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Observations placeholder

Pinchbeck, Daniel - Ten years of therapy in one night – 02



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience

Pinchbeck, Daniel - Ten years of therapy in one night – 02  

[Guardian newspaper - Saturday 20 September 2003]

Iboga is the sacred essence of the religion of the Bwiti tribe of Gabon and Cameroon. Most members of the tribe ingest it just once in their lives, during an initiation ceremony in which massive amounts of the powdered bark are consumed. Through this ritual, they become a baanzi, one who has seen the other world. "Iboga brings about the visual, tactile and auditory certainty of the irrefutable existence of the beyond," wrote the French chemist Robert Goutarel, who studied the Bwiti. The iboga bark's visionary power is produced by a complicated cocktail of alkaloids that seems to affect many of the known neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. Its complex molecular key may lock into the addiction receptors in a way that resets patterns and blocks the feedback loops that reinforce dependency.

In an essay on ibogaine's anti-addictive properties, Dr Carl Anderson of McLean Hospital, Virginia, speculated that addiction is related to a disrupted relationship between the brain's two hemispheres, and that ibogaine may cause "bihemispheric reintegration". Ibogaine also accesses REM sleep in a powerful way - many people need considerably less sleep for several months after an ibogaine trip.

Six years ago, I became a member of the Bwiti. I had heard about ibogaine from an assistant in an anarchist bookstore in New York. On a magazine assignment, I went to Gabon and took iboga in an initiation ceremony. It was one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, experiences of my life. I had heard the substance described as "10 years of psychoanalysis in a single night" but, of course, I did not believe it. As the tribesmen played drums and sang around me until dawn, I lay on a concrete floor and journeyed back through the course of my life up to that point, witnessing forgotten scenes from childhood. At one point, I had a vision of a wooden statue walking across the room and sitting in front of me - later, I was told this was "the spirit of iboga" coming out to communicate with me.

My Bwiti initiation was complicated by a belligerent, greedy shaman who called himself The King and demanded more money from us before, during and after the ceremony. The King was also dissatisfied with the visions I described, and threatened to keep feeding me more iboga until I reported more impressive sights. The initiation, which lasted more than 20 hours, was ultimately liberating. At one point, I was shown my habitual overuse of alcohol and the effect it was having on my relationships, my writing and my psyche. When I returned to the US, I steadily reduced my drinking to a fraction of its previous level - an adjustment that seems to be permanent.

The source of the experience

Pinchbeck, Daniel

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items

Activities and commonsteps