ATAI Life Sciences and DemeRx will work together in upcoming clinical trials testing the safety and effectiveness of ibogaine as an addiction treatment.
Ibogaine is an extract from the bushy iboga plant, or Tabernanthe iboga. This plant grows in West Africa and produces slender orange fruits. Ibogaine is a hallucinogen and is used in religious ceremonies by the Punu and Mitsogo peoples.
Case series and open label studies suggest that a single dose of ibogaine might result in long-term abstinence from addictive substances such as opioids.
Srini Rao, ATAI Life Sciences’ Chief Scientific Officer, explained how the drug may help treat addiction: “The psychedelic experience that is often described is that the drug takes you through all of the bad decisions you have made in your life in a chronological order and makes you confront them. Ibogaine is not generally thought of as a drug of abuse as most people don’t have a great experience overall – but one hypothesis for why ibogaine has such profound, long-lasting effects is that by making you confront and process previous traumas, you obviate the need to abuse opioids as you are no longer trying to placate some underlying pain.”
Rao said that the exact mechanism by which ibogaine creates its effects on the brain is not currently completely understood. “The pharmacology of ibogaine is incredibly complicated, and it is not obvious at this moment what is driving its effects. The extract clearly has an impact on neuroplasticity like psilocybin, though the psychedelic effect that it creates is subjectively very different to what you get with psilocybin. It is a lot more dreamlike and protracted and can last over 20 hours in some individuals.
The upcoming trials seek to better understand the drug’s dosing and mechanism of action, tolerability and safety and its effects on short-term withdrawal and long-term abstinence.
News of a potentially effective treatment for addiction is welcome news in the United States, which is currently in the grasp of an opioid epidemic which causes 128 overdose deaths per day. The epidemic has arguably been largely driven by Purdue Pharma’s misleading marketing of Oxycontin, marketing which led to Purdue pleading guilty in federal court to understating the drug’s addiction risk. A bankruptcy court is currently allowing Oxycontin death and addiction claims to be filed against Purdue, with a deadline for filing these claims having recently been extended to July 30.