Recovery Part 7: The Ceremony is Booked!

Do you remember me telling you about a plant medicine I'd hoped to use in my post about my kratom addiction issues?

Well, now that I've passed my initial medical tests, my retreat is going ahead outside the UK! 

But I'm not actually having this treatment for addiction since I quit kratom pretty-much cold-turkey.

It's more to help me heal from trauma, to establish healthy practices going forward, and to stop resorting to a partner or substances to moderate my emotions or to fill a void.

And what is this mysterious medicine?

Iboga.

The Sacred Wood

Iboga refers to the root bark of the Tabernathe iboga tree, native to the rainforests of parts of Africa, including Gabon, the Cameroon, and the Republic of the Congo.

Traditionally, iboga has been used in spiritual practice of the Bwiti - an official religion and ancient shamanic practice whose followers are made up of the forest-dwellers of the Punu and Mitsogo people of Gabon, and the Fang people of the Cameroon. The Bwiti use iboga for healing, initiation rites and various rituals.

However, iboga use is now practiced outside of the forest in both cities and villages.

 Tabernanthe iboga root bark

Above: Tabernanthe iboga root bark (by Kim Gjerstad - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17448601)

 

How iboga found me

I first heard about iboga many years back in my late 20s when I was working as a hypnotherapist.

A banker had come to see me for help with some problems he was facing, and told me that he had visited Africa to have what was known as an iboga flood for his alcoholism. Listening to his experiences, I was intrigued but I didn't think much more about it. I was quite a different person then, and happened to also work at an investment bank myself.

Around eight years later in 2015/16 as I started to tackle my BPD issues and reassess my life, I started to become more interested in entheogens and the healing properties of plants.

In the nick of time and just before the UK brought in their Draconian Psychoactive Substances Act, I managed to order 25g of iboga root bark. I microdosed this for one month to see how I felt, and while I did notice an increase in productivity and reduced stress, it wasn't enough that I could be sure I wasn't experiencing a placebo.

And during this time, my battles with BPD were especially challenging since I'd started facing my demons, and I was desperate for something to help me "reset my brain".

Above: Presenter, Bruce Parry, in part of his Tribe series, having ingested iboga with the Bwiti

I considered travelling to Africa to have a full flood ceremony with the Bwiti in Gabon or the Cameroon. Essentially, it comprised a 3-day psychoactive trip, where the first day your life is celebrated, the second day your death, and the third day your rebirth. 

The ceremony also involved being bathed naked in the rainforest, confessing all your life's sins to a Shaman, and eating copious amounts of the bitter bark before vomiting and venturing on what sounded like quite a nightmarish, though rewarding, journey. 

Part of the allure of going to Africa was that I'm of Cameroonian descent and I wondered how far back I'd need to go before I was directly connected to the tribes of the rainforest.

I was put in touch with a middle-man who arranged such retreats, and I started to read the book "Iboga: The Visionary Root of African Shamanism" by Vincent Ravalec.

And then I lost my bottle. I decided instead that a ceremony would be a last resort.

You see, iboga can kill you.

How safe is iboga?

Based on current statistics, there is approximately 1 death in every 427 treatments, or around a 0.3% mortality rate.

That might sound like a frighteningly high number.

But don't worry!

From information I've been able to digest online, in many cases these deaths were largely preventable. It's also good to remember that many of the people going for treatment are, by and large, unwell, whether they're experiencing heroin addiction, alcoholism, opiate withdrawal, HIV or Hepatitis C. A number of cases also had other substances in their system, or failed to be thoroughly screened.

Still, it's not risk free, so it's important to ensure the proper preparation. And certainly not everyone is a suitable candidate for iboga.

My mother can't understand why I'd put myself at such a risk, but I've also reminded her that if I don't get a handle on my BPD issues, statistically-speaking, I have a 1 in 10 chance of dying via suicide.

She's not convinced.

Obviously, there's a lot of variables at play with both those statistics, but I've carefully weighed the potential benefits and risks up and it's something I want to do.

Main risks

The main risks with iboga generally revolve around the heart and liver, and a cardiac arrest is the main cause of death.

Iboga induces bracycardia (a reduced heart rate) typically by about 10 beats per minute. If the heart rate drops too much for too long, this is a serious life-threatening condition where atropine should be immediately administered.

QT prolongation is another risk which refers to how the heart conducts electricity, or how long it takes each ventricle to get ready before the next contraction. Drug usage is often a major cause for QT prolongation, but it can also be hereditary.

