Family: Apocynaceae (Dogbane Family); Subfamily Plumerioideae, Tabernaemontaneae Tribe
Common Names: Abona, abonete, aboua, ahua (Pahuin), bocca, boccawurzel, boga, botola, bugensongo (Ngala), dibuga, dibugi, difuma (Eshira), eboga (Fang), eboga bush, eboghe, eboka ("miracle wood"), elahu (Mongo), eroga, gbana (Gbaya), gifuma, iboa, ibo'a, iboga (Galwa-Mpongwe/Miene), ibogakraut, ibogain-pflanze, iboga shrub, ibogastrauch, iboga typique (Congo), iboga vrai, ibogawortel (Dutch), ibogawurzel, ikuke (Mongo), inado a ebengabanga (Tshiluba), inaolo a ikakusa (Turumbu), inkomi (Mono), isangola, leboka, liboko (Vili/Yoombe), libuga, libuka, lofondja, lopundja, mabasoka, mbasaoka, mbasoka (Mitsogo), mbondo (Aka Pygmy), meboa (Bakwele), minkolongo (Fang), moabi, mungondo (Eshira), obona, pandu (Mongo), sese (Fang), wunderholz
Iboga is basic to the Bwiti cult and other secret societies in Gabon and the Congo. It has been used in these areas and throughout West Africa since ancient times, and has long been held as a symbol of the power of the forest.
The Bwiti cult came to be some time around 1890, after The Fang combined Christian beliefs with the ancestor ritual of the Apinji and Metsogo tribes, who had previously discovered Iboga from the Pygmies. The Bwiti cult branches off into numerous sects, each containing several communities that average around 50 people each. The sects delineate based on their degree of Christian influence.
An evergreen shrub, Tabernanthe iboga grows to a height of 1.2m with a spread of 1.5m. The stem is erect and branching; the leaves are dark green, opposite and narrowly ovate-acuminate; the flowers are white to yellowish and expand widely in a tubular formation. A native of Gabon (Africa), it prefers well-composted, well-drained soils in a protected, partly shady position, and is drought and frost tender. It propagates by fresh seed or cuttings.
There are several alkaloids present in iboga root; chief among them is ibogaine, as it is responsible for the vast majority of the plant's psychoactive properties.
Iboga has far-reaching social influence. According to natives, the initiate cannot enter the cult until he has seen Bwiti, and the only way to see Bwiti is to eat iboga.
Within the cult, iboga has several applications. Sorcerers take the drug to seek information from the spirit world, and leaders of the cult consume iboga for a full day before asking advice from ancestors. Hunters also use the drug to stay alert and to revitalize themselves during extended hunts.
Music plays a central role in the iboga rituals of the Bwiti. The harp is particularly important; they are expertly crafted and played during the rituals to accompany singing from specific texts.
Iboga is intimately associated with death: the plant is frequently anthropomorphized as a supernatural being, a "generic ancestor" which can so highly value or despise an individual that it can carry him away to the realm of the dead.
There are sometimes deaths from the excessive doses taken during initiations, but the intoxication usually so interferes with motor activity that the initiates at first can only sit gazing intently into space, and eventually collapse and have to be carried to a special house or forest hideout. During this almost comatose period, the 'shadow' (soul) is believed to have left the body to wander with the ancestors in the land of the dead. The banzie (angels)-the initiates-relate their hallucinations as follows: "A dead relative came to me in my sleep and told me to eat it"; "I was sick and counseled to eat Iboga to cure myself"; "I wanted to know God-to know things of the dead and the land beyond"; "I walked or flew over a long multicolored road or over many rivers which lead me to my ancestors who then took me to the great gods."
Ibogaine is a restricted substance (possession is illegal) in some countries, including the US, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and Belgium.
TRADITIONAL USE: Iboga is used traditionally amongst the various Bwiti sects as the "one true sacrament". The complex ceremonies and the tribal dances associated with Iboga vary greatly from locality to locality, but the application of the drug is fairly consistent.
Within each sect, the iboga is taken in two ways: regularly in limited doses before and in the early part of the ceremonies, followed after midnight by a smaller dose; and once or twice during the initiation to the cult in excessive doses of one to three basketfuls over an eight to twenty-four-hour period, to "break open the head," thus inducing "contact with the ancestors through collapse and hallucinations."
Another common theme is the giving of sermons by Bwiti priests at special temples that are reserved for iboga rituals. Before a priest gives his sermon, he often lies for hours after taking iboga in a "grave" until he is suitably inspired, at which point he ascends and delivers his nkobo akyunge, or "amazing words."
The ritualistic use of iboga has emerged in Europe and the United States as well. These groups are said to take cues from Indian mushroom circles and peyote meetings. Within these groups, iboga root is most often combined with 50 micrograms of LSD.
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: There are several different preparations for iboga, but they all center around the root.
In Gabon, ground or rasped Iboga root is consumed or, less commonly, made into a tea. The root is always extracted from live plants (in such a way that allows the plant to live and produce more root).
In the Congo, iboga root is extracted into palm wine to produce a visionary beverage with aphrodisiac properties.
While just six to 10 g of the powdered root is considered to be a psychedelic dose, the initiation rites of the various Bwiti sects call for anywhere between 50 - 200 g. The smallest effective dose is a heaping teaspoon, though at that level iboga acts as more of a stimulant/euphoric than a psychedelic.
When measuring against body weight, 2 - 10 mg per 1 kg produces a stimulating effect, though entirely different than that of amphetamine. 40 mg per 1 kg produces psychedelic effects.
Iboga root is sometimes combined with other plants, such as Cannabis and yohimbe. Many other plants yet to be identified are believed to be used in tandem with iboga.
MEDICINAL USE: In addition to its visionary qualities, iboga has a variety of medical applications. Its root has been used in West African folk medicine, likely for as long as it has ritualistically, as a stimulant, tonic, and aphrodisiac. It is also utilized to combat severe cases of nervous tension, as well as fever, high blood pressure, and toothaches, due to its anesthetic properties.
The Metsogo use iboga root as a medical diagnostic tool; it is thought to provide insight into illness. Iboga is used in the Congo to combat Malaria. The French have claimed to have successfully used iboga root extract to treat myriad diseases, most notably syphilis and neurasthenia. Homeopathic medicine makes use of iboga root extract for a number of ailments as well.
The cheif active component of iboga, ibogaine, is given to patients in addiction clinics that are going through heroin withdrawl. It has also been used with success in reversing addictions to methadone, tobacco, cocaine, crack cocaine, and alcohol. However, since 2005, production of ibogaine has slowed to the point where it is not available as a treatment to most addicts seeking therapy worldwide.
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Common themes amongst reports of iboga experience include a sense of interconnectedness with the forest, to the point where the sense of self and the forest cease to exist as separate entities. And of course, connection with ancestors. The Fang describe iboga's ability to merge the natural and supernatural realms, and the living and dead.
According to the few white people that have gotten a chance to try iboga root, the term ancestor can be taken broadly to include animals and the ancients.
The effects of iboga usually last eight to twelve hours.
Bakalar, James B. and Lester Grinspoon. Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered. 1979. Web. 6 December 2009 <http://www.lycaeum.org/leda/docs/150.shtml?ID=150>.
Ratsch, Christian. The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and Its Applications. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 2005. Print.
Sandberg, Nick. "An Introduction to Ibogaine." Web. 6 Dec. 2009 <http://www.ibogaine.co.uk/>.