Monday, 28 February 2011

The unleashed shackles of Tabernanthe Iboga

I know last time you've visited my blog I promised you the second part of the non-toxic paints to be coming soon, but this post had to come first as I couldn't avoid the powerful image of Bruce Parry going through a "kicking-in plant experience" and having his demons de-constructed on the screen of my very own telly.  

"Who's Bruce Parry? What plant? Where exactly, mate? What the hell are you talking about, brother???"

If this has caught your attention just go get a chair, get yourself a nice hot/cold drink according to your coordinates in the globe, and prepare yourself for what I believe is a tripping experience itself proving that the best way for you to become happy and specialised in a subject is a) to have a strong passion for what you're doing, b) to know the boundaries you can touch without risking your integrity, c) to be as pure as one can be and do things out of love rather than out of grudge.

It took me quite a while to decide how exactly to tag this post, but after proper rationalisation of all the subjects scrutinised in this post, I believe Medicinal Plants is the adequate drawer from the ones I have available, and since I do not want to open up too many sections you'll have to play it smooth and adapt. Now, back to the main topic, (huuuuhhhh, I feel really excited about it already)!

Yesterday, the 27th, I was just sitting down and relaxing with my girl when we got all involved in watching one of our few loved TV shows (we're not that crazy about television, but what an awesome show) - Tribe (Going Tribal as it is known in the USA) -, where a former Royal Marine Instructor made television presenter travels the world and lives for a certain period of time as a member of the host tribes he joins in. Parry studies their habits, develops relationships, tries to experiment all the levels of socialisation inherent to the "bone marrow" of being an individual belonging to utterly different social constructions. I have seen this gentleman travel and cohabiting with people from India, Gabon, Mongolia, Indonesia, Ethiopia (where he was just about to prove his commitment in an extremely violent wood-stick fight - where people actually die!). Recently, I have seen Bruce Parry travel to West Central Africa and join a tribe - practising a religion named The Bwiti - where a ritual that determines your spiritual maturity and operates as a soul cleansing is a very important part of their culture. This very small tribe of forest-dwellers, either Babongo or Mitsongo people of Gabon (I can't remember which one exactly) accepted to conduct Bruce Parry through a process of religious animism of syncretistic nature where an initiation ritual drives one through a series of events that only images can exemplify, since words are way too limited. So now you ask - "What has this thing to do with Toxicology? Are you bonkers?". No, I am not bonkers, but Bruce Parry was Ibogas (if such word exists).

As part of the initiation ritual Bruce Parry accepted to intake an hallucinogenic rootbark of the Tabernanthe Iboga, a perenial rainforest shrub known for its power to stimulate the central nervous system when taken even in small doses, but in large doses can induce visions. This apocynaceous also existing in the Northern Congo [1] was first described in the late 1800s according to Pope (1968) and is fairly known by botanists across the world. Quoting Pope (1968), "In Gabon, the roots are used in the initiation rites to a number of secret societies, of which the Bwiti is most famous. The plant remains to this day a central feature of local religion, and its spectacular effects have hampered native acceptance of Christianity in Gabon." Take a closer look at the second image for an idea of the root-bark where most ibogaine (alkaloid) is found and concentrated.

Tabernanthe Iboga is actually being used in drugs substitution therapeutics both by scientists and religious groups all over the world. Apparently, one of the greatest deeds of this plant is to take one to a state where one can feel the pain from the point of view of the victim to whom one has been the aggressor in the first place!!! How constructive is that? And also how dangerously strong is this plant?? Two principal mechanisms are proposed by Rios et al,. (2002) to explain it more adequately in the spiritual and clinical contexts, an article where Personal redemption, The search for meaning, The quest for harmony and Drugs rehabilitation are put to perspective [2], presenting examples of the substitution of certain synthetic drugs by plants with strong effects but considered spiritually evolved as cleansers of the soul itself. 

You want more on the plant? OK! The first image displays only a few features, but this plant has small green leaves, white and pink flowers, the fruit can be either an elongated or spherical shape of orange colour on both types. The roots also contain a number of indole alkaloids, the most remarkable being ibogaine (a psychoactive substance). The roots are bitter and when chewed cause anaesthetic sensation in the mouth and numbness to the skin. 

According to information acquired at Iboga has been used on the treatment of drug addiction in single doses of 500 to 800 mg [3], but strict medical supervision is a must. This piece of information can NEVER be disregarded as several deaths have been associated to the use of Ibogaine for several potent side effects have been recognised (by the way, I believe this plant is totally illegal in the USA), such as, ataxia, hypotension, bradycardia, mild tremor, nausea. The videos documenting Bruce's experience are way to self-explanatory to be ignored!

In terms of toxicicity, large doses of Iboga can cause convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure that can drive one to death. In rodents tested with this drug, a dose-dependent brain damage was observed (all rats receiving doses of Ibogaine, 100mg/kg suffered brain damage, whereas those on 25mg/kg had no damage detected)! The indole alkaloids (the most important being ibogaine, ibogamine and tabernanthine) comprise approximately 6% of the root. "The 18-methoxylated analog of coronaridine has been investigated as a safer and possibly more effective alternative to ibogaine..." [3]. 

That's it for today! The Toxicologist Today will be back as soon as possible with the second part of the non-toxic paints, but this had to be published as Bruce Parry totally amazed me with his passion for his work, his commitment and a large, very large dose, of craziness some might even call courage whereas others might just label as irresponsibility. Impossible is to simply ignore it. See you soon!  

[1] - Pope, H. G. (1968). "Tabernanthe iboga: an African narcotic plant of social importance". Economic Botany, 23(2), pp.174-184.

[2] - Rios, M. D., grob, C. S., Baker, J. R., (2002). "Hallucinogens and Redemption". Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 34(3), pp. 239.

[3] -, complete Iboga information. Last updated unknown,  last visited on the 28th of February 2011.

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