Ayahuasca Questions: Ayahuasca vs. Iboga: What Do You Need to Know?

For millennia, medical practitioners and spiritual guides have turned to naturally-occurring psychedelic plant medicines as catalysts for psychological, emotional, and spiritual healing. Two of the most potent known psychedelic plant medicines are ayahuasca and iboga. Ayahuasca is a tea that originates in South America and is a combination of two (or more) plants. Iboga is a shrub that is found in Gabon, Africa, and ibogaine is its active component. In recent decades, there has been increasing interest and research regarding the potential benefits of ayahuasca vs. iboga. 

So, what is the difference between ayahuasca and iboga? Both psychedelic substances exhibit powerful psychoactive properties, and both can be used for a wide range of purposes. 

There are some subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the two plant medicines, however. Ayahuasca is a powerful purgative, one that operates on a physical and emotional level. Ayahuasca is particularly useful for revealing suppressed trauma, evoking strong emotion, and leading individuals to life-changing personal revelations. On the other hand, iboga is highly effective for treating substance abuse and other addictive behaviors. It also reveals hard truths about one’s life, while grounding, centering, and introducing a strong sense of clarity.

Understandably, there is some confusion regarding the potential benefits of ayahuasca versus iboga. For that reason, it’s essential to look at both the empirical and scientific data regarding each plant medicine. The following article discusses the unique experiences and benefits associated with ayahuasca vs. iboga to help you decide which is best for your journey.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to replace professional medical advice, proper diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the help of a qualified health-care professional with any questions you may have regarding the use of ayahuasca, iboga, or ibogaine.

All About Ayahuasca

Ayahuasca is a traditional Amazonian tea, or brew, with psychoactive properties produced from the bark of the Banisteriopsis caapi vine (also called “ayahuasca”) and a DMT-containing plant, most commonly leaves from the Psychotria viridis (“chacruna”) bush.

The Banisteriopsis caapi vine contains a variety of alkaloids acting as monoamine oxidase inhibitors or MAOIs. The Psychotria viridis contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which has a strong psychoactive effect.

Although Westerners often focus on the power of the DMT component, traditional ayahuasca is much more about the B. caapi vine, and some brews are made without the inclusion of P. viridis at all. The B. caapi vine gives the brew its name, and is considered to hold the spiritual power of the medicine.

Indigenous South American curanderos (“healers,” or shamans) have used ayahuasca for physical wellbeing, religious rituals, spirit communication, and healing purposes for centuries, if not millennia. Most recently, ayahuasca is being used increasingly in North America and Europe, usually for syncretic spiritual and healing practices.

The Ayahuasca Experience

The average ayahuasca experience lasts for a period of four to six hours, although it can last up to twelve hours. The experience varies widely from person to person, but individuals who take ayahuasca often report an intense journey that invokes spiritual or mystical revelations about the nature of the universe, one’s purpose in life, and insight into evolving into the best version of oneself. Additionally, some people report that ayahuasca provides access to different planes of existence. Likewise, some users claim to have made contact with extra-dimensional beings acting as spirit guides or healers.

Ayahuasca is a purgative, and the famous purge (la purga) comes in a variety of ways. Physically, participants often experience vomiting, diarrhea, shaking, sweating, or crying. Emotionally, the plant medicine tends to bring up deeply buried trauma or memories, allowing for emotional tension to be released and processed. 

Unlike iboga, there are increasing reports of ayahuasca being used for recreational purposes. Casual recreational use of this potent psychedelic substance is not recommended.

Ayahuasca Benefits

Many recent studies suggest that the use of ayahuasca is linked to beneficial, long-term benefits to brain health, psychological well-being, and the treatment of anxiety and other related disorders.

Brain Health

According to a Healthline report, research has demonstrated that ayahuasca’s active ingredients, including dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and β-carbolines, may benefit brain health. For example, a recent study in Frontiers in Neuroscience indicates that both DMT and β-carbolines may exhibit both “neuroprotective and neurorestorative qualities.” The same study also indicated that DMT protects “human brain cells from damage caused by lack of oxygen and increased cell survival.”

Another study, published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, noted that harmine, the primary β-carboline alkaloid in ayahuasca, “may have neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing effects.” Additionally, harmine is associated with reduced inflammation and reduced excitotoxicity, a process in which neurons are damaged or killed by an agent that binds to receptors.

As Science Daily reports, excitotoxicity is associated with strokes, traumatic brain injuries, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, fibromyalgia, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

Another recent study showed that harmine has anti-inflammatory, memory-boosting, and neuroprotective effects. Additionally, harmine increases levels of a brain-derived protein that plays a vital role in nerve cell growth.

Psychological Well-Being

Research demonstrates that the use of ayahuasca might increase the brain’s capacity for mindfulness, which improves overall psychological well-being. For example, an eight-week study, published by Frontiers in Pharmacology, found that ayahuasca use resulted in improved mindfulness capacity, which “allows for a more detached and less judgmental stance towards potentially distressing thoughts and emotions.” Additionally, the findings of that study suggested that “a small number of ayahuasca sessions can be as effective at improving acceptance as more lengthy and costly interventions.”

