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Iboga Sustainability

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.

Ecological Report


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.

Increasing Global Demand

The primary reason cited is the sharp increase in global consumption of iboga root bark and the production of its extracts. This has caused the price of raw plant material to rise to almost 10 times what it was less than a decade ago. Ibogaine produced from alternate sources is currently available and will help to lower the price of purified extracts.

Evangelical Influence

Christian and Islamic missionary influence in Gabon has marginalized traditional practitioners, as well as political supporters. This lack of political support has led to difficulties in generating financial support for preservation programs.

Climate Change

The rainy seasons in Gabon have become shorter and the temperature has increased, providing climatic stress on the entire rainforest ecosystem.

Deforestation

The Gabonese government has protected 17% of the Gabonese land mass in a large system of national parks, but development projects and the international lumber trade have caused massive deforestation in much of the rest of iboga’s natural habitat.

Urbanization

30 years ago, 20% of the population of Gabon was urban. Today, urbanites account for 85-90% of Gabon’s 1.6 million person population now lives in urban environments. This results in increase of land prices, and security costs, making planting difficult.

Animals

Elephants and monkeys, which distribute the iboga seeds in the wild are often poached, and their populations are threatened. There is reason to believe that iboga is also harvested by ivory poachers since it is transported by elephants along forest trails, and the product must be smuggled out of the country before it is shipped.

Lack of Traditional Agriculture

The pygmy culture where traditions around the use of iboga originated are hunter gatherer communities. Even in the rest of Gabon where Bwiti is practiced there is very little agriculture. Gabon, one of the wealthiest countries in Central West Africa, has almost no food production, and the only notable cultivation is personal and village scale production of manioc, which is used in traditional cuisine.

For millennia, villagers have been provided for by the forest, which has adequately supported the traditional use of iboga. Sometimes iboga is cultivated around temple spaces, but not in notable quantities. Recently some villages have begun planting for their own future use, but limited access to secure land claims remains a constant concern.

Alternate Sources

Voacanga africana flower

Voacanga africana flower. Image © 2013 Bart Wursten. Used with permission.

Voacanga

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.

Image © 2014 The Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance

Image © 2014 The Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance

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.

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