training.

In March 2009, Mr. Lotsof and his wife traveled to Sayulita, Mexico for the First International Ibogaine Provider and Facilitator Conference, where he was the honoree. Providers and health care professionals from six continents gathered to present on ibogaine and associated subjects. They represent Mr. Lotsof’s legacy, as do thousands of Westerners who have undergone ibogaine protocols inspired by him.

Mr. Lotsof was the recipient of the The Robert C. Randall Award for Achievement in the Field of Citizen Action at the Drug Policy Alliance Conference in November 2009.

He was a member of the Board of Directors of the National Alliance of Methadone Advocates and president/founder of the Dora Weiner Foundation.

Mr. Lotsof is survived by his wife, Norma, and sisters Rosalie Falato and Holly Weiland.

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