#214: Ibogaine with Dr. Emeline Maillet

January 12, 2018

Can you say “polypharmacological”?

That’s at least as hard to pronounce as “Iboga.”  (Rhymes with toga.)  Iboga is a central African tree/shrub that isn’t widely cultivated for food or building materials — but is known to be the source of the ceremonial and medical extract called Ibogaine.

Ibogaine has many, many different aspects: potent and dangerous, potentially life-saving but also deadly, a stimulant at some dose-ranges and a catatonia-inducer at others.

It’s also a powerful psychedelic…

…capable of evoking “autobiographical visions” of the type that would make one exclaim my whole life flashed before my eyes! — after they wake up.

Ibogaine has been known in its native region since time immemorial, where it has been used as an aphrodisiac and energy-booster, among other things.  It began getting medical scrutiny from Western doctors in the mid-19th century.  Currently it is a scheduled narcotic, illegal in most of the world because of its undisputed dangers.

And yet it has gained a reputation — backed up by many usage reports — that at high doses, it can help people overcome otherwise untreatable addictions.  But also, that it can kill them.  The dose ratio between effective and deadly is small with this substance.

For people in the grip of addiction, though, even risky gambles can seem worth taking.

The question is – what does Ibogaine (and related compound Noribogaine) offer in risk versus reward?  How can the dangers be mitigated, and what are the “best practices” for medically supervised use?

The Iboga tree could be the victim of its own popularity.

Despite its illegal status in much of the world, Ibogaine’s reputation is creating a demand for the plant.  It is not cultivated for other reasons (food, timber, etc.), so a growing worldwide appetite is making it more difficult to find.  Some people worry it could effectively go extinct before it even has a chance to be properly studied.

Dr. Emeline Maillet is a French pharmacologist with particular interest in drug discovery and polypharmacological compounds operating on the brain and Central Nervous System.

“I got interested in Ibogaine because it was showing a quite complex pharmacological profile, working on several brain targets.  I long had an interest in complex drugs which were working in bizarre ways — what we call ‘non-classical pharmacology.'”

For many decades, mainstream therapeutic drug research was focused on the development of very specific drugs, acting on one receptor in a narrow, targeted fashion.  Part of this was for the controlled part of a controlled experiment; by limiting a drug’s impact it was easier to determine if an approach worked (or not) in a binary way.  At least, that was the idea.

In many cases, this approach had great results.  Many of the 20th century’s greatest medical advances were based on identifying the “weak link” in disease processes and concentrating medical counterattacks there.  But many of the unsolved medical dilemmas facing people today seem resistant to these “magic bullet” approaches.

Says Dr. Maillet: “In depression, for example, it was shown that there are drugs that are what we call dirty — in other words, they are working on many different targets — and yet they seem to be effective.  And other drugs that were in development failed because they didn’t show efficacy, even though they were very potent at the target receptor they were developed for.”

Ibogaine and Noribogaine likely include a bouquet of bioactive compounds to produce its many effects. 

But at present, it remains unclear which metabolites are helpful, which are harmful, and which are neutral.  Or — also a possibility — if Ibogaine’s benefits and harms might be two sides of the same biochemical coin.

Listen in Episode #214 as Dr. Maillet explains the promise and the peril of Ibogaine, including what we might hope to find for therapy — and what we need to learn for safety.

Show Notes
  • 00:00:23

    Episode Introduction: Ibogaine with Dr. Emeline Maillet.

  • 00:01:25

    This Week In Neuroscience: Expectations and physiological responses.

  • 00:05:08

    5-Star review shoutouts.

  • 00:05:38

    SDS news and updates.

  • 00:08:27


  • 00:10:00

    Guest introduction: Dr. Emeline Maillet.

  • 00:10:29

    Interview beings: History of ibogaine.

  • 00:14:00

    Interest in the potential use of ibogaine as a therapeutic intervention for drug addiction.

  • 00:16:00

    Efficacy and safety of ibogaine.

  • 00:18:25

    Ibogaine and opioid dependency.

  • 00:19:55

    Addiction versus substance dependence.

  • 00:21:33

    Chemically synthesizing ibogaine.

  • 00:22:56

    Ibogaine and replacement treatments.

  • 00:24:48

    Psychological effects of ibogaine and breaking addiction.

  • 00:27:19

    Conditioned place aversion tests.

  • 00:28:05

    Advances in the research that Dr. Maillet hopes to see.

  • 00:30:00

    Dangers of ibogaine treatment.

  • 00:33:00

    Hormetic effects.

  • 00:34:00

    Endemic levels of substance addiction in populations that use ibogaine.

  • 00:36:00

    Demand and difficulties associated with ibogaine.

  • 00:38:34

    Interview wrap-up.

  • 00:40:02

    Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick: Olfaction and stress.

  • 00:42:45

    Episode wrap-up.

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