A CONTEMPORARY HISTORY OF IBOGAINE IN
THE UNITED STATES AND EUROPE
Kenneth R. Alper
Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology
New York University School of Medicine
New York, NY 10016 USA
New York, NY 10012 USA
Charles D. Kaplan
Department of Psychiatry and Neuropsychology
6200MD Maastricht, The Netherlands
II. Ibogaine Treatment Scenes: History and Description.................................................
B. The United States...................................................................................................
C. The Netherlands .....................................................................................................
D. Other European Scenes..........................................................................................
E. Africa .....................................................................................................................
III. The Political Subculture of Advocacy.........................................................................
A. Origins and Actions ...............................................................................................
B. Media Coverage of Ibogaine .................................................................................
C. The Internet ............................................................................................................
THE ALKALOIDS, Vol.56 Copyright © 2001 by Academic Press
0099-9598/01 $35.00 All rights of reproduction in any form reserved
In 1995, Dr. Curtis Wright, then the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
ibogaine project ofﬁcer, wrote “What’s clear is that a signiﬁcant portion of the
public we serve believes the drug merits investigation” (1). Wright’s statement
intimates a relationship of public opinion to regulatory scientiﬁc policy. The
statement was made at a time when the FDA, partly in response to highly
motivated and organized public advocacy, was modifying its drug development
process to accommodate the more rapid evaluation and approval of agents used
to treat the human immunodeﬁciency virus (HIV) (2,3). As with treatments for
HIV, ibogaine has been associated with a vocal activist subculture, which has
viewed its mission as advocating the availability of a controversial treatment to a
stigmatized and marginalized minority group of patients who suffer from a life-
Wright’s perception of signiﬁcant public interest in ibogaine was derived from
two related subcultural contexts. One such context is the medical subculture of
the informal ibogaine treatment scene, and the other is the political subculture of
advocacy for the development and availability of ibogaine. This chapter focuses
on a contemporary history and description of the medical subculture of the
informal treatment scenes of the United States and Europe, and the political
subculture of ibogaine advocacy. The period of time spanned by the history
presented in this chapter extends from the early 1960s to the present, and it is thus
termed a “contemporary” history of ibogaine. Ibogaine has a long history of use
as a ritual hallucinogen in Africa. However, the early 1960s marked the advent of
the attempt to develop ibogaine as a treatment for substance dependence in the
United States and Europe.
II. Informal Ibogaine Treatment Scenes:
History and Description
Ibogaine is classiﬁed as a Schedule I drug in the United States, with a similar
restricted status in Belgium and Switzerland. As a naturally occurring alkaloid
that can only be patented with regard to use and not with regard to its structure,
and with a mechanism of action that is unknown, ibogaine has been relatively
unattractive to the pharmaceutical industry as a potential compound for clinical
development. This has led to the existence of a distinctive, unofﬁcial network
250 alper et al.
involving lay individuals conducting ibogaine treatments in nonmedical settings.
Two general types of ibogaine treatment exist. One type of treatment is
oriented toward addiction, most commonly heroin dependence, and typically
involves dosages in the range of 15 to 25 mg/ kg (4-7). The other type of
treatment, sometimes referred to as “initiatory,” involves a dosage on the order of
8 to 12 mg/kg, or approximately one half of that which is used for addiction, and
is oriented toward the goal of facilitating psychotherapeutic or spiritual insight
(8-10). The existence of these two types of treatment orientations indicates the
importance of considering two aspects of ibogaine treatment, namely the pharma-
cological effects, and the psychological process and social setting.
B. The United States
1. H. Lotsof, NDA International, and ICASH
a. Initial Observations of the Effects of Ibogaine. The setting in which the
putative effect of ibogaine on opioid withdrawal was ﬁrst noted was distinctly
marginal with respect to the mainstream culture of medicine. Howard Lotsof
serendipitously observed ibogaine’s effect on his own heroin dependence at age
19 in 1962. As described in the chapter by Lotsof et al. in this volume, he then
administered ibogaine to a total of 20 individuals who were part of a lay network
of drug users that ingested hallucinogens and somewhat systematically noted and
compared their effects. This network appears to have been mainly motivated by
curiosity and an interest regarding the subjective effects and possible psychother-
apeutic applications of hallucinogens. The intellectual inﬂuences of the group
included Aldous Huxley’s “Doors of Perception” (11) and the work of Timothy
Leary (12). In 1962 and 1963, when the group was active, hallucinogens were not
yet regulated (13,14). Lotsof described this period in an interview with the Yippie
periodical, “Overthrow” (13):
“The original work was conducted in 1962 and 1963 in New York, and this was
prior to ibogaine being classiﬁed as a Schedule I drug. It was the early 60’s, there
were no restrictions on LSD or mescaline or psilocybin. . . . The regulations
pertaining to the restrictions on these drugs occurred in 1966 and 1967. We were
not looking for a cure for heroin addiction or cocaine abuse. I was interested in
psychoactive compounds and I established a research laboratory, S&L
Laboratories, to procure drugs and administer them to interested persons . . .
. . . It was what was sweeping the country in the early 60’s, this enormous
interest in psychoactive substances…
. . . We received ibogaine from both the United States and England, and what
happened was this: I was given a dose of ibogaine from an associate of mine who
was actually a chemist involved in a 1950’s LSD scene—most people don’t even
know that there was a ‘50s LSD scene…
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
. . . It just happened at that time the FDA was beginning to investigate
hallucinogens, and they realized that our laboratory was ordering large amounts
of hallucinogens for experimentation, and they cut off our supplies. So we were
not able to continue with this work.”
Lotsof gave the initial dose of ibogaine to a friend. The group obtained more
ibogaine and gave it at various dosage levels up to 19 mg/kg to a total of 20
individuals. A subset of 7 of these 20 individuals were heroin dependent and
noted the alleviation of the symptoms of physical dependence and craving after
taking ibogaine (4,7). Furthermore, 5 of these 7 individuals reportedly remained
free of heroin for 6 months or longer following their treatment with ibogaine. All
7 individuals reported the alleviation of physical withdrawal from heroin, and the
2 individuals who returned rapidly to heroin use ascribed it to their continued
identiﬁcation with the role of the heroin addict, and not to persistent withdrawal
symptoms. The activity of the group eventually ceased in 1963 when FDA and
law-enforcement agencies eliminated the ability of S&L Laboratories, as Lotsof
put it, “to procure drugs and administer them to interested persons” (13).
The setting in which the observation of the possible efﬁcacy of ibogaine was
made was unconventional, which led to its closure by federal regulatory agencies.
Nonetheless, this was the methodological setting of the observation of the
putative efﬁcacy of ibogaine in opioid withdrawal and possibly other drug
dependence syndromes. An important question is whether clinical observations
regarding opioid withdrawal made in this setting can be methodologically valid.
The idea of a lay psychotropic user’s group as a means of drug discovery is quite
unusual. However, there was a systematic aspect of Lotsof and the group’s
observation and documentation of effects at various dosage levels. An effect of
ibogaine on the physical manifestations of opioid withdrawal, if present, might
reasonably be expected to have been apparent to the members of this network of
experienced users. Subsequently, there has been signiﬁcant concordance between
the observations reported within this original cohort and the ensuing clinical
reports on ibogaine for the indication of opioid withdrawal (4-6).
b. The Attempt to Develop Ibogaine. In 1982, Lotsof formed a nonproﬁt
corporation, the Dora Weiner Foundation, whose purpose was to promote the
development of ibogaine. The nonprofit corporation was unsuccessful in
attracting signiﬁcant ﬁnancial support. In 1984 it commissioned a review
(unpublished) of the ibogaine research literature by Dr. Doris Clouet, who was
eventually appointed Chief of the Opioid Pharmacology Branch at the National
Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). On a psychological level, enlisting Clouet’s
involvement in project also represented the tactic of “normalization,” reaching
out to those with scientiﬁc credibility in order to offset the controversial and
unusual image that ibogaine would surely have as a medication development
252 alper et al.
project. Clouet concluded that the mechanism of action of ibogaine did not appear
to signiﬁcantly involve direct opioid agonist or antagonist activity. The pharma-
ceutical industry responded unenthusiastically to Lotsof’s attempts to develop
interest in ibogaine. In addition to ibogaine being a naturally occurring plant
hallucinogen originating from a highly irregular developmental setting, the
pharmaceutical industry also generally viewed addiction as an economically
unattractive area for medication development (15).
