I am sitting in the sun by the pool at my small hotel in Tepoztlan, Mexico, just after lunch, recovering from the Global Ibogaine Conference, which took place from March 14-16.
It’s been intense: Locking horns with true believers of ibogaine as a cure to addiction, like veteran activist and Yippie Dana Beal; giving a speech that one organizer was kind enough to call “the highlight of the conference;” and pissing off a whole bunch of people, nonetheless—just an average trip!
Arriving at Mexico City at 9:30 Sunday evening, we had to wait an age for a van to take a number of us—Dana Beal included—to Tepoztlan. We didn’t arrive at the hotel until 1:30 am, at which point I discovered that no room had been reserved for me (and Dana got the last available room).
So I, a 70-year-old non-Spanish speaker, was forced out onto the streets of a Mexican city in the middle of the night to fend for myself. Fortunately, also on the van was a merciful ibogaine provider who spoke Spanish, and who remained with me until I found a hotel at 3 am—the place from which I am now writing. Bless her! (I did later receive a gracious apology from ICEERS, the co-organizers.)
Flash-forward to my panel: I was joined by Andrew Tatarsky, an old friend and fellow harm reductionist, who runs the Center for Optimal Living in New York, and who eloquently presented his harm-reduction, trauma-based model of treatment; and Anja Loizaga-Velder, a German-Mexican psychologist who studies the therapeutic potential of ritual psychedelic plant use.
Anja spoke about cultural differences in consumption patterns and addiction, focusing quite a bit on alcohol. This is territory I know well. She was good, if academic. But a brilliant creative leap would have been for her to put the conference itself into a cultural context—not one African-American was present, among perhaps 500 delegates. This was less about minority cultures and more like an educated-white-person-
My turn. “I couldn’t sleep at all last night,” I sang (do you remember Bobby Lewis?). “I was tossing and turning.” I said I had dreamed that I had been invited by mistake—and that in my nightmare, when I confessed this at the conference, the audience rose and left.
“I don’t believe a pill can cure addiction,” I declared. Then asked, “Will you leave?” Becalmed by my lure, people smiled benignly.
My message—that ibogaine may be a useful tool for many people with addiction, but that it is tangential to what recovery actually is—would rile many true ibogaine believers (though not all of them).
I set out the distinction between magical and real solutions: Therapy is based on, and must produce, real changes in life. The necessary elements of change are these: new awareness of oneself and one’s world, positive life approaches, self-acceptance, community.
Professing no expertise in ibogaine, I then asked my audience if ibo-therapy could accomplish these things. People nodded their heads. You see where I was leading the discussion? I wanted people to constructively engage in integrating ibo into validated treatment approaches—including the harm reduction one Andrew was outlining.
I then told the story of a man (whom I met at The Influence launch party) who described to me his rescue from heroin via ibo. I pointed out some important features of his case: He was young, he had many social assets and resources, and he was purposeful and motivated. I asked the audience, “Do these make treatment more successful?” Most assented.
Going onto a broader level of social thinking, I noted that without real changes in people’s sense of self-efficacy and social opportunities, the world won’t remedy its growing addiction problems; in fact, addiction has worsened since the spread of the brain disease model under Nora Volkow.
I then jumped up and, approaching the audience, asked: “What’s the toughest substance addiction to quit?”
Nearly everyone correctly shouted out, “nicotine” or “cigarettes.”
“Has anyone here quit smoking?” I continued. About 90 hands went up.
“How many used a drug or other therapy to quit smoking?” Two people raised their hands.
I then asked some of the others what enabled them to quit. (Did Dana Beal shout, “ibogaine,” or was that in my nightmare?) One guy said that he became pregnant. I reinforced his comment: After all, parenthood is by far the single greatest reason for quitting addictions as people mature and take responsibility in their lives. For most people, parenthood arrives as an overwhelming new purpose in life.
Does this conform with the brain disease model? I don’t think so, and the audience seemed to agree.
After we were done, Dana rushed to the podium to try to convince me, as he has been for 30 years, that I am wrong about the elixir that is ibogaine.
I dodged out and went for coffee. A guy in line asked me, “Have you ever taken ibogaine?”
“Then how can you speak at this conference?”
I figured it was time for me to leave.
Stanton Peele is a columnist for The Influence. His latest book, with Ilse Thompson, is Recover!: An Empowering Program to Help You Stop Thinking Like an Addict and Reclaim Your Life. He has been at the cutting-edge of addiction theory and practice since writing, with Archie Brodsky, Love and Addiction in 1975. He has since written numerous other books and developed the online Life Process Program. His website is Peele.net. Dr. Peele has won career achievement awards from the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies and the Drug Policy Alliance. You can follow him on Twitter: @.