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Iboga

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Iboga (Tabernanthe iboga) is an African shrub that grows up to 6 m. It belongs to the family of Apocynaceae, the same as that of the periwinckle. The root contains at least a dozen alkaloids, of which ibogaine is the best known. This root was used by pygmies for its hallucinogenic and psychotropic properties. Pygmies relied on it during hunting for stalking game: it enabled them to remain both alert and motionless for as long as two days. It is said to increase by a factor two the distance a person is able to walk, as well as the load carried. In small amounts, it served as an aphrodisiac. One cannot help but wonder at the wealth of information which such ethnobotanical practices reveal. Iboga bark and root continues to be used in African countries such as Gabon in various near-death rituals in which the initiate “visits” the land of the ancestors. The Mbiri cult, among the Bwiti Fang subculture, uses iboga in a healing procedure against witchcraft. It is believed to split open the head of the initiate in order to release the soul. Actually, it produces psychoses and it can lead to lasting brain damage. Western pharmacology has adopted iboga alkaloids such as ibogaine as blockers for nicotinic and other receptors in the brain to fight various addictions and drug abuse.

Reference: James W. Fernandez, Bwiti: An ethnography of the religious imagination in Africa, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1982.