In 1986, Lotsof formed NDA International, a private company that issued
shares of stock. He ﬁled patents for the use of ibogaine in treating multiple
dependence syndromes, including opioid (16), cocaine and amphetamine (17),
alcohol (18), nicotine (19), and polysubstance dependence (20). He organized an
international conference in Paris in 1987 and traveled to Europe and Gabon to
secure sources of ibogaine. In the late 1980s, NDA established contact and
provided ibogaine to researchers at the Department of Pharmacology at Erasmus
University in Rotterdam, which resulted in the ﬁrst paper indicating efﬁcacy in an
animal model of opiate withdrawal (21). The contact of Lotsof with the Erasmus
University was provided by the Commercial Attaché of the U.S. embassy in Den
Hague, who was aware of the newly formed Center for Addiction Research at the
Erasmus University, whose mission was to develop creative approaches to
addiction problems. As discussed below, the Erasmus collaboration also led to
contact with the Dutch Junkiebond.
NDA International provided a small contract to the laboratory of Dr. Stanley
Glick at Albany Medical College in 1989, which stimulated some initial pilot
work with ibogaine. Subsequent research by Dr. Glick indicated the efﬁcacy of
ibogaine in animal models of opioid dependence (22,23). This marked the
beginning of what is now a decade of work on iboga alkaloids in that laboratory.
Lotsof reached out tirelessly to public and private sector scientists who might
take an interest in the ibogaine project. A valuable contact was made with Dr.
Charles Grudzinskas, who was provided with information about ibogaine while
an executive at Lederle in 1990 and subsequently became Director of the
Medications Development Division (MDD) at NIDA in 1991.
Ibogaine treatment could not legally be provided to humans in the United
States, and patients recruited by NDA International were treated in the
Netherlands starting late in 1991 until mid-1993. Prior to the advent of the NDA
International treatments, an organization known as the International Coalition for
Addict Self-Help (ICASH) began to provide treatments in the Netherlands in
1989. ICASH was an addict advocacy organization founded by Robert Sisko
which described itself as having a self-help orientation in the tradition of
European user self-help organizations, such as the Junkiebond in the Netherlands
(14,24,25). ICASH made ibogaine treatment available to a network of heroin
users in the Netherlands, among them the late Nico Adriaans, a cofounder of the
Dutch Junkiebond (see below). This network of users included Dutch Addict
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
Self-Help (DASH), later known as International Addict Self-Help (INTASH),
which provided approximately 10 ibogaine treatments to other Dutch addicts in
1990. Boaz Wachtel, a former medic in the Israeli Army, participated in the
ICASH and DASH/INTASH treatments, as well as the treatments conducted by
NDA International in the Netherlands. The results of the DASH/INTASH
treatments were presented in publications from the Erasmus University group and
a squatter’s collective in Amsterdam (26,27).
A total of approximately 40 to 45 individuals were treated between 1989 and
1993 in the Netherlands involving NDA International and/or ICASH or DASH.
The data from these treatments, together with the 20 subjects treated in the United
States by Lotsof between 1962 and 1963, provide the principal source of the case
study evidence that has been presented to the National Institute on Drug Abuse
(NIDA) and the FDA (4). As indicated below, this total of approximately 60 cases
may be a fraction of the total number of humans treated with ibogaine in diverse
informal contexts in the United States and Europe.
The death of a patient in the Netherlands in June 1993 brought an end to
treatments there by NDA International. The ofﬁcial Dutch inquiry was not
conclusive regarding a causal role of ibogaine in the death (28). At the time of the
death, the Dutch government was engaged in a protracted inquiry into the existing
knowledge on experimental treatments for heroin dependence. The inquiry had
been launched to provide background information for evaluating the experiment
in heroin prescription (29). The death signiﬁcantly decreased the enthusiasm to
investigate ibogaine that did exist in ofﬁcial Dutch circles and stopped the
development of a clinical trial protocol that had been quietly in progress at the
Center for Addiction Research at Erasmus University. A small number of
treatments were subsequently conducted by NDA International in Panama
NIDA developed its own Phase I/II clinical trial protocol from October 1993
to December 1994. The resulting draft protocol involved single administration of
ﬁxed dosages of ibogaine of 150 and 300 mg versus placebo, for the indication
of cocaine dependence. In March 1995, NIDA decided not to fund the implemen-
tation of the protocol it had developed. Opinions of consultants from the
pharmaceutical industry were a signiﬁcant inﬂuence in the NIDA decision not to
fund human efﬁcacy trials. The decision was naturally disappointing to the
network of advocacy of ibogaine and indicated that the prospect for a U.S.
clinical trial of ibogaine in the near future was no longer likely.
2. Deborah Mash, the University of Miami, and St. Kitts
Dr. Deborah Mash, Professor of Neurology at the University of Miami School
of Medicine, became interested in ibogaine in 1991, after hearing presentations at
a conference. In the context of the collaboration between NDA International and
the University of Miami that began in 1992, she witnessed treatments arranged
254 alper et al.
by NDA International in the Netherlands. Mash undertook organizing a clinical
trial of ibogaine, and in August 1993 she received approval of an Investigational
New Drug Application from the FDAAdvisory Panel chaired by medical review
ofﬁcer Curtis Wright. The Phase I dose escalation study protocol initially
included only individuals with histories of having previously received ibogaine
and called for these individuals to receive dosage levels of 1, 2, and 5 mg/kg. The
study began in December 1993, but activity was eventually suspended, in the
context of the unavailability of grant support. The relationship with NDA
International had become strained and eventually involved litigation.
In 1996, Dr. Mash began an ibogaine treatment program in the Caribbean
Island of St. Kitts. Treatments are oriented to the indication of addiction, mainly
to heroin and cocaine. The program features medical supervision of the intake
treatment process and includes cardiac monitoring, systematic collection of
pharmacokinetic data, and the use of structured psychiatric interviews and rating
instruments. The program attempts to remain in contact with patients for up to a
year after the treatment by telephone or questionnaires, but it has not yet
presented data relating to longer-term follow-up. As of the time of the writing of
this volume, more than 150 patients have reportedly been treated in St. Kitts. In
patients treated for the indication of acute opioid withdrawal with single dosages
of ibogaine ranging from 600 to 1200 mg, physician ratings of withdrawal signs
and symptoms appeared to indicate efﬁcacy (5,32, see the chapter by Mash et al.
in this volume), consistent with the case study literature (4,7,16,25-27,30,31).
3. Eric Taub
Eric Taub states he has arranged treatments conducted in the Caribbean since
1992 (33,34) and claims an estimated total of 310 such treatments, approximately
130 of which were sought for the treatment of addiction, predominantly heroin
dependence. The remaining majority of treatments have been “initiatory,”
involving nonaddicts seeking psychological or, as Taub puts it, “psychospiritual”
insight as the therapeutic goal. He uses an overall range of doses of 9 to 12 mg/kg
for an initiatory treatment, 12 to 18 mg/kg for cocaine dependence, and 20 to 24
mg/kg for dependence on heroin or methadone.
The majority of Taub’s treatments have been of the initiatory type, and he
conceptualizes the personal work that his clients seek as an attempt to change a
pattern of “reactive” or subconsciously determined behavior (33,34). In this
regard he appears to be interested in conventional psychotherapeutic goals. A
commonly pursued goal of conventional psychotherapy is to achieve insight as to
how the processing of prior experience affects behavior, so as to allow greater
conscious ﬂexibility and spontaneity in adapting to the demands of the present,
rather than subconsciously determined reaction.
Taub regards obsessive behavioral tendencies as particularly responsive to
ibogaine treatment. He appears to identify a common attribute of pathologically
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
acquired or “learned” associations in addiction, obsession, and forms of
“reactive” behavior that might conventionally be described as neurotic. A
common attribute of these behaviors is an intense subjective motivational state
elicited by an environmental cue or an internal representation, and a subsequent
repetitive, inﬂexible behavioral response. Similar to the conceptualization
suggested by Goutarel (35), ibogaine’s putative effect in facilitating psychother-
apeutic change, as well as treating addiction, is viewed as involving attenuation
of pathologically acquired or “learned” linkages that associate cues or internal
representations with corresponding motivational states and behavior.
Taub reported that it is common for individuals who have taken ibogaine to
reﬂect on and process the content of their experience for months afterward. This
does not imply some sort of “ﬂashback” or reexperience of the subjective state of
being on ibogaine, but a continued interest in the meaning of the material that
emerged during the ibogaine experience. He also noted that women seem to
experience visual phenomena from ibogaine to a greater extent than men,
possibly reﬂecting the greater bioavailability of ibogaine in females versus males
noted in animal models.