Another study published by Psychopharmacology yielded similar results, noted that the use of ayahuasca has “therapeutic potential…due to an increase in mindfulness capacities.”

Anxiety, Depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In addition to the benefits mentioned above, research suggests that the use of ayahuasca may benefit individuals suffering from anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. For example, research published in Psychopharmacology found that “ratings of depression and stress significantly decreased after the ayahuasca ceremony, and these changes persisted for four weeks.” The study also found that “Changes in affect, satisfaction with life, and mindfulness were significantly correlated to the level of ego dissolution experienced during the ayahuasca ceremony.”

Another recent study theorized that the use of ayahuasca might help individuals suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Ayahuasca Risks

There are a variety of health risks associated with the use of ayahuasca. For that reason, it is recommended that you only use ayahuasca under the direction and care of an experienced curandero or guide, that you are aware of any physical or health issues you may have and disclose these to your guide, and that you are cleared first by a qualified medical professional.

Temporary non-psychoactive side effects include, but are not limited to, diarrhea, dizziness, hot/cold flashes, hyperthermia, motor function impairment, muscle spasms, nausea, sedation, sweating, tremors, vertigo, and vomiting.

The use of ayahuasca is also associated with significant, but temporary, emotional and psychological anxiety and distress.

Ayahuasca interacts with the brain’s serotonin receptors. When combined with certain medications, such as SSRI antidepressants, ayahuasca can lead to serotonin syndrome, a potentially fatal condition in extreme circumstances. 

The combination of ayahuasca with foods or medications that contain MAOIs can cause hypertension, which can also be fatal.

All About Iboga and Ibogaine

Like ayahuasca, iboga is a naturally occurring psychoactive agent extracted from plant sources, most notably the roots and bark of the Tabernanthe iboga shrub. Iboga extract has been in use for centuries in West Central Africa. Traditionally, it was used to combat hunger and fatigue; it has also been used in the Bwiti religion as part of ceremonies and rituals. 

The roots of the Tabernanthe iboga shrub contain several indole alkaloids, the most important of which is ibogaine. As Current Drug Abuse Reviews reports, ibogaine was first crystallized from the shrub’s root bark in 1900. Its pharmacological uses were subsequently studied at that time. Ibogaine was marketed in France from the late 1930s until 1970 to treat infectious disease, fatigue, and depression.

Most recently, ibogaine is being used globally for the treatment of a variety of maladies, most notably opioid addiction. Research into iboga’s many beneficial properties is ongoing. 

Unlike ayahuasca, iboga is not used for recreational purposes. Iboga is dangerous when consumed out of its proper context and should never be taken without professional supervision. 

The Ibogaine Experience

The average ibogaine dose affects the user for a period of about 18 to 24 hours. Typically, the ibogaine experience is described as an extremely intense journey taking the user through past experiences, accompanied by strong visions. The physical effects of ibogaine are strong, and users are sometimes incapacitated and unable to move or walk for hours at a time, requiring constant supervision and assistance.

Peter Frank, the former host of Ibo-Radio, an online show about ibogaine, wrote about the use of ibogaine in his 2017 book Ibogaine Explained.

Describing the ibogaine experience as a “long sleep,” Frank wrote that, after waking up, “you will probably feel energized and euphoric.” Continuing, he wrote, “for the next few weeks or months,” you can expect to experience “a lot of freedom from your emotional triggers.”

After a few months, “you will settle into a baseline state,” or a new, improved reality. “For most people, this baseline is lighter and freer” than what users experience before taking ibogaine.

The ibogaine experience can be broken down into three phases.

  • Phase One: the Acute Phase. This phase starts one to three hours after taking a dose of ibogaine and typically lasts about four to eight hours. Users describe this phase as a “waking dream state,” characterized by visual experiences of memories, the sensation of floating, and a “panoramic visual experiencing” of memories.
  • Phase Two: Evaluative Phase. The second phase typically lasts for most of the remainder of the ibogaine trip. This phase is described as a period of deep introspection and reflection on the experiences of phase one.
  • Phase Three: Residual Stimulation Phase. The third and final phase is experienced as the user starts to emerge from the ibogaine trip and can last for two to three days afterward. The user’s attention gradually turns back to his or her external environment during phase three. Additionally, the psychoactive and psychedelic aspects of the trip begin to fade. Some users report experiencing heightened energy and libido during this phase. The residual elements of phase three are said to last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks after taking a dose of ibogaine.

Ibogaine Benefits

Research suggests that the use of iboga and ibogaine is a powerful treatment for relief from the addiction to opiates and other substances and behaviors, as well as functioning as an alternative tool for personal and spiritual growth.

Addiction

Current Drug Abuse Reviews recently reported that ibogaine therapy had been the subject of numerous biological and clinical research studies regarding its “purported efficacy for the treatment of addiction to opiates and other substances.”

