How Does Ibogaine Work in the Brain?

Ibogaine treatment is gaining attention as an effective tool for addiction treatment. It shows great potential when it comes to interrupting opiate addiction, making it easier for the brain to return to its normal state. This article looks at what happens to the brain during addiction and how an Ibogaine program can help stop the damage.

Addiction and the Brain

It is helpful to have some background information on what happens to the brain during addiction, to understand how Ibogaine works,. The brain’s reward center is responsible for releasing chemicals that result in pleasurable feelings. For example, when the brain is not affected by addiction, it produces a baseline level of dopamine and responds to pleasurable events by releasing more dopamine. The dopamine spike creates a wave of pleasure, but dopamine levels quickly return to their normal level, setting the stage for the enjoyment of another pleasurable event.

Addiction disrupts that process. Studies show that a person who uses a substance such as heroin will experience an extremely high dopamine spike. However, the dopamine levels do not return to normal after that. Instead, dopamine levels plummet all the way to zero. This is a two-fold problem: In the short term, the user may feel miserable once the dopamine leaves, prompting them to seek out more of the drug. In the long term, throughout the drug use, the brain will actually rewire itself. According to DrugAbuse.gov, the “brain adaptations often lead to the person becoming less and less able to derive pleasure from other things they once enjoyed, like food, sex, or social activities.”

Drugs can also affect another important chemical: serotonin. For instance, drugs such as ecstasy are known to result in substantial serotonin spikes. However, much like dopamine, this spike is temporary. Once it leaves, the result is serotonin depletion, which can lead to problems such as depression and trouble sleeping. In turn, the user may feel compelled to use more drugs to trigger another serotonin spike.

Ibogaine and the Brain

The chemical spikes and depletions described above play a huge role in the cycle of craving, drug use, and withdrawal. The urge to seek out more drugs for another chemical spike can be dauntingly hard to overcome. However, Ibogaine therapy works by interrupting the cycle. Research is ongoing, so it is impossible to describe how Ibogaine works definitively, but it is thought to regulate serotonin and dopamine levels, reducing the craving and withdrawal symptoms that can come after long-term drug use. Additionally, after a person takes Ibogaine, the liver converts it into norIbogaine, which stays in the body for much longer. This may be why Ibogaine can help stave off cravings and withdrawals for an extended period.  

Using Ibogaine

Ibogaine shows promise in that it may be able to interrupt cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is thought to be especially effective for short-acting opiates, such as heroin. However, keep in mind that Ibogaine therapy involves much more than merely taking Ibogaine. At an Ibogaine treatment center, patients will undergo the Ibogaine treatment itself, along with detoxifying, nutrition, and exercise programs as appropriate. Aftercare is another essential part of the process. It takes time, but the recovery process is doable with the right support—and Ibogaine can play a role in that support.