Taub estimated that about 70% of addicts treated in their 20s or 30s, and 30%
of those treated in their 40s or 50s, eventually return to their prior drug of
dependence. He views ibogaine as creating a “window of opportunity” of
diminished craving for several months after treatment during which time
involvement in aftercare is essential to prevent eventual relapse. The idea of the
post-treatment period as critical for processing the content of the ibogaine
experience, gaining an appreciation of the psychological aspects of one’s
addiction, and establishing participation in aftercare is shared by others who have
been involved in the treatment of drug dependence with ibogaine (7,36).
4. The West Coast and Other North American Scenes
There is apparently a network involving the use of hallucinogens, including
ibogaine, as psychotherapeutic agents that has existed on the West Coast of the
United States since the 1950s (8-10,14). This network has operated with a low
proﬁle, and there is no Web site. The focus of ibogaine use in this setting has
mainly been psychotherapeutic and not the treatment of addiction, and it
apparently has included the signiﬁcant involvement of credentialed health
According to Stolaroff (10) in his book The Secret Chief: Conversations with
a Pioneer of the Underground Psychedelic Psychotherapy Movement, the dosage
of ibogaine administered by his informant was reportedly in the range of a total
of 150 to 300 mg, as a single ﬁxed dose, which did not frequently cause halluci-
nations. Some of the expectations and beliefs regarding the use of ibogaine in this
setting appear similar those regarding LSD and other serotonergic hallucinogens
(37-39), although ibogaine appears to be attributed with some distinctive features.
256 alper et al.
In agreement with the account of Taub above (33,34), Stolaroff’s informant also
described the phenomenon of patients reﬂecting on and processing the material
that emerges during an ibogaine experience continuing for months after the
session. This phenomenon is described as a relatively distinctive attribute of
ibogaine relative to other psychedelics. Stolaroff’s informant also attributed
ibogaine with particular efﬁcacy in “blocks”:
“This is a place where people will confront blocks, as a matter of fact, if they
have been unwilling to accept them or believe them or often try to deny them. A
truth that you’re trying to deny. Ibogaine won’t let you do that.”
The effect attributed to ibogaine as a psychotherapeutic agent in the above
statement appears to involve particular efﬁcacy in individuals with a behavioral
set that is overly constrained, and has a general resonance with attributions of
efﬁcacy in changing “reactive” or obsessive behavioral patterns (33,34). Another
putative ibogaine effect is the existence of a “window of opportunity” following
ibogaine treatment, during which there may be a heightened interest and capacity
for engagement in the psychotherapeutic process (7,10,33,34,36).
Operationalizing and studying such effects, although challenging from a research
perspective, could be relevant to optimizing patient management, if ibogaine
were to be approved for clinical use.
C. The Netherlands
1. DASH/INTASH and the Center for Addiction Research at the Erasmus
Following his treatment in May 1990, ICASH provided Nico Adriaans with
enough ibogaine to treat approximately 10 other addicts. These addicts were
treated in the summer of 1990 by a group that referred to itself as DASH, and
subsequently INTASH, which at that time consisted mainly of three individuals:
Adriaans and his girlfriend, Josien Harms, and Geerte Frenken. The treatments
were conducted at Nico Adriaans’s apartment in Rotterdam. A description by
Frenken, whose chapter is included in this volume, of these treatments reveals an
attempt to create ritual (14):
“We’d have the person come over the night before his treatment and introduce
ourselves as Mamma and Papa Iboga, because the addict is the child going
through rebirth. We would tell them about the African ritual the night before the
treatment so that they’d totally know what they were going to face. We’d tell them
that the Africans use it basically to guide people into adulthood so that they
become more responsible people, and that’s what we’d be doing. Making a person
more responsible in life, so that he’d have control over drugs instead of drugs
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
over the person.
If the person was a shooter, we would let him or her take their last shot,
then let her or him destroy their syringe, symbolizing the destruction of their
addiction . . .
. . . We had a room with two doors, which was perfect. We’d move someone in
through a door with the moon painted on it, into the room where they would have
the experience, and then after treatment guide them out the doorway decorated
with a sun.”
The treatments, mainly for heroin dependence, reportedly went smoothly and
were successful in achieving the goal of alleviating the symptoms of acute
withdrawal, and those treated denied craving and generally avoided heroin for
weeks or months afterward. A focus group was formed of those who had been
treated in an investigation conducted in collaboration with the Center for
Addiction research at Erasmus University. Eva Ketzer, a physician intern attached
to the center, facilitated the groups and compiled data for scientiﬁc publication
(26). However, as time passed, the pull of the social network of the users, and
possibly the gradual attenuation of the apparent effect on craving became
“[T]hey basically all slowly but surely fell back into their addiction. The
people who were dealing the heroin were very powerful, socially. They had
friends in the focus group going back ten, ﬁfteen years—they went all the way
back to hippie times together. They had been through all kinds of shit and they
had this intense bond.
The leader of this group was a heroin dealer . . . In the end he won. After the
ibogaine people realized they were alone, and discovered that the one thing they
had in common was that every day, they used to sit at this guy’s table and get
together—and that this contact would happen because of smack (which was his
income). In the end they all fell back into heroin to maintain the social contact,
and the ibogaine was wearing off.”
The focus group eventually dissolved. The focus group experience appeared to
indicate that it would be necessary to integrate ibogaine into conventional
treatment settings, such as the therapeutic community, in order to produce lasting
success. It was envisioned that in such a formal treatment setting, the addict
patient could be involved in a therapeutic mileu that could protect against the
social isolation that appeared to be a major determinant of relapse in the focus
The dissolution of the focus group marked a stormy time at the Center for
Addiction Research at Erasmus University. Adriaans and Harms were both
employed as community ﬁeld workers at the center. Their function was to
258 alper et al.
maintain contacts with the heroin addict populations and recruit their partici-
pation in center projects. The director of the center at that time, Dr. Charles
Kaplan (a co-author of this chapter), had been introduced to Lotsof, and the
ibogaine issue provided a unique opportunity for investigating innovative
treatments. The idea was to initiate an ibogaine medication development project
at Erasmus University that would start with animal Phase I studies and progress
to clinical trials. However, the activist spirit of Nico Adriaans and Lotsof found
common ground, and they undertook the initiative of providing informal
treatment to Dutch addicts, an action that they felt was legitimized by the AIDS
epidemic. (Nico Adriaans eventually died of AIDS in 1995 (40), and a foundation
was established in Rotterdam that bears his name and continues his work.)
Although Kaplan was sympathetic to this development, it went beyond what was
ofﬁcially permissible with regard to the ibogaine medication development
project. Nonetheless, his assistant, Eva Ketzer, had been authorized to work with
Adriaans to study the ongoing underground treatments. This ex post facto
approach had been considered ethically acceptable since it simply organized a
systematic way of observing the self-help initiative of the addicts themselves that
already existed outside of the boundaries of formal addiction treatment in the
The tension between ofﬁcial institutional policy and the collective sentiments
of the Addiction Research Center intensiﬁed with the appearance of sensationalist
“success” stories in the international press, which focused an uncomfortably large
amount of publicity on the center. This wave of publicity precipitated a
controversy and displeased some of the members of the board of the Erasmus
University and the private foundation that supported the Addiction Research
Center. The underground informal ibogaine treatments were perceived as
irresponsible and potentially dangerous, and they raised concerns with the
publicity, which appeared to associate the center with the unauthorized ibogaine
treatments. A backlash developed in ofﬁcial circles concerned with addiction and
medical policy in the Netherlands, which ultimately resulted in the removal of
Kaplan as director of the center in 1991. The staff at the Addiction Research
Center persisted in attempting to develop a protocol for an ibogaine clinical trial
for some time after the departure of its director, but it eventually abandoned the
DASH members, mindful of the apparent limitations of their treatment setting,
became more focused on attempting to involve the professional drug addiction
treatment community. In 1992, in conjunction with NDA International, four
treatments were conducted that were observed by Dutch physicians afﬁliated with
the Nederlands Instituut voor Alcohol en Drugs (NIAD) and by American
physicians, including Dr. Lester Grinspoon of Harvard Medical School and Dr.
Carlo Contoreggi of NIDA. The treatments went smoothly and impressed those
present, but did not in themselves succeed in introducing ibogaine into the
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
conventional addiction treatment community in the Netherlands.
