This is an in-depth interview with our friend Barry Rossinoff. I was inspired to do this interview after reading an article in Glamour magazine titled Women and Opioids: Inside America's Crisis which is related to the rise of opioid addiction due to prescribed pain killer medication in young women. For most of the people caught in the trap of addiction to pain-killers the medical community offers no way clear resolution to the problem. A life on Methadone is their proponed solution. Barry has 15 years of experience working with the plant medicine Ibogaine to assist in addiction recovery and spiritual growth. I shall also add that Barry is my neighbor.
To start with Barry, can you tell us a little bit about Iboga for people who have never heard of this medicine?
Iboga is a bush, native of Central West Africa, from which there are derived several psychoactive alkaloids, principle among which is Ibogaine. In the 1960’s, along with numerous other substances, it was categorized by the United States as “Category 1”, meaning they are “illegal because they have high abuse potential, no medical use”. This directive halted numerous university and laboratory research projects considered to be of great promise for the treatment of psychological activities and disorders. It was in this period that it was discovered by Howard Lotsof, then a graduate student in New York and a heroin addict, that Ibogaine, in a single dose, was able to halt the excruciating withdrawal effects which accompany cessation of opiate addiction, along with the craving. There simply is no other known therapy or medicine that can make such a claim. This attribute is often described as “reverting to the pre-addictive mind”. Miraculous !
As experimentation, led by Lotsof and others in formal institutional trials, began verifying this finding, all government sanctioned and financial support were stopped by the Federal authorities. But the shadow world of opiate addiction treatment with Ibogaine could not be stopped. It soon came to light that other substance addictions, i.e. alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine and nicotine also fell into this camp.
But of perhaps of equal or greater importance to the “addiction interruption” quality of Iboga is the influence it provides relating to this relief from craving and promoting a level of profound mental clarity pointing to the underlying propensity driving one to seeking relief from emotional suffering through substances and negative behavior pattern, in general. Many equate the Iboga experience to years of psychotherapy.
After decades of experience and observation there is now a growing population of people finding therapeutic relief from the plague in contemporary culture of “mood disorders” based on trauma contributing to PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), depression, anxiety and numerous addictive patterns relating to eating disorders, sexual patterns etc. There remains much to learn.
While conventionally referred to as a “psychedelic” Iboga is better described as “Oneirogenic” or dream inducing. Iboga prompts a REM (rapid eye movement) deep dream state wherein one is totally awake and aware. In such a state, emotional memories are evoked from recent as well as precognitive events, allowing these emotions to be fully vented and potentially releasing their grip. The memory may persist but without the emotionally reactive component.
What sort of questions are people struggling with in their lives when they inquire about the Ibogaquest experience?
By far, those investigating Iboga are hungry to make fundamental changes in their lives. These usually include: Substance addiction interruption; Non-beneficial behavior patterns; Mood disorders; Quest for meaning and integration of body mind and spirit; Experience of non-ordinary states of consciousness.
When do you accept or recommend iboga treatment?
The Iboga experience should not be taken lightly. It is profound physically, emotionally and mentally. Once someone concludes that they are dedicated and open to fundamental change, in order to fully resign themselves to giving up control, they need to know that they will be safe from physical jeopardy. Depending upon their profile, they need to be guided toward relevant physical and blood analysis to be evaluated by their guide or provider.
It is essential to be realistic and know that, as with any other therapeutic process, there are not any guarantees that what they are seeking will satisfy their expectations. They are advised to be open to the experience which may manifest in unexpected ways … most often positive but occasionally neutral. Negative reactions can be avoided with the appropriate screening for physical, psychological and substance contraindications.
Pertaining to substance addictions, one should never be coerced by family and friends. ”Intervention process” is not acceptable to this provider. It almost invariably results in relapse and resentment. Social conditions need to be evaluated. What are the therapeutic and behavioral support elements that are available in the post-Iboga experience? How likely is the patient’s attitude attracted toward engaging in these opportunities? How inclined is the patient toward altering, if need be, their social environment, which might including turning away from certain people in their lives, even changing address and phone? These conditions, along with a willingness to prepare according to suggested guidelines, are critical in order to assess a likely positive outcome.
What has been your own personal experience with Iboga?
Awareness of Ibogaine and its application for addiction interruption first came to my attention in the late 1960’s by way of introduction, through a mutual friend, of Howard Lotsof, the recognized Iboga pioneer. He and I became socially connected as I tacked his, mostly failed, efforts to gain legitimacy for the therapeutic use of Ibogaine.
It was not until the year 2000 that, as a long time meditator someone seeking personal insight into the nature of mind and prompted mostly by my compulsive relationship with cocaine, causing family disaffection, that the medicine and attentive guidance fell into my lap.
Frankly, the cessation of the cocaine compulsion was a success but there was another surprising gift of equal or greater importance. The Iboga experience, which I went into without particular expectation, delivered a level of insight and altered perspective in meaningful ways, which, as of today, 18 years later, continue to directly influence my trajectory. This writing is not intended as an autobiography so I’ll be brief.
• Images of my family (though not recognizable in form) surrounded my heart prompting a spontaneous forgiveness of myself and the familial environment. Only empathy now connected me to my history.
• Finding myself somewhere in the proximity of the moon our Earth radiated such beauty and warmth that my heartfelt understanding of its fragility brought me to tears. Our responsibility as inherent protectors was firmly embedded.
• The Iboga spirit threw at me, non-stop, into a vast amount of seemingly unconnected images from all direction, prompting distress and confusion. I badly needed a reprieve. Deliberately engaging with my meditation practice I was able to find a sliver of a quiet space in my being, in the midst of this chaos. This sliver expanded to become my friend … my safe harbor. To this day, this quiet space remains available to me in the course of engaging with the throws of the human condition. There have been events in my life which have challenged this gift. But I now know how to return to this space of mindfulness to gain perspective and release from consuming distress. Who can ask for anything more?
