I became interested in Iboga because of the research pointing to the ability of Ibogaine, its active ingredient, to help the brain produce a protein called glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), which in turn improves the recovery of dopaminergic neurons(1). I had done some investigation into clinics overseas where it is a very viable and legal treatment for drug addiction as it seems to reset the dopamine system. Though I wanted to experience the full reset of my nervous system that the clinical Iboga experience promises, these clinics were out of my financial reach.
So I decided to try something far less expensive and less risky too. I procured some of the ground root and followed a protocol of 1/16 of a teaspoon, chewed each night before bed. The initial reaction I experienced was a numbness in my tongue and throat, which I found a bit disconcerting. Once I relaxed into this, I set about noticing what was happening energetically. I realized that the substance was allowing me to feel into the sense of my body before I identified with my illness. This was beneficial in that it gave me the feeling of an epiphany, opened a new thought possibility, and offered me more physical and emotional stillness during the following days. They did not come often, but there were times when my fears would surface after taking even my mild dose, but this is an expected possible hazard when using psychotropic plants.
I experimented with Iboga over a span of several months. During this time period I began to add more and more activities, trying everything I could in my attempt to become symptom free. I began to attend Rock Steady Boxing classes 2 to 3 times a week, and also became involved in transformational education programs through Landmark(2). I began to see some incredible results which I attributed more to these activities than to Iboga. Since I am not a big fan of taking psychotropic substances, even the plant variety, my Iboga use fell away.
I made an attempt to return to it the following year but did not see the same dramatic effects. I may give it another chance at some later date. Perhaps then it will have more to show me.
Ayahuasca is the name of a plant, Banisteriopsis caapi, and is also the name of a brew made with this plant in combination with another for use in spiritual and healing ceremonies.
Banisteriopsis caapi on its own is an MAO inhibitor, a chemical which can be beneficial in its ability to make more dopamine accessible to the nervous system. Though studies have shown it is not really a favorable choice, as far as MAOIs go, to relieve the tremor associated with PD, which its harmaline content tends to exacerbate(3). The real magic of Banisteriopsis caapi is what happens when it is combined with a DMT-containing plant, allowing—through it’s specific MAO inhibition—the DMT to be released into the system(4). This is where the real magic happens, though I have not yet found any studies on the use of the traditional brew, sometimes referred to as the medicine, to affect the symptoms of PD.
My travels with Ayahuasca were surprisingly mellow compared with the reports of others who were with me in the medicine circle, and those I spoke with who worked with the medicine before and after me. I tried hallucinogenics when I was a teenager and for the most part my experiences were upsetting and at times horrific. They seemed to bring internal traumas to the surface, not for peaceful release and resolution, but to wash over me and pull me under in a great crushing wave. So I was apprehensive when I prepared for my first trip with this power plant. There are quite a few interesting documentaries about it, one being Ayahuasca Vine of the Soul, which features the shaman I worked with(5).
Before the first circle I participated in, we all sat with the shaman and discussed proper etiquette. I took to heart his advice, that should my attention wander away, I must let his voice, through his songs, bring me back to a safe space of healing.
We moved into the ritual area and the shaman began creating a sacred space for us with the ritual tools of sound and smoke. He then called each of us, one by one, to sit in front of him and drink our dose of the bitter brew, then return to our place in the circle.
I waited for something to happen. I did not have a definite sense of time but it seemed like 30 minutes had passed in silence with no real effects. Then the shaman began to sing and my world changed. I felt I was moving in a dream with my eyes open. He was to my left and had the presence of the plant: an old spirit, a grandmother or grandfather guide, a trickster. The persona was always shifting. My body was heavy and my consciousness seemed pulled to the very top and front of it. Time was agonizing and endless and yet it did not exist. Space was full of incredible shapes formed in light and color. Then my stories started to unfold.
I felt small and helpless, wet, cold, and newly born and overwhelmed with physical sensation. My thoughts went to the gestalt of my childhood and the messages I had internalized. I felt some dark secret energy, implanted in my body long ago and playing out in my present patterns. I passed from there into the awareness of being a chameleon, I felt an intense quiet and heard the sound of my eyes blinking, and with them my color changing by absorbing my surroundings. Then I was human again and able to view the exquisite geometry of energy. From there I moved to the experience of being confronted by a world of violence and was given the direction to find the spiraling vortices of energy that could connect me to love and life in any situation.
When I felt lost, the shamans songs brought me back. Haunting songs, heartbreakingly beautiful. I traveled on his voice, to the visions then back to the tribe. One by one we were called again to face him and get our personal healing, then went back to our place. Each healing healed me, and my healing healed the group. We all felt like one organism, concerned for the well being of all of our parts.
During the trip I had no physical symptoms other than a heaviness and numbness in my usually affected body parts. During each of my three journeys with the shaman, I received messages through the voice of the medicine that I was to follow when the trip was complete. The messages I received were simple: I needed more water, inside and out, more rest for my mind and body, and to forgive… myself and others; I was told to heal my spine, to let go of the past and my judgements of people, because they were “killing” me, and warned that I must work on things in this life or they will follow me into death; and finally that I needed to get out of the way and allow my health to be restored. I was overcome by the physical memory of how it felt to be well.
By my third trip, the spirit of the medicine came to sit my left side. She remained with me as a deeply loving and tender guide. I never would have expected this and the memory of it still resonates in my heart.
Many people purge by vomiting, some quite forcefully. I did not, I found I could purge by breathing deeply out from my gut.
My trips left me feeling exhausted but peaceful and spacious. I did not notice any change in my symptoms but did feel inexplicably altered for the better.
I value my experiences with the grandmother, as Ayahuasca has been called, and sometimes feel the urge to travel with her again, especially now, as I recount this. But I think that maybe 3 times is the charm, and I am still working on integrating the messages she gave me.