For example, one eight-year study tracked the outcome of patients treated for various addictions using ibogaine. Funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), the study concluded that “About 90 percent of the people … had a dramatic reduction in their withdrawal symptoms at the point when you’d expect they’d be at their worst.”

Additionally, Science Direct published findings from a scientific case study researching the theoretical rationale for the use of ibogaine in the treatment of addictive behaviors. That research included results from several recent ibogaine studies. For example, New Zealand researchers conducted a one-year follow-up study of several individuals who received a single dose of ibogaine therapy in a clinical setting. That study, published in The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, observed that 12 out of 14 participants reported that they either stopped using opioids entirely or severely reduced their use.

That study concluded that: “A single ibogaine treatment reduced opioid withdrawal symptoms and achieved opioid cessation or sustained reduced use in dependent individuals.”

Personal and Spiritual Growth

In addition to its use in treating addictive behaviors, ibogaine has also proven to be useful for psycho-spiritual change and personal growth.

Ibogaine can facilitate the attainment of ego death and a temporary ego-free state of being. The ability to enter this state helps ibogaine therapy patients let go of pain associated with past experiences. Patients frequently report that this can occur without any realization it is happening at the time they are experiencing ibogaine therapy.

As noted above, Peter Frank discussed various aspects of the psychological and spiritual experiences associated with the judicious use of ibogaine therapy.

In his book, Ibogaine Explained, he details the ability of ibogaine to “temporarily shatter the ego and give someone a glimpse of Being (otherwise known as God, the Tao, Nirvana, Spirit, etc.)”

Like ayahuasca, ibogaine therapy is also useful for the treatment of emotional issues. Frank equates a single ibogaine session as being “like a decade of psychotherapy rolled into one night.”

Traditional therapy sessions serve mainly to help individuals acquire mental insight into their emotional problems. However, those so-called insights rarely lead to a significant change in behavior patterns. On the other hand, psychedelic substances, like ibogaine and ayahuasca, help people enter deeper realms of their psyche so they can resolve repressed trauma and pain.

Additionally, Frank observed that in this state, “People often find that they have resolved an issue that was causing them a lot of pain, even if this issue was not why they decided to take ibogaine.”

Ibogaine Risks

Although there are some health risks associated with ayahuasca, iboga and ibogaine come with much higher health risks. People with heart conditions or issues with blood pressure, kidney disease, or the liver disease should never take iboga or ibogaine, as ingestion can be fatal. There have been several documented deaths from ibogaine. Only embark on a treatment protocol with iboga or ibogaine under the direction of your doctor or other qualified healthcare professionals.

The Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance’s Clinical Guidelines for Ibogaine-Assisted Detoxification provides the most comprehensive listing of health risks associated with the use of ibogaine.

The use of ibogaine is also associated with significant, but temporary emotional and psychological anxiety and distress typically caused by a “bad trip.” Although not common, long-term psychosis is possible, particularly in individuals who have a personal or family history of psychosis.

The Global Ibogaine Therapy Alliance guidelines noted that “it is difficult to overemphasize the importance of the treatment environment and the relationship that is formed between the patient and the caregivers.”

Temporary non-psychoactive side effects include, but are not limited to, anxiety, ataxia, dizziness, and dry mouth. Additional temporary symptoms include heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, low blood pressure, nausea, tremors, and vomiting.

Moderate to severe side effects include, but are not limited to, bradycardia, hypotension, low blood pressure, paralysis, seizures, slow heart rate, and slowed breathing.

Additional moderate to severe conditions include changes to heart rhythms or blood pressure, and changes to QT interval (time between the beginning of the Q-wave and the end of the T-wave on the cardiac cycle), prolongation, and T-wave morphology changes.

The Clinical Guidelines also warn that ibogaine’s side effects, particularly those associated with cardiac function, “can present significant and potentially life-threatening risk factors even with the therapeutic dose ranges” for patients suffering from “certain pre-existing heart conditions, electrolyte imbalance, or who are detoxifying from alcohol or benzodiazepines.” 

A full detox from alcohol, opioids, and street drugs should always be completed prior to taking iboga or ibogaine. 

The Bottom Line

Ayahuasca and iboga are both potent psychedelic substances. Both provide an intense experience, but they offer some qualitative differences. One significant difference is that ayahuasca is relatively much safer than iboga. Ayahuasca is best suited for emotional work and processing trauma, while iboga is primarily used for the treatment of addiction, as well as clarity and psychological grounding. As discussed, there are several factors to consider when weighing the pros and cons of ayahuasca vs. iboga. At present, ayahuasca and iboga are both classified as schedule I drugs under the Controlled Substances Act, making their possession and use illegal in most parts of the United States and other countries. At the same time, recent changes to legal frameworks in places like Oregon, Colorado, and Massachusetts, as well as countries such as Portugal, are signaling a shift in perception and law. 

Always consult with a licensed medical professional about any questions you may have regarding medical conditions. When choosing a retreat or treatment center to experience ayahuasca or iboga, make sure that you choose a reputable organization with adequate credentials and testimonials. Psychedelic Experience’s directory of organizations can help you choose the best location for your needs.