South Africa: Controversial Anti-Heroin Addiction Drug Ibogaine Hits Rehabs
Cape Argus, South Africa - A controversial drug designed to combat heroin is being offered to patients around South Africa.
The drug, called ibogaine, is based on an active principle found in the iboga plant, found in Gabon, and reportedly eliminates the withdrawal symptoms and cravings associated with heroin addiction by blocking brain receptors that have previously been affected by the drug.
This makes it different from conventional heroin addiction treatments such as methodone which are simply used to wean addicts off the drug by mirroring its effect.
While offering a glimmer of hope to addicts, ibogaine has a dubious history.
It is illegal in a number of countries, including the US, not least because it produces similar side-effects to other psychedelics such as LSD and mescaline. It has also been linked to a small number of fatalities.
Clinical research on the drug is in its infancy.
Dr Deborah Mash, a researcher at the University of Miami, has conducted limited trials on patients. She found that ibogaine can help those addicted to heroin, alcohol and other substances.
The drug has undergone no such studies in South Africa.
A Carte Blanche investigation into ibogaine included a mention that the University of Cape Town was interested in starting trials with the substance but yesterday UCT spokesperson Skye Grove said they "do not intend to start clinical trials".
Carte Blanche has admitted on its website that the statement was erroneous.
Pretoria pharmacist Charles Rossouw is confident of the drug's merits.
He runs a rehabilitation centre in the city where he charges R12 000 per treatment, claiming a 60% success rate among heroin addicts.
"I knew a couple of people who were using drugs," said Rossouw. "I heard about ibogaine but thought it was hogwash. But the more I read, the more I became intrigued."
Rossouw believes that the reason ibogaine is not widely available is simple: "Nobody knows about it."
Rossouw's clinic mainly treats patients from around Pretoria but he has looked after people from "as far away as Cape Town".
By Patrick Whyte