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A phenomenological analysis of the subjective experience elicited by ibogaine in the context of a drug dependence treatment

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Abstract

Objective

This report documents the phenomenology of the subjective experiences of 22 patients with substance-related disorders who were involved in a treatment combining cognitive–behavioral therapy and hospital sessions with ibogaine in Brazil.

Methods

Participants underwent a one-to-one semi-structured interview exploring the subjective effects of ibogaine. We employed interpretative phenomenological analysis to identify relevant phenomenological categories, including physical sensations, perceptual (visual, auditory, and olfactory), emotional, cognitive, and spiritual. Participants also compared ibogaine with other drugs used in life, including psychedelics like ayahuasca, psilocybin mushrooms, and lysergic acid diethylamide.

Results

The findings reveal that the subjective experience with ibogaine has similarities with other psychedelic substances, but also important differences. These include very strong and unpleasant physical effects as well as, at least in this patient population, a very difficult and challenging experience.

Conclusions

Overall, the descriptions involve heightened memory retrieval, specially related to drug abuse and the perception of one’s own future with or without drug use. Strong perceptual phenomena, especially dreamlike visions, were commonly reported. Based on Revonsuo’s evolutionary hypothesis for the function of dreams and of previous suggestions that ibogaine has oneiric properties, we suggest the subjective experience of drug-dependent patients elicited by ibogaine may be framed as simulations of threat and danger.

Schenberg, E. E., de Castro Comis, M. A., Alexandre, J. F. M., Tófoli, L. F., Chaves, B. D. R., & da Silveira, D. X. (2017). A phenomenological analysis of the subjective experience elicited by ibogaine in the context of a drug dependence treatment. Journal of Psychedelic Studies, (0), 1-10. 10.1556/2054.01.2017.007
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