Why did/do you choose to do this work?
Being a victim or recipient of circumstances, I came to this “work” via the cosmic joke. Not long after moving to Mexico in 2005 I gravitated to a circle of friends and acquaintances with interest and experience with sacred plant medicine under the guidance of holders of indigenous traditions. Though “Iboga” was known as a word, the direct experience was not known. 6 of my new amigos were eager to engage with Iboga and asked for my assistance. Reaching back to my resources, I found solid support, guidance, available apprentice training and a qualified producer/provider of Iboga/Ibogaine and had it shipped to Mexico.
These initiatory experiences were gratifying all around. A few individuals, including some in severe emotional distress, were informed of my efforts and made contact, whereupon, after some screening, accepted them as patients as they were made aware that I was an attentive novice. No one was more amazed and gratified by the positive results than I.
In my undertaking of Buddhist studies I had take Bodhisattva vows, which, in essence, directs that when one encounters suffering and you have the means to help alleviate that condition, you are obligated to do so. I recognized that working with Iboga was an unimaginable gift for fulfilling that vow. I created the website, IbogaQuest.com, to address fundamental questions, and was soon responding to referrals from associates north of the border and far flung Google inquiries. Now, 500+ patients later, I am humbled to be in a position to extend this gift which reverberates in incalculable ways toward a world so much in need of consciousness and peace.
What is the difference between your treatment program and that of other Iboga centers? How is the Ibogaquest experience unique and why have you created it that way?
There are now numerous Iboga providers around the world, each with their own motivations and motives, ranging from creating a lucrative enterprise to those who have themselves been in some way elevated by the Iboga experience, and are now evangelists. I see this as a generally good thing, as the world-wide need for the relief of suffering is not on the decline.
IbogaQuest is a deliberately small Iboga therapy center in the sense of offering space for only a few people monthly and never exceeding 4 (usually 2-3) patients at any one time. We are not ambitious except regarding efforts applied to outcomes. Each individual is recognized as unique with our protocol adjusted in accord with their needs … not a cookie cutter approach. We see those who come here as being self-selected as opposed to being induced.
IbogaQuest is a place for transformative healing, engaging Iboga as a tool to end addiction in combination with elements of therapeutic engagement and ceremony comprised of local pre-hispanic traditions. [Though we do honor the Bwiti inheritance, that is not who we are. This part of the world has abundant riches of preserved indigenous ceremonial culture.]
We are a dedicated group of 6, including a well informed doctor and vigilant nurse. The inherent richness provided by Centro Werika cannot be understated. The temazcal (traditional healing sweat lodge), SPA, swimming pools, cave, very comfortable individual bedrooms with private bath and attention to nutrition catering to specific needs, has proven itself to bolster the Iboga and withdrawal process.
In essence, we are here to be of service.
Are you seeing an emergence of new addictions? Why are people looking for something different to help them? What kind of changes are you seeing over the years in terms of addictions? Why do you think this is happening?
Our world is undergoing rapid fundamental changes, atmospherically, geopolitically and chemically. Change, while inevitable, is a major cause for anxiety and, in many instances, genuine fear. It is a challenge for many of us who are vulnerable for mood complexities and substances are confronted. Particularly opiate addictions, often stemming from the pain of illness or injury, but most often emerging and exacerbated by cultural conditions, is quantitatively on the grow. Once addicted, confronting the horrors often associated with withdrawal (hard to imagine without personal experience or being a witness) one must rely on their physician to constantly fill their prescription. This is becoming more difficult to come bye. Resorting to “street providers” they find the bona fide medications hard to distinguish from counterfeits of dubious origin and contact. A pig in a poke. And they are very expensive for a daily user. Heroin fills this niche for addiction, being more affordable and, in most places, easy to obtain. But the question of “what are you actually buying?” becomes of tantamount concern. Rarely do you actually know the content. We as therapists and particularly the users, must be vigilant to understand that their street acquisition might well contain “impurities” particularly the likes of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid far more potent than heroin and the leading cause of fatal overdose.
An additional palpable change over our years of therapy is the explosion of mood disorders, particularly PTSD, depression and anxiety. The generally prescribed such as SSRI antidepressant medications often have a dark side, particularly with prolonged use. They often require a prolonged titrate (tapering) process overseen by a physician before other plant medicines can be administered. One can easily understand the attraction of a quick fix from a pharmaceutical. They have their place. But it needs to be understood how this is often a bandage placed over a deep wound and the malady remains untreated. Our chances of changing our world is limited but we hold the keys to changing ourselves.
What recommendations would you make to someone who is interested in Iboga as part of their spiritual journey?
If one can experience their own essence without the overlay of cultural dictates and discursive mind they would find themselves in the non-experience of total clarity and universal connection. Can this be done on an ongoing basis? Ask someone who is enlightened, if you can find one. A few teachers I have encountered might be in such a place or come close but we ultimately have only our own direct experience to consult. We comprise a laboratory of existence related to all else that exists in the Universe. Through the ages there have been those who have recognized this connection through non-dual (no separation) mind through which they experience a degree of peace and compassion. There are numerous traditional and contemporary practices which are intended to facilitate this insight. Sacred plant medicines are among the potential springboards to a sense of integration. For many individuals seeking this quality of being Iboga has provided at least a glimpse. Iboga is not a magic bullet for enlightenment but it is a powerful tool offering confidence that such an experience can be realized and cultivated. It walks hand-in-hand with other awareness practices. Call it a catapult to a place where we can profoundly experience ourselves as part of all that is.
Barry can be contacted at www.ibogaquest.com