How people are turning to a psychedelic drug in Mexico to treat opioid addiction

Posted at 6:56 PM, Sep 30, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-01 13:31:31-04

(WXYZ) — The opioid crisis is destroying families and ravaging communities across the country. Desperate for a cure, more and more people are crossing the border to Mexico to try an alternative treatment. One man is sharing his story about the treatment he says said his life.

It may look like a resort, but what goes on behind the doors is no vacation.

"My experience was tough. It wasn't easy," a man we're only calling Bob said.

Before his experience, Bob was a 100 pound addict who had been abusing opioids since he was 14. His addiction started with pain killers after a skateboarding injury, but quickly spiraled out of control.

"Financially, it made sense, because when I did a $5 bag of heroin, it did the exact same thing as $120 worth of oxy's, so it was kind of a no-brainer to make the switch," he said.

He bounced in and out of rehabs, but always caved to the withdrawals. He said it felt like he was going to die, and he might have.

He was living out of his car when his parents sent him for an alternative type of treatment – south of the border.

"When the medicine kicked in, it was very different than, let's say, eating LSD or magical mushrooms," he said.

That medicine is Iobgaine. A drug harvested from the roots of a plant in West Africa.

Jose Cerda runs Baja Ibogaine Center in Rosarito, Mexico. Bob was not treated at the clinic.

Ibogaine is given in capsule form in this hospital, and patients hallucinate for hours. They're under a doctor's care druing the treatment. Once it's done, they continue their recovery at this beach house. The whole process usually takes a week.

It's also illegal in the United States. The DEA classifies Ibogaine as a schedule 1 drug, meaning there is no accepted medical use and there's a high potential for abuse.

In Mexico, Ibogaine is unregulated and risky. It can be fatal for patients with heart problems and other pre-existing conditions.

Addiction specialist Nancy Knott doesn't recommend it.

"It creates a psychosis, which can be absolutely life-threatening and mentally threatening to a developing brain or any brain for that matter," Knott said.

Dr. Tom Kingsley Brown runs an undergraduate program at UC San Diego. Off campus, he's become an expert on Ibogaine.

Brown says addicts often stop using after just one Ibogaine treatment, rather than the years it takes to be weaned off of Methadone or another replacement drug,

"Ibogaine is really helpful for taking away the withdrawal symptoms that you would ordinarily get when you stop using the opioid," he said."

Bob says the physical cravings stopped immediately, but he says Ibogaine alone is not a cure.

"You're never going to forget how good a high feels like, you're stuck with that curse for life, but what Ibogaine does, it gives you the option of whether you have to react on that urge or not," Bob added.

Clean now for eight years. He believes it's a curse he has finally managed to control.

Treatment usually starts at around $5,000. The U.S. Institutes of Health estimates that 19 people died during, or shortly after taking Ibogaine between the years of 1990 and 2008, but the exact number is unknown.