2. Jan Bastiaans
Dr. Jan Bastiaans was a major ﬁgure in the history of the psychotherapeutic use
of hallucinogens (41-43). He was a professor at the State University of Leiden
from 1963 to 1985. Active with the Dutch resistance during the Second World
War, Bastiaans had a long-standing interest in the incorporation of pharmacologic
methods into the psychotherapy of war-related trauma. In 1961, he began
utilizing hallucinogens for this purpose and eventually treated approximately 300
patients with LSD and psilocybin. As with a number of other researchers who
were interested in the possible medical use of hallucinogens, Bastiaans’s work
became increasingly stigmatized with the rise of the drug culture, and he
eventually became the last remaining Dutch psychiatrist with ofﬁcial authori-
zation to use hallucinogens clinically.
The individuals he treated included the Israeli writer Yehiel De-Nur, a survivor
of Auschwitz who wrote under the name Ka-Tzetnik 135633 and published an
account of his treatment (44). It appears that Bastiaan’s clinical skills were well
respected by his peers, but the controversy over hallucinogens left him isolated
politically in his profession. Doubts existed as to the safety of hallucinogens and
whether his methods were sufﬁciently well systematized to be as effective when
utilized by others. A report published in 1987 on behalf of the State Department
of Public Health concluded that the data was insufﬁcient to systematically
evaluate the effects of Bastiaan’s treatment approach.
Bastiaans began working with NDA International in 1992 and was present at a
total of 18 treatments from 1992 to 1993 (4). In June 1993, a patient died during
a treatment, and Bastiaans, as supervising medical doctor, was asked to end his
therapeutic practice by the Medische Tuchtraad, the Dutch supervisory board of
the medical profession. The ofﬁcial Dutch inquiry into the case did not
substantiate any charges of wrongdoing by Bastiaans, and noted uncertainty in
determining the cause of death due to the lack of information regarding the
toxicological signiﬁcance of post-mortem ibogaine or noribogaine levels, as well
as the possible involvement of surreptitious heroin use during the treatment (28).
However, the adverse action of the Medische Tuchtraad apparently related to an
administrative failure in obtaining ofﬁcial permission regarding the use of an
experimental treatment. Bastiaans died in October 1997, and in his last years he
had become bitter over the lack of recognition for his methods in the medical
D. Other European Scenes
According to Marko Resinovic (45), founder of the Slovenian Iboga
260 alper et al.
Foundation (46), a treatment scene has existed in Slovenia since 1995. He has
estimated that approximately 150 people have been treated within multiple
networks in Slovenia. The majority of those taking ibogaine have done so for the
indication of opioid dependence, with a minority for psychotherapeutic reasons.
The foundation’s role is to provide information about the use of ibogaine and to
assist individuals and their social or family networks in arranging the treatment
situation. The foundation is also a source from which ibogaine can be purchased,
and the price of the ibogaine for the treatment of a heroin addict is currently the
equivalent of approximately US $200 per gram. The scene in Slovenia seems
loosely organized, with addicts often setting their treatments up individually.
Outcomes in this scene have not been systematically tracked, and it is difﬁcult to
assess what the collective clinical experience with ibogaine has been in Slovenia.
Dr. Andrej Kastelic, the head of the Center for Treatment of Drug Addiction in
Ljubljana, Slovenia’s main addiction treatment center, described variable results
in the patients with whom he came in contact. He reported the apparent efﬁcacy
of ibogaine in acute withdrawal, but commonly with relapse to heroin use within
days to weeks (47).
A relatively large ibogaine scene is alleged to exist, or to have existed in
Christiana, a former military barracks located in a suburb of Copenhagen turned
squat and currently occupied by approximately 1200 people. This information
was furnished to one of the authors of this chapter (K.A.) by Carl Waltenburg, a
45-year-old Danish man who describes a lifelong interest in hallucinogens as a
psychological or spiritual paradigm (48). He has also apparently been involved
with hallucinogens as an entrepreneur. He claims to have been associated with
Christiana since its inception in 1972, and he ﬁrst encountered ibogaine in the
context of general interest in the psychotherapeutic or sacramental use of
hallucinogens. He believes that ibogaine and serotonergic hallucinogens, such as
LSD, share a common attribute of facilitating insight, but that ibogaine is
distinctive with respect to its efﬁcacy against the physical symptoms of opioid
withdrawal. He also has described the use of low doses by nonaddicts for an
apparent stimulant-like effect, similar to the use of tablets containing 8 mg of
ibogaine which were marketed as Lambarène in France before being banned in
Waltenburg stated that in 1981, a European industrial manufacturer took an
interest in ibogaine and created a 44 kg supply of alkaloid extract from 500 kg of
Tabernanthe iboga root bark. He eventually obtained possession of this supply of
the alkaloid extract, which he refers to as “Indra,” and estimated that the total
number of heroin dependent individuals who have received it through the
Christiana network is approximately 1000. The Indra ibogaine extract is said to
have been available through the Christiana network and more recently has been
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
sold via the Internet (49). The current price of a gram of extract is approximately
US $25. The alkaloid content of the Indra extract is said to be approximately ﬁve
times that of dried, unextracted root bark, and total iboga alkaloid content is
claimed to be on the order of 20%. The assertion that this alkaloid extract supply
dates back to 1981, and the uncertainty regarding the conditions under which it
has been stored raises questions regarding its content, stability, and whether
samples taken from various physical locations within this supply are uniform. In
January 2000, e-mails posted to the Ibogaine Mailing List (50) alleged that in
London, a 40-year-old heroin addict who died had taken 5 g of Indra extract 40
hours prior to his death. At the time of the writing of this book, the ofﬁcial British
inquest into the matter is in progress.
Waltenburg stated that he began to guide sessions in 1982 that involved a total
of about 100 heroin users that year, with some treatments conducted simulta-
neously on groups of up to eight patients. The duration of sessions was typically
2 days. Subsequent to 1982, he guided about 70 more treatments until the present
time, with the remainder of the total of 1000 treatments involving other guides
who had acquired their experience in the Christiana network. Approximately half
of these heroin dependent patients predominantly used the intravenous route,
with the remainder smoking or snorting.
This account, while certainly interesting, conﬂicts signiﬁcantly with accounts
provided by other informants (51,52). The authors of this chapter have not been
able to ﬁnd any independent informant that conﬁrms the existence of the
putatively extensive Christiana ibogaine scene. The account of an informant
referred to the authors of this chapter by the Danish Drug User’s Union (51) is
inconsistent with that of Waltenburg. Richard T. Lionheart, a Christiana resident
of 28 years from the time of its inception, does not recall ever meeting
Waltenburg. He was not aware of the use of ibogaine in Christiana, and certainly
not on anywhere near the scale Waltenburg claimed. Lionheart provided a
different account of how Christiana came to terms with its heroin problem. By
1979, Christiana was afﬂicted with a severe heroin crisis, and over one-third of
its adult population was addicted (52). A policy termed “blockade” was adopted,
under which all addicts were forcibly removed from Christiana and forbidden to
return until they had been off heroin for 6 months. Detoxiﬁed heroin addicts were
often sent to communes in the North of Denmark and were then permitted to
return to Christiana after 6 months. After the imposition of the blockade policy, a
“zero tolerance” policy toward hard drugs was imposed in Christiana. The
cannabis dealers of Christiana were permitted, but not their counterparts who
attempted to sell harder drugs. Lionheart stated that a number of “alternative”
treatments had been considered for detoxiﬁcation, including ibogaine, and were
eschewed in favor of the “cold turkey” approach, apparently mainly on
262 alper et al.
“We decided instead to use ‘cold turkey’because it seemed to last the longest.
There might be an aspect of difﬁcult come difﬁcult go.
A reason not to use ibogaine or acupuncture was to not send a signal of ‘Drugs
are not so risky. If you get addicted you can always get to the reset button through
ibogaine or acupuncture.’It was a period of time when a lot of people in Denmark
and especially in Christiana got addicted.
So we did things the hard way.”
The above conﬂicting accounts exemplify some of the methodological
difﬁculties and uncertainties of conducting a contemporary historical study. There
simply is not enough distance from the historical phenomenon to assemble and
sort through all the relevant evidence. Nevertheless, we can tentatively conclude
that while the lack of conﬁrmation raises doubts regarding Waltenburg’s account,
it appears possible, given the apparent philosophical and power differences, that
the use of ibogaine in Christiana could conceivably have occurred in a secretive
context not revealed to those who imposed the “blockade” policy.
