Heroin addiction and opiate abuse are running rampant in our nation, and traditional treatments for these addictions are usually unsuccessful. In a desperate search for treatment options that work, more and more people have looked outside the country for possible sources of recovery. Medically supervised ibogaine treatment is one of those treatments, and many patients are saying that it literally saved their lives.

For Paul O’Heron, a heroin addict who had already been through rehab four times without success, going to Cancun, Mexico to try ibogaine was a last resort. Clear Sky Recovery was his chance to get clean, and he took it. There he worked with Irene Zelonker, a former addict and ibogaine success story, 11 years after her treatment.

Neuroscientist Deborah Mash first began to study ibogaine from a skeptical perspective. She knew it was a natural hallucinogen, and felt that a single molecule couldn’t possibly treat addictions to so many different substances. However, after seeing clinical trials in Europe, she was convinced. She received FDA approval to conduct clinical trials on human, drug-dependent individuals, which were approved. Her team’s ibogaine research, published in peer-reviewed medical journals, demonstrated that ibogaine was 98% effective for opiate withdrawals.

While working at St. Kitts, Dr. Mash trained Dr. Alberto Sola of Cancun to administer ibogaine, and the Clear Sky Recovery ibogaine treatment center was born. Sola has more than 20 years of experience as an emergency medical physician, as of 2017 has personally and safely treated thousands of patients with ibogaine.

O’Heron spoke with reporters immediately after his treatment, emphasizing the importance of the introspection that ibogaine induces in patients. He felt like ibogaine was a “miracle drug” and that for the first time, he would be able to beat his addiction. Mash emphasizes that ibogaine makes this possible by “rewiring” the brain’s responses to chemicals, eliminating cravings, and forcing engagement by the frontal lobe rather than instant gratification. She also points out that aftercare is critical to success, even for ibogaine patients.

So, why isn’t ibogaine legal in the U.S., even though Mash reports that half of her patients remain clean after one year? Many treatment experts believe that pharmaceutical companies, who provide traditional substitution treatments like methadone and Suboxone, are holding ibogaine back. Other experts say that the safety and efficacy of ibogaine has not been proven in a rigorous way, although they admit that ibogaine, a plant that cannot be patented, will not be appealing to pharmaceutical companies. Mash’s response is that this is exactly why trials need to happen, and points out that toxic responses and other problems are not going to happen after a single dose. Furthermore, because ibogaine is a hallucinogen, the DEA has classified ibogaine as a Schedule 1 drug, subject to the most rigorous restrictions, making it extremely difficult to perform research within the United States.

Mash still hopes that one day ibogaine will be legal in the U.S. She believes that desperate need on behalf of patients and their families will help drive that outcome.