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A New Hope for Battling Opioid Addiction

The psychoactive substance ibogaine shows promising outcomes.

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

"I give up."

It's a phrase that anyone suffering from addiction knows too well. 

Addiction is an ugly word, a dangerous one. We yearn to distance ourselves from it, whether it directly affects us or not. One in ten adults has a drug or alcohol addiction—and opioids have certainly taken a starring role in our tragedy, killing an average of 128 Americans and 17 Canadians each day. 

The overdose epidemic is a crisis in British Columbia, home to MINDCURE's headquarters. We are desperate to provide hope and ultimately disrupt the healthcare industry with ground-breaking solutions. Happily, there is light in this arena. A naturally-occurring substance called ibogaine. 

Related: Can Cannabis Help Treat Opioid Addiction?

 

A brief history of opioid addiction

To understand how we got here, it helps to know the history of opioid treatments (I use the word opioids to refer to all opioid drugs whether natural or synthetic, while opiates are naturally occurring forms, like morphine and heroin). With the promise of pain relief, pharma giants helped to pave a golden road to addiction. Our rapid pathway to addiction can be broken into three distinct waves. 

The first wave began with the increased prescribing of opioids in the 1990s. Pharmaceutical companies were quick to assure doctors that their drugs would not lead to addiction—that they were powerful painkillers. The result? The expected increase in overdose deaths involving prescription opioids (natural, semi-synthetic opioids, and methadone). 

The second wave hit in 2010 when we began to see extreme increases in overdose deaths, explicitly involving heroin. The connection? Desperation to find the same "high" one had from their prescription (about 80 percent of people who use heroin first used its prescribed version.) 

The third wave kicked off in 2013. The increase in overdose deaths involved synthetics, specifically, illicitly manufactured fentanyl (a synthetic opioid). By 2017, "more than 47,000 Americans died due to an opioid overdose, including prescription opioids, heroin, and illicitly manufactured fentanyl," according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

Here are some surprising numbers provided by the CDC

  • The number of drug overdose deaths increased by nearly 5 percent from 2018 to 2019 and has quadrupled since 1991 
  • Over 70% of the 70,630 overdose deaths in 2019 involved an opioid 
  • From 2018 to 2019, there were significant changes in opioid-involved death rates 
  • Weekly counts of drug overdoses were up to 45% higher in 2020 than in the same periods in 2019 

Hope may be on the way

Ancient medicine may offer help to many suffering from opioid addiction. It's called ibogaine, an indole alkaloid deriving from the West African shrub roots of the Tabernanthe iboga. Ibogaine has been used by as many as three million Africans in the Bwiti religion as a rebirth ritual during the onset of teenage years.

Ibogaine used to be prescribed as an antidepressant and neuromuscular stimulant in France known as Lambarene until it was shut down in the 1960s. 

Enter 19-year-old Howard Lotsof. Not a doctor, but a man about to accidentally unveil a revolutionary discovery in curbing and solving opioid addiction. Experimenting with ibogaine, he found it eliminated his heroin addiction, and so decided to try it with other addicted friends—in his first trial, seven out of seven people also eliminated their addiction

"Suddenly, I realized that I was not in heroin withdrawal," Lotsof described regarding his ibogaine experience. "Where previously I had viewed heroin as a drug which gave me comfort, I now viewed heroin as a drug which emulated death. The very next thought into my mind was, I prefer life to death." 

Thankfully, Lostof set off an interest in ibogaine as an anti-addiction therapy, and there've been numerous studies on its efficacy since. "Behavioral pharmacologic studies in animal models provided evidence that ibogaine could blunt self-administration of not only opiates but cocaine, amphetamines, and nicotine," according to DARK Classics in Chemical Neuroscience: Ibogaine published iACS Publications. 

Alan Davis, a Johns Hopkins University adjunct assistant professor researching psychedelics, studied patients who used ibogaine in a Mexican treatment center between 2012 and 2015. Using online data collection, he found that of 88 participants, 80 percent eliminated their addiction. In contrast, 30 percent went on to never use opioids again—the study is published in the Journal of Psychedelic Studies. 

Sustainable therapies, digitized results 

My company MINDCURE has begun the first stage of manufacturing pharmaceutical-grade ibogaine to be used in preclinical and clinical research. 

Because ibogaine affects multiple receptors and neurotransmitter systems in the brain, t may help repair and rewire addiction-related neural pathways. 

Additionally, there's emerging evidence of ibogaine's neuroprotective effects and its ability to boost brain neurotrophic factors and neuroplasticity processes, meaning it may be effective in treating neuropathic pain and neurodegenerative conditions as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. 

Addiction brings us to our knees in some of life's ugliest moments, but there may be help on the way. We hope that ibogaine brings a solution to one of society's unnecessary tragedies.