3. The Netherlands
While the addict self-help scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s no longer
exists in the Netherlands, a newer scene emerged in late 1999. “Sara,” a mother
of ﬁve children without a formal medical background, described treatments with
ibogaine in her home located in the countryside outside of Amsterdam. She stated
that as of November 2000, she had treated 15 individuals for the primary
indication of opioid dependence, 5 for cocaine dependence, 2 for alcohol
dependence, and 4 individuals whose motivation was “psychospiritual”. Most
patients are from the United States. Her interest in ibogaine began with Eric Taub
and Dan Lieberman’s visits to the Netherlands in 1999, and she herself took
ibogaine in an “initiatory” session before beginning to treat others in December
1999. She usually used 3 to 6 g of “Indra” (49), an extract of T. iboga root bark.
She has also occasionally used ibogaine hydrochloride at dosages of 300 to 500
mg to bring about a more rapid onset of action in patients who are already
evidencing signs of opioid withdrawal. Her reason for combining the root bark
extract and the purer hydrochloride appear to be pharmacokinetic. She described
the hydrochloride as having a faster onset of action, which is desirable in patients
who are verging on acute withdrawal, whereas the extract is described as having
a more sustained peak effect and a slower onset of action.
The cost of the treatment at Sara’s home is approximately US $600 to $1000,
and she described her main compensation for her role as “not a great income, but
a great pleasure.” She has placed great importance on empathic contact between
the treatment guide and the patient, and stated she sometimes takes a small dose
of approximately 1/2 g of the extract to strengthen the bond with the patient and
to maintain her own wakefulness through the all-night session. She believes that
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
her home setting is reassuring to many of her patients, who receive the treatment
in a darkened room in her house. She noted that some patients prefer to speak
about issues such as the negative self-image of the addict or their hopes for the
future, while others prefer simply to be left alone to attend to their inner
experience. She noted the importance of aftercare and for treated addicts to form
new nondrug-centered social networks after treatment, and she believes that
social isolation is a major factor involved in relapse. She has attempted to
encourage treated addicts to maintain contact with one another in the form of
support groups, but noted that the interest in this among the addicts she has
treated appears to have been limited.
4. The United Kingdom
An ibogaine scene began in the United Kingdom in 1998, apparently
stimulated by among other things, the appearance of a lengthy article on ibogaine
in the London Times Saturday Edition (53), distribution of the book The Ibogaine
Story (14), and an ibogaine video by the ibogaine-advocating organization Cures-
not-Wars (54) (see below) that circulated among members of the Green Political
Party and others interested in drug policy reform. In 1998, activists Chris Sanders
and Nick Sandberg formed their respective organizations, The Ibogaine Project
(55) and Ibogaine.co.uk (56). They journeyed to Slovenia to purchase a supply of
ibogaine, and treated an addict in the United Kingdom in December of that year.
The ibogaine treatment scene in the United Kingdom is loosely organized and
not apparently centered around any single organization or individual. Ibogaine
has been available in certain small shops in the United Kingdom and can be
purchased via the Internet as well. It is estimated that as of late 2000,
underground treatments were proceeding in London with a frequency of approx-
imately one per week (57,58). The Ibogaine Project has been involved with
activities related to political organizing such as inﬂuencing the Greens to
ofﬁcially include advocacy of ibogaine research and treatment in their agenda and
lobbying the Lord Mayor of London to support an ibogaine treatment and
research project involving local physicians. Ibogaine.co.uk has mainly been
involved in advocacy in the form of activities such as distributing pamphlets and
A small scene has existed since 1994 in Italy involving a chemist who made
local contacts in Africa and developed his own method of extracting ibogaine
from root bark shavings (33). Approximately 35 to 40 people have been treated,
predominantly for heroin dependence.
6. Czech Republic
A treatment scene began in the Czech Republic in January 2000 (59). A total
264 alper et al.
of approximately eighteen opiate-dependent addicts and 60 nonaddicts were
reportedly treated. The cost of the treatments was the equivalent of about US
$500. Nonaddicts received dosages ranging from 13 to 18 mg/kg, and addicts 20
to 22 mg/kg. The treatment provider terminated this activity approximately a year
after beginning it, due to his impression that offering ibogaine treatment alone
without systematic aftercare appeared to yield limited beneﬁt.
G., who is discussed here anonymously due to uncertainty regarding the
position of French authorities on the use of ibogaine in that country, was initiated
into the Bwiti cult in 1980, and has conducted ibogaine sessions in France and
Cameroon since 1998. In France, he has treated 11 people, one for heroin
dependence, 1 for alcoholism, 6 for psychotherapeutic purposes, and 3 “out of
curiosity.” The sessions have generally been at no cost. G. has usually conducted
the sessions on his own, although a Gabonese Nganga (guide) did participate in
one individual’s treatment, at a cost of approximately US $1000. G. noted that
drug and alcohol use seemed to be decreased for a variable length of time
following ibogaine, regardless of the indication for which the session was sought.
G.’s sessions in Africa are described further below.
This chapter focuses on ibogaine use in the United States and Europe.
However, the work of two individuals is discussed here who have been involved
in arranging African Bwiti ceremonies predominantly on behalf of Europeans or
Dan Lieberman (60), an ethnobotanist based in South Africa and a Bwiti
initiate, had been involved in arranging initiations for Europeans and Americans
in Gabon, and also apparently treated heroin addicts in South Africa. He unfortu-
nately died in an automobile accident in August 2000. It is estimated that
Lieberman arranged approximately 20 ibogaine experiences in Africa (33). The
following description emphasizes his respect for, and his experience of, the sense
of community and empathy in the Bwiti ceremony (61):
“The plant tends to throw one directly into a state of “sacred knowing,” a state
unclouded by thought. The more profound the stillness experienced, the greater
will the initiates insights be, and the more fundamental and abiding will the
changes thus be... The Bwiti, who understand this state perfectly, have developed
a culture of healing around this plant, which is embodied in their initiatory
ceremonies. These are musical outpourings of ritualized compassion and caring,
which show the indivisibility of healing, art, music, dance and religion in a most
perfect and sublime manner.
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
These initiations are held for those people who request it, and only Bwiti
initiates (those who have eaten of the plant) are able to initiate others. The Bwiti
practitioners’entire lives are suffused with a consideration and an awareness of
the interconnectedness of all things. They live in and around the temples, which
are the center of village life, and have a respect for the sanctity of healing, and
for the inherent potential for goodness in every human being. . . . The entire
village takes part in the ritual, each individual having a speciﬁc role to perform,
instrument to play, part to sing, and they know the ceremony intimately. It is a
combined effort by the whole village, rich in cultural nuance and signiﬁcance,
and that you, as initiate, as neophyte, are the centre of all their focus, that you
are the ‘Banzie,’makes this a very powerful experience indeed.”
Lieberman clearly believed that the set and setting of ibogaine administration
are important, and that the Bwiti ceremony, as he has experienced it in Africa, has
signiﬁcant implications for optimizing the use of ibogaine for the indication of
“In personal communications and e-mail correspondence with various addicts
who had undergone the iboga/ibogaine treatments, I found that inadequate or
incompetent caregiving was often cited as a barrier to greater insight. (To the
Bwiti this is the heart of the matter—the sanctity of the temple, it’s members, rites
and accordances are the foundation of a successful and pure initiation.) For a
more enduring effect, particularly for those staving off addictions, it seems that
the setting is critical to the longer-term efﬁcacy of the experience.”
G., whose activities in France have been previously discussed, has also
arranged Bwiti initiations in Cameroon for a total of seven individuals, three of
whom sought help for heroin or alcohol dependence and four who sought a
“mystical experience.” The cost of these experiences was approximately US
$1200 to $2000. G. stated that he no longer arranges these ceremonies, because
“for Westerners, staying with local people in their home and adhering strictly to
the traditions is too hard” and that “Although it is bearable for someone who
comes back cured of addiction, such is not the case for someone searching for a
mystical experience and who discovers the infernal (and real) life of Africans. I
discontinued initiations . . . I expect to have them in a context more suited to our
poor little asepticized bodies.”
A problem with arranging “iboga tourism” is the lack of control over the
conditions and circumstances of the ceremony, and there can be problems such as
malaria, or unexpected negotiations regarding the fee at inopportune times (56).