Congenital Long QT Syndrome affects around 0.1% of us and while there aren't always any symptoms, if you faint easily, it could mean your heart organises beats in quite a chaotic way.

And finally, the liver is the other major concern to be assessed via a blood test. 

And from a setting point of view, there are also other aspects to consider. When the Bwiti discovered that Western practitioners were not using traditional Bwiti music in the ceremonies, they said "Oh that’s very dangerous. They will all die". I'm not sure if they'll be music or not, but I won't be on my own and we'll be undertaking some breathwork before the ceremony.

My preparation

Understanding the effects of long-term kratom use on my body, and how it would automatically prevent me from being an iboga candidate, gave me good motivation to come off it as soon as I could. Perhaps there was a touch of "divine intervention" when my supplies didn't arrive as it's never happened before!

After my initial medical screening and chat with the iboga provider, I was told I'd need to go for a full blood panel and an ECG as soon as possible, especially since long-term kratom users can give strange ECG results.

I began taking water-soluble magnesium daily, together with an electrolyte powder and drinking 2-3 litres of water a day since hydration is so important to help with ECG results. I wasn't used to drinking so much and realised I have spent pretty much all my life being chronically dehydrated :-/

I'll also have to avoid caffeine and alcohol in the run-up, though I'm not a big drinker anyway.

I was happy to see that all my QT results were within the normal range at 431ms (for a woman, this is 400-460ms)...but they're still not as low as the provider would like, so I need to up my daily water intake to 5 litres a day.

Yes...5 litres. I'm also going to have to manage this on an island with a remote source of freshwater and I'm not really up for buying multiple plastic bottles...hmm.

My ECG results might mean I don't get one large dose but several medium doses, which is a bit disappointing but safety first. I'm still waiting on my blood test results so fingers crossed these are all ok.

Other preparation has included creating two lists - one with thought patterns and habits I want to get rid of, and the other with habits I want to establish. I also have to think about what my perfect life might look like.

That's a tough one.

A few years ago and before I started up with drawing, I thought I was going to be a permaculture teacher and natural builder. Then once I got into art, I created a Vision Board in a new direction but a lot of it featured my ex and the van...

In truth, there's probably so many things I'd enjoy spending my time doing so I'll need to give this some thought while I'm away with a bit of fresh perspective!

Effects

There's no way of knowing what my exact effects will be since the treatment is different for everyone, and will also depend on dose. I won't be having as high a dose as those who go for addiction treatment, and the results of my heart monitoring will depend on how much they can give me.

But if all goes well, then I'll be having a flood dose (ego death) using ibogaine - the main alkaloid extracted from iboga.

The experience can be broken down into 3 Stages:

  • Stage 1: (4-8 hours duration) a "waking dream" state and can feel like floating where you're a witness to your life's experiences from a more observational point of view.
  • Stage 2: (8-20 hours duration) reflection and evaluation in a quieter, less visual phase. Minimal external stimuli is beneficial.
  • Stage 3: (24-72 hours duration) returning to the external environment, usually feeling a reduced need for sleep - sometimes lasting up to several weeks

Iboga is likely to give you what you need, rather than necessarily what you want. 

 “I wouldn’t recommend it to somebody who is trying to have fun. If you want your body to explode into 1,000 pieces and rebuild itself into something beautiful, then yeah—but don’t expect it to be pleasant.” - user experience

The brain reset

How I spend the 3-6 months directly after the treatment is of the utmost importance.

The reason for this is that iboga changes the neuroplasticity of our brain. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to form and reorganise new neural pathways.

So what will I be doing with this time?

Right now, I'm not 100% sure, though I have booked into a campsite for a month near the Sierra Nevada in Spain where I plan to exercise, read, draw, and immerse myself in the surrounding areas.

After that will depend on the COVID situation and whether I can make it into Morocco or volunteer. I'm going to stay open to possibility.

I've been given a bunch of resources by the lecturer and researcher, Joe Dispenza, and it's quite a rabbit hole I've started going down so that's going to form the bulk of my preparation, as well as a lot of hydration!

As an update, I booked for October but with COVID and the increasing number of cases in Spain, getting to there from Greece may be problematic so it could be I'm on the November retreat...we'll see how things unfold.

If you'd like to find out more about treatment with ibogaine, there's an excellent resource here.

Thank you for reading! x

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