Philip-Seymour-Hoffman.jpg

Why Is This Option Beyond the Pale for Heroin Addicts?

Ted Scheinman has a piece up at Pacific Standard arguing that there already exists an effective means of helping heroin addicts conquer their enslavement to the drug:

There is only one short-term chemical therapy that actually obviates the wrenching withdrawal symptoms of any opiate. This therapy involves the administration of a therapeutic dose of ibogaine, an alkaloid derivative of a family of plants in Central West Africa that Bwiti worshipers have long used as a visionary sacrament. A dissociative and powerful psychedelic compound, ibogaine induces a dream-state described variously as beatific, clarifying, and terrifying; the after-effects, usually a hazy state of dull relaxation, can last a number of days. In the majority of reported cases in Europe and Africa, cravings disappear once the psychoactive iboga wears off…

This treatment is scarcely even spoken of, let alone officially researched, because ibogaine is itself a psychedelic drug:

Most scientists at R1 schools (especially those with a research budget to lose) are uncomfortable speaking publicly about the treatment because to do so is to league oneself with the black sheep of the American scientific community—psychedelic researchers, a culture still stained by the legacy of Timothy Leary’s decades-long LSD boosterism. Even tenured researchers express a certain skittishness when the subject arises. 

There is one organization, the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), that is pursuing research on the use of ibogaine for heroin addiction. MAPS is conducting studies of the long-term effects of ibogaine on patients undergoing therapy at independent treatment centers in Mexico and New Zealand. Rick Doblin, a public policy Ph.D. from Harvard’s Kennedy School who co-founded MAPS, advocates a multilateral treatment program that combines ibogaine with “collaborative rehab and the talking cure.” 

The war on drugs is costing taxpayers an annual $51 billion and accomplishing very little. Surely it’s reasonable to suggest that a portion of that whopping tally be expended for research into a practical solution to the nightmare of addiction? Where is the logic in the continued refusal to countenance research into the beneficial effects of psychedelic drugs?