It should be kept in mind that there is considerable variability with respect to any
number of factors such as experience, interest in initiates, and the manner in
which the Bwiti ceremony is practiced by its adherents.
266 alper et al.
III. The Political Subculture of Advocacy
There has been energetic public sector activism on behalf of ibogaine, much of
which is associated with the lay NDA/addict self-help treatment network that
originally accumulated the clinical case study evidence that was presented to the
FDA and NIDA. In addition to interactions with NIDA and the FDA, ibogaine
activism has encompassed activities such as participating in harm reduction or
drug policy oriented conferences and engaging the media. Ibogaine advocates did
network with activist organizations that had a history of utilizing aggressive and
provocative tactics of civil disobedience that resulted in arrests of demonstrators.
However, no arrests ever resulted from the generally calm and orderly actions and
demonstrations that were staged on behalf of ibogaine.
Activists were regularly included in major NIDA and FDA meetings on the
development of human research with ibogaine in the years of NIDA’s ibogaine
project from 1991 to 1995. Ibogaine advocacy sought to inﬂuence the public
sector, which controlled policy and budgetary decisions of great importance for
ibogaine’s possible development. NIDA underwrote most of the research
expenditures for preclinical and toxicological work on ibogaine’s development as
a pharmaceutical agent and weighed the possibility of funding its own human
clinical trial. The FDA provided the regulatory authorization to permit going
forward with clinical trials.
In the United States and Europe, there is a history of groups afﬂicted with an
illness organizing in order to inﬂuence public policy through political activism.
Examples of this include the health activists who have organized around AIDS or
breast cancer (2,3,62,63). Such groups are bound by a sense of group identity,
share a feeling of being marginalized, and have formed their disease speciﬁc
agenda in the context of a preexisting political agenda. AIDS activists organized
in the context of a preexisting gay political movement, and breast cancer activism
in the context of feminism. The preexisting political base for the advocacy of
ibogaine was that associated with drug addiction, and it included the European
drug-user self-help unions, and harm reduction and AIDS activism communities
in the United States.
The use of ibogaine originated in a medical subculture, involving individuals
without formal medical training or credentials and the treatment of a stigmatized
condition. Identiﬁcation with marginalization and stigmatization is a resonant
theme in the contemporary history of ibogaine and an important element of the
group identity of those involved in ibogaine’s advocacy. Advocates of ibogaine
experienced themselves as having witnessed strong evidence of efﬁcacy in
themselves or others, but felt that their observations were discounted and their
views excluded due to their lack of credentials. Many of its advocates believed
ibogaine had not been developed because society has marginalized and
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
stigmatized addicts and did not want to expend resources to develop treatment,
and furthermore discounted evidence of the efﬁcacy of ibogaine because it
originated from a nonmedical network involving addicts. Activism was a
response to the perception of marginalization, and providing ibogaine treatment
was viewed as a legitimate act of civil disobedience.
The ibogaine project drew a constituency from other activist groups whose
collective identity also featured a sense of marginalization and whose agenda
might accommodate ibogaine advocacy. The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power
(ACT UP) was the most tactically important alliance with a group possessing a
related agenda. The shared agenda of ACT UP and ibogaine was to accelerate the
development of treatment for drug dependence as a disorder causing an increased
rate of transmission of HIV. The prospect of user self-help in the development of
an effective, alternative and noncoercive treatment approach interested the Dutch
Junkiebond. Some common ground existed with drug policy reformers who
generally favored the development of treatment instead of incarceration and the
drug war and because the scheduling of ibogaine and its stigmatization as a
“psychedelic” arguably impeded ibogaine’s development. Issues of potential
interest from an African-American perspective involved the community impact of
the drug problem, and the ethical and outreach aspects of clinical research in the
community, to the Afrocentric theme of the retrieval of a “lost” traditional
A. Origins and Actions
1. Activist Tactics
The most signiﬁcant activist tactic employed on behalf of ibogaine was simply
to spread information. The advocates of ibogaine felt they had a strong case, with
the apparent congruence of the human case reports and animal work indicating
evidence for efﬁcacy, and their convictions drew on their own personal
experience and the collective experience of the network. The advocates of
ibogaine were energetic with respect to the distribution of scientiﬁc literature,
seeking contact with the media and networking with the drug policy and harm
reduction activists. Arrangements were made for physicians or professional
researchers to witness treatments, sometimes discreetly and conﬁdentially.
Individuals who had been involved in the treatments shared their ﬁrst person
perspective at conferences and meetings, and in interviews with the media. NDA
International frequently mailed collections of reprints from the scientific
literature on ibogaine to various individuals in industry, academia, or
government, and also distributed them at conferences and meetings related to
drug policy or harm reduction.
268 alper et al.
2. Civil Disobedience
The classic model of nonviolent civil disobedience advocated and exempliﬁed
by Mohandas K. Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr., involved the violation of the
law in such a way as to challenge the onlooker to question the morality of the law
or policy at which the action was directed. On the New York ACT UP Web page
a piece titled “Why We Get Arrested” (64) bluntly summarized that activists who
make use of civil disobedience to attempt to achieve change must “1) make
absolutely clear what change is desired, usually by listing speciﬁc demands; 2)
target a group or individual with the power to bring about the desired change; and
3) design actions so that the cost of resisting change is perceived by the person/
group in power to be greater than the cost of giving in.” This approach appears to
have been effective, and ACT UP employed these techniques repeatedly with
signiﬁcant success in gaining speciﬁc agenda items such as lowering the price of
some medications from pharmaceutical manufacturers or accelerating the
regulatory process of medication development at the FDA (3).
Advocates of ibogaine did not engage in this sort of civil disobedience,
although some of the organizations with which they networked did. The classic
paradigm of civil disobedience involves the deliberate, open violation of an
unjust law. When advocating the development of ibogaine as a treatment, the
advocates of ibogaine did not break the law and never were arrested in any action
or demonstration. Treatments such as those arranged in the Netherlands or St.
Kitts could not have legally been conducted in the United States, but could be
conducted legally in accordance with local law. Also, the treatments for the most
part were not “open” and subject to the bounds of conﬁdentiality. Nonetheless,
the perceived apprehension of the FDA or NIDA regarding possible civil disobe-
dience on behalf of ibogaine may have been useful in gaining activists access and
possibly inﬂuencing the development process of the ibogaine project, as for
example the “Storm NIDA” action of July 1991, which is described further
3. The Tactics of Political Theater and Confrontation
Health activists, who have become accomplished practitioners of political
theater, have drawn from a heritage of tactics once previously associated with the
radical left. The Dutch Provos (as in provocateur), which originated in
Amsterdam in 1965 (65), were a seminal inﬂuence in the tide of countercultural
protest that eventually peaked in Berkeley, Mexico City, Prague, and at the
Democratic Convention in Chicago in the summer of 1968. The Provos embraced
an attitude of antiauthoritarianism, a sense of “no going back” to the past, and a
general tactical approach of attempting to provoke furious, embarrassed reaction
from the authorities with highly theatrical, and often absurd actions (66).
The Provos were a major constituent from which the American Yippies formed
in 1967. In the Netherlands, the Provos also gave rise to the Kabouters (translated
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
as “gnome,” “elf,” or “dwarf”), which formed from old Provo factions and the
squatters movement in 1970, and they became an important political force in the
Dutch drug policy of separation of cannabis from hard drugs in 1976. This
emergent strength of the drug policy movement contributed to the future political
base of drug-user self-help unions and harm reduction.
Some prominent actions on the part of the Yippies, the Junkiebond, and ACT
UP exemplify a common related tactical heritage of the use of political theater to
shock, inform, and engage. In 1967, the Diggers, a group which was eventually
subsumed within the Yippies, engaged in an action in which they threw dollar
bills from the balcony of the New York Stock Exchange. As political theater,
individuals lunging for dollar bills momentarily disrupted the normal business
activities of the Exchange. The action succeeded in its goal of exposing and
drawing attention to the elemental display of the psychology of greed, as the
trading of vast sums of capital was momentarily disrupted by individuals lunging
for dollar bills. A decade later, activists of the Dutch Junkiebond and squatter’s
movement scattered black and white photocopies of the colorful Dutch currency
(“black money”), to expose the role, eventually veriﬁed by state prosecution, of
a bank using real estate transactions to launder money made by drug dealers (14).
270 alper et al.
Figure 1. An example of the tactics of provocation, this 1993 poster asks, “Who’s keeping the
African cure out of Harlem?”
