Substance use disorders are important contributors to the global burden of disease, but current treatments are not associated with high rates of recovery. The lack of approved and effective treatments is acutely problematic for psychostimulants like cocaine and crack cocaine. One promising alternative in the treatment of drug dependence in general and psychostimulants in particular is the use of the psychedelic alkaloid ibogaine combined with psychotherapy. This was recently shown to induce prolonged periods of abstinence in polydrug users, including psychostimulants. However, drug dependence treatments cannot be comprehensively evaluated with reductions in consumption alone, with current recommendations including secondary outcome measures like craving, family and social relationship, quality of life, and self-efficacy.
We therefore employed a directed approach to qualitative content analysis to evaluate the outcomes of a treatment combining ibogaine with cognitive-behavioral therapy based on data gathered from patient’s reports obtained in semi-structured interviews.
The results revealed that patients benefited from the treatment in all the secondary outcomes, reporting decreases in craving and improvements in personal relationships, quality of life, and self-efficacy, thus supporting existing notions that treatments combining ibogaine and psychotherapy do have a therapeutic potential in the treatment of substance use disorders.
This report documents the phenomenology of the subjective experiences of 22 patients with substance-related disorders who were involved in a treatment combining cognitive–behavioral therapy and hospital sessions with ibogaine in Brazil.
Participants underwent a one-to-one semi-structured interview exploring the subjective effects of ibogaine. We employed interpretative phenomenological analysis to identify relevant phenomenological categories, including physical sensations, perceptual (visual, auditory, and olfactory), emotional, cognitive, and spiritual. Participants also compared ibogaine with other drugs used in life, including psychedelics like ayahuasca, psilocybin mushrooms, and lysergic acid diethylamide.
The findings reveal that the subjective experience with ibogaine has similarities with other psychedelic substances, but also important differences. These include very strong and unpleasant physical effects as well as, at least in this patient population, a very difficult and challenging experience.
Overall, the descriptions involve heightened memory retrieval, specially related to drug abuse and the perception of one’s own future with or without drug use. Strong perceptual phenomena, especially dreamlike visions, were commonly reported. Based on Revonsuo’s evolutionary hypothesis for the function of dreams and of previous suggestions that ibogaine has oneiric properties, we suggest the subjective experience of drug-dependent patients elicited by ibogaine may be framed as simulations of threat and danger.