Neuropharmacological Studies on Ibogaine, an Indole Alkaloid with Central-Stimulant Properties

Abstract

At about the turn of the century, a Frenchman by the name of Guien had the opportunity to watch an inivtation to ichshism some of the inhabitants of the Belgian Congo, Africa. According to Landrin, Guien described the gross effect of chewing great quantities of roots of Tabenanthe iboga on the initiate as follows: "Soon his nerves get tense in an extraordinary way, an epileptic-like madness come over him during which he becomes unconscious and pronounces words which are interpreted by the older members as having a prophetic meaning and to prove that the fetish has entered him." This and other reports in the older French literature indicate that the crude extracts of Tabernanthe iboga caused a feeling of excitement, drunkenness, mental confusion and, possibly, hallucinations when taken in high enough doses. This same plant, however, was also used widely in lower doses by the natives of the Congo to combat fatigue and tiredness when it was necessary to overcome great physical stress of any kind.
Dybowski and Landrin, as well as Haller and Heckel, were the first to isolate a crystalline alkaloid from this root, which they called "ibogaine" or "ibogine." In 1901 French pharmacologist undertook a rather detailed investigation of this alkaloid (Lambert and Heckel, Lambert, and Phisalix), and all of them found it to have an unusual type of excitatory effect on various experimental animals such as dogs, guinea pigs, rabbits, and rats. The alkaloid also was found to have local anesthesia properties. Soon thereafter it was tried clinically and recommended as a stimulant in cases of convalescence and neurasthenia by Pouchet and Chevalier. Kuborn recommended it for the symptomatic treatment trypanosomiasis. For some unknown reason, however, the drug was never widely used and was forgotten for almost 30 years. Then Rothlin and Raymond-Hamet took it up again and studied the effect of the alkaloid on isolated tissues and on the cardiovascular system. Delourme-Houde published a comprehensive summary on the botany, chemistry, and pharmacology of Tabernanthe iboga, together with the results of his own investigations of the cardiovascular actions of the drug. Ibogaine began to be of interest to us in connection with its possible phrenotropic activity. Since this drug is an indole alkaloid with allegedly central stimulant properties, it was felt that a thorough neuropharmacological and neurophysiological investigation of the drug was desirable.

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