From their ﬁrst action in 1987, ACT UP repeatedly targeted the New York Stock
Exchange as a symbol of greed and corporate exploitation of the AIDS crisis (3).
In addition to attempting to establish a shared agenda with organizations that
used such techniques, advocates of ibogaine attempted to make some use of
confrontation and political theater, sometimes with questionable success. As
illustrated in Figure 1, a 1993 poster inquired, “Who’s keeping the African cure
out of Harlem?” and implied that Columbia Professor Herbert Kleber had “acted
to put the brakes on ibogaine’s development.” Such an action was intended to
raise the proﬁle of ibogaine and contribute to an impression of a broader base of
interest than likely existed at the time. However, Dr. Kleber is not known to have
played a direct role in any decision regarding ibogaine at NIDA or the FDA. The
action may well have been more related to ACT UP’s differences with Kleber’s
Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), regarding the issue of needle
exchange, than to ibogaine. The incident illustrates a potential hazard of the
diffusion of the focus of ibogaine activists in their attempt to combine their
agenda with ACT UP.
4. The Junkiebond and European Addict Self-Help
The Dutch Junkiebond (Junkie “league” or “union”) formed in 1980 around the
central focus of promoting the “normalization” of the image and status of drug
users in society (40,67,68). The Junkiebond was effective in advocating for the
involvement of drug users in policy making and improving the accuracy of their
image in the media. The Junkiebond started the ﬁrst needle exchange in response
to hepatitis B in Rotterdam in 1981, and advocated additional harm-reduction
policy innovations such as low-threshold methadone maintenance and the “safe
stroll” or “tipplezone” for street sex workers (69). Drug-user self-help unions
now exist in a number of other European Union countries such as Germany,
Denmark, and Britain, and in Australia. Drug-user unions have not been as
signiﬁcant a development in the United States as they have in Europe.
Nico Adriaans, a cofounder of the Dutch Junkiebond, was treated with
ibogaine in May 1990. His research work at Erasmus University had a strong
policy-making objective, that of helping to provide access to the user community
in research relevant to harm reduction policy development (70,71). He described
his role in facilitating access of the addict community to researchers as “the
tribesman who helps the scientist access and understand tribal culture” (40). This
understanding is, in turn, essential for assessing the suitability of a given policy
innovation for the target population. Adriaans believed that he had found a
powerful policy transformation tool in ibogaine. He advocated ibogaine to other
European user groups, but it had a limited impact, apparently due their greater
interest in agenda items such as methadone maintenance or the legalization of
heroin, as opposed to the development of an experimental treatment (14).
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
Cures-not-Wars (54) is an advocacy organization whose agenda includes
ibogaine, harm reduction, and drug policy reform. As the name of the organi-
zation indicates, it advocates the development and availability of treatment over
pursuit of the “Drug War”. Speciﬁc Cures-not-Wars agenda items include the
decriminalization and medical use of cannabis. Cures-not-Wars and like-minded
counterculture ibogaine activists contend that ibogaine is a victim of the “Drug
War” mentality, which has impeded the development of an effective treatment for
chemical dependence because of its status as a scheduled drug and a
hallucinogen. Dana Beal, a coauthor of this chapter, is the founder of Cures-not-
Wars. Beal’s interest in ibogaine began with meeting Howard Lotsof in 1973 and
intensiﬁed due to the upsurge in heroin use the early 1980s. Aformer Yippie with
experience in grass roots activism, Beal pursued alliances with other activists
whose agendas would accommodate ibogaine. These alliances involved a core
activist group, which evolved through multiple afﬁliations with other activist
organizations with whom a shared agenda that included ibogaine could be
established. Ibogaine activists in this group were successful in gaining access to
major meetings and decision makers of the ibogaine project. They were an active
presence at the NIDA and FDAibogaine project meetings from 1991 to 1995 and
were regularly included in meetings with ofﬁcials in the FDA, NIDA, and the
Ofﬁce of National Drug Control Policy.
The alliances pursued by this group of ibogaine advocates included the
Yippies; Rock against Racism, a movement of rock musicians and fans that began
in Britain in 1978; the Green political party; and various factions of the drug
policy reform movement. The alliances also included Jon Parker, an AIDS
activist who played a pioneering role, often involving civil disobedience, in
helping to establish needle exchange in the United States and who organized the
ﬁrst needle exchange in the United States in New Haven, Connecticut. Another
was with African-American community leader Dhoruba Bin Wahad, who had
been a leader of the East Coast Black Panthers. The most tactically important of
these alliances with respect to NIDA’s ibogaine project involved ACT UP, as
described in the following paragraphs.
6. ACT UP
ACT UP, formed in 1987, utilized tactics of civil disobedience and political
theater that were effective in inﬂuencing the process of decision making
regarding the development and availability of treatments for HIV (2,3). From
1991 to 1994, ACT UP supported ibogaine as an item on their agenda, taking the
view that ibogaine’s putative effectiveness in heroin and cocaine dependence
could possibly reduce the spread of HIV. This support may have been signiﬁcant
for the ibogaine project at NIDA, as evidenced by the apparent effect of the
“Storm NIDA” action. In May 1990, ACT UP had organized a national action to
272 alper et al.
“Storm the NIH” (National Institutes of Health) (3). One thousand protesters
attended the action and demanded more AIDS treatments and improved represen-
tation of women and minorities in the planning and implementation of clinical
trials. It was a substantial action, and was duly noted at the NIH.
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
Figure 2. This 1991 “Storm NIDA” leaﬂet capitalized on the notoriety of a much larger ACT UP
action that had taken place previously at the NIH.
The following year, ibogaine activists working within ACT UP created a
“Storm NIDA” action on behalf of ibogaine and scheduled it for July 10, 1991.
The event was advertised one to two weeks in advance with thousands of leaﬂets
(see Figure 2), which were extensively distributed throughout the ofﬁces of the
FDA and NIDA and intentionally leaked to the police, creating the impression of
a large pending action, such as that of the previous year. Ibogaine did not, in fact,
have a constituency that would draw a number of protestors anywhere near the
size of the original 1990 Storm NIH event. As it turned out, the action was calm
and involved a total of fewer than 20 demonstrators. However, NIDA on hearing
of the pending action, immediately scheduled a meeting with the participants, and
on July 9, the day before the action, notiﬁed the protestors that ibogaine had now
been placed on the list of drugs to be evaluated as treatment for addiction (14,72).
This effectively marked the beginning of the NIDA ibogaine project, which was
active from 1991 to 1995.
Another action involving ACT UPparticipation was the summer of 1993, when
about 40 people, including Philadelphia ACT UP, joined the New York contingent
to picket FDA/NIDA at the Parklawn Building in Rockville on July 5. Activists
believe that the picket and spirited activist participation in the August 1993 FDA
review panel may have inﬂuenced the decision to resume Phase I clinical research
that had been paused due to concerns about neurotoxicity.
The placement of ibogaine on the ACT UP agenda was a result of the partici-
pation and inﬂuence of ibogaine activists in the ACT UP Treatment and Data
Committee. The Treatment and Data Committee served to track the medications
development process and to interface with government and industry in trying to
accelerate the development of drugs to treat HIV. A political/ideological division
within ACT UP involving, among other issues, the relative priority of
development of medications versus immediate social and healthcare needs led to
a major realignment of ACT UP in 1994, with many who had served with the
Treatment and Data Committee leaving ACT UP to form a separate organization,
the Treatment Action Group. It was in the context of this political realignment
that ibogaine was concluded to be nonessential to the ACT UP agenda, from
which it was dropped in 1994.
B. Media Coverage of Ibogaine
The earliest media coverage for ibogaine as a treatment for drug dependence
began in the alternative press with an article in the Yippie periodical Overthrow
in 1985 (13). Subsequently, ibogaine has been covered in the mainstream media
since the late 1980s. In general, the media coverage of ibogaine has emphasized
the scientiﬁc story of the development of an agent originating from the African
rain forest as treatment for addiction (73-75), with relatively less emphasis on the
subcultural aspect of the informal treatment and advocacy networks. The
274 alper et al.
inclusion of ibogaine-treated addicts in the coverage mainly focused on clinical
validation and human interest, and not the nonconforming nature of their
activities as a medical or advocacy subculture. The reference to support for
ibogaine’s development by a “signiﬁcant portion” of the public (1) at the
beginning of this chapter is due in part to the coverage that ibogaine has received
in the media. This was particularly true during the period of the NIDA ibogaine
project from 1991 to 1995.
