Iboga is a multi-faceted medicine that serves in stages. Unfortunately, most of the Western world is only familiar with the first stage of iboga and ibogaine, the detoxification of body and mind. Yet, there is so much more than this medicine can offer.
Detoxification is simply the initial step that must happen before medicine can move us toward its deeper purposes: trauma and soul healing, holistic wellness, visionary creativity, and infinite spiritual discovery.
The Bwiti tradition regards Iboga as a dual-gender plant spirit, with both father and mother aspects with distinct qualities aspect that appear at different times. The Bwiti have a binary culture with regards to gender—and yet with a far broader spectrum of what is considered female/feminine expression and what is consider male/masculine expression. We honor the way that the Bwiti tradition articulates the gendered aspects of medicine while honoring all the many different ways that medicine can be experienced, conceptualized, and expressed.
The detox function first appears for most people as perhaps the most intense physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual cleanse that exists on earth. Initial journeys are famously challenging as physical pollution, emotional scar tissue, psychological neurosis, and spiritual maladies are purged from the depths of our being.
Stern teachings and uncompromising truths can be delivered along with the deepest levels of self-reflection, vivid shadow work, and life review. Once buried grief can pour forth, because it has always been there, holding people back from their highest expression. People may be confronted with their fears and given the opportunity to face and release them. Attachments are ripped away, for attachments stifle the beauty and fertile possibility that is available in the present moment reality. With this holistic cleansing process, “the only way out is through.”
Many people who experience Iboga or ibogaine as a singular detox treatment never make it to experience the next phase that the medicine can offer—though detox can still be a very helpful and healing function.
The Bwiti have a saying: “One must be clean to enter the spirit world.” Thus, what follows the detox expression of the Iboga medicine is the grace that brings soul healing, grace, insight, inspiration, purpose, keys to happiness, revelations of beauty, expanded capacity for love, a realization of one’s divine nature, answers to our most meaningful questions, visitation with ancestors, glimpses of future possibilities, and clarity of direction. Deeper levels of physical and neurological healing take place. One may experience the deepest peace, bliss, joy, and physical comfort. Iboga can reveal profound realms of beauty and the marvelous creativity of nature. It is the gateway to awe for the gift of life.
The father and mother aspects of Iboga can work in cycles within a single journey or multiple journeys, taking us to the most healthy and true version of ourselves.
The entire Iboga journey in ceremonial doses can last 48 hours to 72 hours, occasionally longer, all the while slowly decreasing in intensity.
Common effects of the Iboga experience include trembling muscles and limbs (ataxia), buzzing sensations, internal spinning, and dizziness. People may also experience a sudden and temporary disruption of the train of thought—with no memory of what one was saying or thinking. At first, this can frustrate some as they grasp the narratives they were just entertaining a moment before. However, the beauty of this “thought interruption” provides a precious opportunity to fully enter the present moment without conceptual distraction.
Physical purging can include emesis, sweating, urination, defecation (not involuntary), temperature changes, and general physical discomfort—at points in the journey.
Just as the body purges, so does the mind. The “mind purge” commonly presents as all the contents of the psyche, both lived and imagined, arising and passing in a rapid inner storm. The basement of the consciousness is essentially being cleaned out. Only then do we have space for the new ways of being what we are calling in.
A seeker may experience a temporary amplification of their neurosis during the mind purge. The intelligent purpose of this amplification is to provide an opportunity to closely examine toxic or biased ways of thinking, like a scientist looking through a microscope, for we can only release something when we fully know what we are releasing. The medicine will “turn up the volume” on neurotic or skewed thoughts until we have fully seen our patterns and are finally ready to change the channel with conviction. With the gift of neuroplasticity, the seeker can consciously shift their mind to thinking grounded in truth and love. The Bwiti call this the “art of thinking.”
The approaches of Western psychology generally involve trying to avoid trauma triggers from happening at all, which can be important in the container of psychotherapy. However, is impossible to avoid triggers with the Iboga medicine because that is part of its core purpose and essential function. Unhealed wounds and buried emotions are excavated and purged to make space for the new life that is being called in.
Healing with Iboga does not happen by avoiding triggers. Healing with Iboga involves encountering triggers and then moving through them—within a safe space. In this way, we can be truly liberated from the slavery of trauma triggers to write new endings of our own conscious design.
Iboga can also amplify the human tendency of projection onto others, for trauma seeks to identify other similar trauma everywhere, and this is only intensified with Iboga. The intelligence of this projection effect supports the medicine facilitators to clearly see the nature of the inner wounds as well as potential keys to healing. Projection can manifest so much so that auditory hallucinations can occur, which always reveal important material related to trauma.
Iboga visions can be subtle and ephemeral or vivid and steady, and they are distinct from visions of other medicines. Visions may or may not be a part of the journey, and yet Iboga can offer equally effective results without them. We see that there is always a perfection to the process for each individual depending on their needs. If visions are not present, this may be because the medicine is busy providing a deep physical or psychological detox. When people have hard expectations for visions, they are more like not to have them at all, because one of the most important functions of the Iboga medicine is to sever attachments. We can have clear intentions for the medicine while practicing releasing hard expectations.
At times, visionary content may be playful, bizarre, or horrific. The realms of the unconscious, semi-conscious, and conscious mind are vast and wild.
Each Iboga journey is unique and may have elements that cannot be put into words. Ultimately, it would be impossible to adequately describe every possible experience one might encounter with Iboga. While it is important for each guest to perform personal research, the choice to experience Iboga is, at the core, a spiritual call and a seeker needs to be willing to step into the unknown—to some degree.
The master teacher Iboga serves best when seekers cultivate gratitude and respect for the medicine. During challenging moments, some seekers might assume that the Iboga medicine is causing the discomfort. However, it is never the medicine that “causes” challenging or uncomfortable content, for the medicine only cleanses what has already existed within, often concentrated, calcified, and playing out painfully for many years.
Even the most challenging or painful material can offer profound therapeutic and spiritual gifts, if one is willing to explore and work with a qualified provider. The most difficult results from the Iboga experience happen when a journeyer is resisting or judging what is being shown or experienced.
How to navigate this terrain? The best and most essential advice for the most fruitful and graceful process is to say internally, “thank you, medicine,” for everything that is being experienced while being present, curious, and attentive to the breath.
Iboga generously grants us the neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, and spiritual guidance needed to make the changes we desire, yet WE must them implement those changes—and then become those changes in our daily life. This is integration.
No, Iboga does not “change who we are,” in our soul and true essence. It is a deep cleanse. Just as with any type of cleanse, we may feel different afterward, however we are becoming more of who we truly are—with our participation and integration.
Check out SoulCentro co-founder Elizabeth Bast’s interview on the Plant Medicine Podcast.