In addition to describing the aims and scope of the NIDA ibogaine project, the
media have apparently been engaged by aspects of scientiﬁc theoretical thinking
about ibogaine. In 1993, the French chemist Robert Goutarel published a
monograph that suggested the hypothesis of a possible functional analogy
between the action of ibogaine and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. Goutarel
suggested that ibogaine might work by diminishing the pathological linkages of
drug-related stimuli to feelings of valuation and salience, and he suggested a
process analogous to the reconsolidation of memory during REM sleep (35).
Goutarel’s hypothesis has a certain intuitive appeal, and apparently inﬂuenced
media stories that emphasized the “dreamlike” nature of the ibogaine experience
The Ibogaine Story (14) published in 1997, provided a social and cultural
history of the development of ibogaine and the political subculture of ibogaine
advocacy. Although intended for a general lay audience, the book also surveyed
the topics of major signiﬁcance from the scientiﬁc literature on ibogaine. The
book attempted to engage interest by including creative scientiﬁc speculation
such as Goutarel’s work (35), or theoretical discussion regarding a possible
relationship of quantum physics to a model of consciousness. A video also titled
The Ibogaine Story included excerpts of television news productions, as well as
the testimony of patients and treatment guides. Cures-not-Wars estimates it has
distributed some 4,000 copies of the book in its ﬁnal form, 2,000 copies of
various preliminary versions of the book in the form of photocopies, and approx-
imately 5,000 videos in the effort to promote and popularize ibogaine.
In a television interview in 1993 Frank Vocci, the NIDA ofﬁcial in charge of
the ibogaine project stated, “I think that the bad press that LSD got in the 1960s
is not going to help ibogaine, because I think the American people will expect that
this is something gone awry, that the people in Washington are off their rockers,
they really lost it.” However, the media tended to place relatively greater
emphasis on the scientiﬁc controversy regarding the question of ibogaine’s
effectiveness than on the potential social or political controversy of ibogaine as a
hallucinogen. The media’s coverage suggested the possibility that if the ibogaine
project were to have produced favorable clinical results, its developers would not
have been perceived as “off their rockers” solely because it involved the use of a
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
C. The Internet
The Internet has played an important role in the increasing the globalization of
the medical subculture of ibogaine. Various providers of treatment and sources of
ibogaine offer Web sites devoted to ibogaine for the purpose of disseminating
information. AWeb site (58) summarizes the current availability of ibogaine and
offers links to providers of treatment/sessions or sources of ibogaine, most of
whom maintain their own Web sites.
With the exception of some countries such as the United States, Belgium, or
Switzerland, it is presently generally possible to purchase ibogaine through
contact with sources via the Internet in much of the world. The Internet functions
as a sort of “underground railroad,” linking suppliers and treatment guides with
those seeking ibogaine treatment, and it has likely been a factor in the increased
availability and the decline of the price of ibogaine over the past several years.
Other Internet activity includes the Ibogaine Mailing List (50), which began in
March 1997 and has had a signiﬁcant reach in accessing and “binding” the
networks associated with ibogaine. The correspondence of its contributors is
archived, and is an informative resource regarding the collective ideas, beliefs,
and expectations regarding ibogaine in the United States and European
subcultures. Some of the more prevalent topics include the availability of
treatment and the experiences of patients. The list also offers lively discourse that
includes more esoteric and theoretical themes that illustrate ibogaine’s role as a
subcultural intellectual phenomenon. Threads of discussions on the list include
topics such as the sacramental aspect of ibogaine as an “entheogen,” linkages of
the ibogaine concept to world historical religious cultures such as Gnosticism or
Buddism, and references to Bwiti, the sacred culture of ibogaine in Africa. The
tone of some of the list correspondence suggests that ibogaine has become
associated with a sacred or transcendent status in the subculture in the United
States and Europe, much as it is associated with a sacred culture in Africa. Some
excerpts taken from the list illustrate the transcendent or sacramental quality that
some in the subculture have attributed to ibogaine:
“I believe both NDE’s (near death experiences) and ibogaine can induce
certain forms of archetypal experience relating to the creation of physical
“I did have some preconceived notions about ibogaine experience . . . like the
Bwiti notion of ‘meeting your ancestors,’what that became for me was to ‘see’
my past lives: the actual faces of them . . . Having done many psychedelics, I am
convinced that ibogaine is a sacred substance . . . no hit of LSD or mushroom or
cactus came close to where ibogaine took me. Period. Everything I experienced
during the ibogaine I had already experienced; the ibogaine ‘trip’was just what
276 alper et al.
I call the ‘remembering’.”
“The Bwiti cover all bases. Their religion is so new and so utterly synchretic,
I’m sure there isn’t a religious belief structure in the world that isn’t represented
in it somewhere . . . and, as such, it does I guess stand a good chance of being
adopted extensively, certainly in the States.”
The unusual treatment and advocacy subculture in which ibogaine exists raises
several issues. Participation in, or identiﬁcation with, this subculture involves a
belief in the efﬁcacy of ibogaine, which appears to be sustained by word of mouth
and Internet communication, in addition to published clinical reports. The
ibogaine belief system is also an expression of the demand for alternatives for
existing treatments for addiction. The sense of marginalization and stigmati-
zation, with which some of ibogaine’s advocates appear to have identiﬁed, is a
shared general feature of the drug subculture. An awareness of why individuals
choose to use ibogaine, and what they appear to have derived from it, could be
useful in accessing the treatment-seeking behavior and motivations of hidden
populations. Such knowledge could also be useful in designing the milieu of
present treatment settings, and if ibogaine were to be approved, in devising
manual-driven behavioral approaches.
The successes and failures of group activism for the development of a new
pharmacotherapy of addiction provide an example of the problems, issues, and
factors associated with the tactics of addiction health policy advocacy. To a
signiﬁcant extent, activism on behalf of ibogaine can be viewed as disease-
speciﬁc advocacy, such as that associated with AIDS or breast cancer. Ibogaine is
a theoretically interesting drug intended for a disorder with high collective
societal cost and morbidity, but it is relatively unattractive to the private sector
because it presents a limited apparent proﬁt potential and signiﬁcant develop-
mental expense. The private sector’s weighting of costs and long-term incentives
can be irrational from the larger standpoint of society, a situation that public
sector spending is intended to remedy. Because of limited private sector
enthusiasm, the development of new treatments for addiction is particularly
dependent on public sector spending relative to the development of treatments for
other conditions. Public sector spending is subject to political factors, which may
be inﬂuenced by disease-speciﬁc activism.
Activists viewed advocacy on behalf of ibogaine’s development as necessary
because the disorder it is intended to treat afﬂicts a marginalized group.
14. a contemporary history of ibogaine
Preexisting movements, such as the drug user’s unions in Europe and harm
reduction and AIDS activists in the United States, contributed to the political
base. A stronger user’s movement in the United States might have beneﬁted the
political base for the development of innovative and experimental treatment for
addiction, including ibogaine. Such an American user’s movement might have
provided a signiﬁcant countervailing force for the development of new pharma-
cotherapy for addiction in academic research, government, and the
pharmaceutical industry. Greater insurance reimbursement for the treatment of
substance dependence could also provide an incentive for development of
pharmacotherapy for addiction in the private sector, just as insurance
reimbursement has motivated the pharmaceutical industry to develop drugs for
Ibogaine’s advocates gained signiﬁcant access to public sector decision makers
involved in the development of addiction treatment. It is possible that they
exerted signiﬁcant inﬂuence, and that they still might do so in the future. It has
been suggested that the reactions elicited by ibogaine’s advocates may have been
counterproductive in some respects (see the foreward by Kleber in this volume).
As an example, AIDS advocacy apparently accelerated the development and
release of drugs to treat HIV, but also been suggested to have discouraged
companies and individuals from involving themselves with HIV (2). The current
status of the lack of ofﬁcial approval can be cited as evidence that advocacy on
behalf of ibogaine worked at cross-purposes to its development. On the other
hand, it can also be argued that the political activist subculture may have
positively inﬂuenced support for the allocation of public resources toward
ibogaine’s development. Perhaps more importantly however, the medical
subculture of ibogaine did yield human experience that inﬂuenced the decision to
pursue the signiﬁcant body of preclinical work that was NIDA’s ibogaine project.
This medical subculture presently remains as a persistent, and an apparently
The authors would like to thank Howard Lotsof, Dr. Steven Sifaneck, and Aivia Monitto-Angel for
their assistance with this chapter.
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