Have you ever experienced a moment in which you are fully aware; your whole being feels congruently aligned to a greater natural force; and a clear transparent dimension arises where time does not exist and you exist in oneness with everything? Alternative states of consciousness provide an experience of ego dis-identification, a shift in perception and a dreamlike reality, these elements help facilitate processes of self-development. Ordinary states of consciousness arise naturally like sleeping or dreaming while alternative (non-ordinary) states can be induced through practices or substances, some peak states happen as an outcome of certain circumstances like when playing music, dancing or practicing a sport.
According to integral theory all human beings are capable of experiencing alternative states of consciousness regardless of the stage of development, while the interpretation of the state will be according to the person’s worldview (Wilber, 2006). The significance of alternative states is not only about what is experienced at the moment but also what the person makes with the meanings that were unveiled during the experience, the interpretation we make afterwards can make a significant difference not only in defining how we enjoyed the ‘trip’ but also its usefulness in becoming more aware and challenging us for growth.
Tripping and culture
Through out the history of humanity psychedelic substances have been used for thousands of years in cultures all over the world, cannabis and certain mushrooms were used by the Vedas in India around 5000 BC. Archeological evidence from the Cupisnique culture (1200- 200 BCE) from Peru depicts mushrooms, feline images and decapitated heads often associated with the use of mushrooms (Walsh, 2009).The plants that contain psychedelic substances vary widely, including cacti, mushrooms, morning glory vines and reed canary grass.
The reasons, methods, purpose and communities that use psychedelics vary widely not only in generation perspectival time frames but also in cultural beliefs and traditions. The shamanistic cultures are the first known to have used psychedelics as a way to heal and to view the future when they confronted conflict or scarcity, and to contact the spirit dimension. These cultures used psychedelics within ceremony, in community, with usually at least one medicine man who used the psychedelic to guide the healing or divination.
In the ‘modern era’ LSD, peyote and ibogaine were some of the psychedelic substances used in scientific research for therapeutic and ‘growth enhancing’ purposes. During the 60’s and 70’s there’s a wave of interest in altered states of consciousness from Aldous Huxley’s book The Doors of Perception exploring the expansive universe that can be opened up by drugs like LSD, to Timothy Leary’s veneration for the induced visionary experience (Williams, 1999).
Pyschedelics have been part of culture, the meanings and ways we’ve used them has changed and transformed us. The recreational use of psychedelics has had an impact on how culture perceives its healing properties and even though having fun with psychedelics can be a positive thing, still the lack of reverence and respect for the mystery of consciousness endangers the person into loosing touch with true spirituality of being human.
In the last five to ten years there’s been a change in the attitudes of the public to use of psychedelics for medical and scientific research. In the United States, some psychedelic clinical research has been granted, mostly work on DMT, MDMA and psilocybin (Williams, 1999).
The word psychedelic comes from the Greek, it means “mind-manifesting”. A psychedelic is a chemical substance that can be naturally occurring or synthetically derived, it won’t cause physical addiction, craving and major physiological disturbances, while it produces thought, mood, and perceptual changes similar to what may be experienced in dreams, contemplative and religious exaltation, flashes of vivid involuntary memory and acute psychoses (Greenspoon & Bakalar, 1979).
Psychedelics can provide us with an expansive loving experience but also it cause other reactions like a temporary episode of panic or ‘bad trip’ lasting about 24 hours or even prolonged reactions of days or months that may require professional help. Some scientific studies on LSD adverse reactions show that there are certain characteristic of a person that seem to influence having ‘negative’ reaction to a psychedelic experience, like higher degrees of mood disorders, previous psychiatric history (of the individual and/or family), mental disturbances (e.g. depression, depersonalization, dissociative states, etc.), recent stressful life conditions and certain personality traits (e.g. anxiety, nervousness, etc.) (Strassman,1984).
There’s no way to know how a person will experience a psychedelic but some aspects can have a significant positive, nurturing and balancing impact so it is important to consider being in a natural environment, with a supportive community, trustable guide or healer, have an intention, be aware of your current emotional and mind set and develop ways to integrate after the experience. Many times prayer helps on how we are able to surrender to the experience.
The road to iboga world
As part of my own path for self-discovery I have participated in ceremony and used of entheogens, among other practices. I believe that the possible usefulness of inducing an alternative state with a psychedelic for therapeutic purposes is related to how it opens a person into experiencing your Self by stepping back out of yourself with a striking change of perception and viewing aspects of oneself that were previously unknown as well as the liberation of the mind into its creative capacities. During a psychedelic experience what was previously blocked and needs to be released seems to surface, this material might be intense, hard to digest and assimilate so it is important to have the support, knowledge, capacity and tools to integrate.
While living in San Francisco (Mexico), I started a research on the use of iboga for psycho-spiritual purposes. San Francisco, Nayarit is one of the main places in the world where experienced ibogaine providers have settled and opened up detox clinics. My interest started as a personal search for healing and then transmuted into a passion for learning more about ibogaine. Ibogaine is now part of my life, my livelihood, my community and my guidance.
The entheogen iboga has unique healing properties related to neuroplasticity, the resetting of various neurotransmitter systems in the brain and along the nervous system of the body (Lotsof& Wachtel, 2003). Ibogaine is a naturally occurring alkaloid obtained by extraction from the Tabernanthe iboga plant, it is used in West Africa (Gabon and bordering countries) for medicinal and ritual purposes, it is currently at great risk from poaching and over harvesting.
In 1962 Howard Lotsof discovered the anti-addictive properties of ibogaine since then there’s a growing culture that uses ibogaine for treating addiction to heroin, methadone, alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine and other drugs while it is also used for treating mood disorders (e.g. depression, anxiety, etc.) and for psycho-spiritual development.
Ibogaine works in the mind and psychological self, allowing a person to release stories and patterns clearing the path to start developing new ways of being and behaving, and connecting spiritually.
Ibogaine is a tryptamine, an alkaloid believed to play a role in the brain as a neuromodulator and neurotransmitter, it acts as an agonist (binding to the receptor and triggering a response) to the serotonin receptor 5-HT2A. The serotonin receptors are found in the central and peripheral nervous systems modulating the release of many neurotransmitters, including glutamate, GABA, dopamine, epinephrine/norepinephrine and acetylcholine, as well as hormones including, oxytocin, prolactin, vasopressin and cortisol, among others. The serotonin receptors influence various biological and neurological processes such as aggression, anxiety, appetite, cognition, learning, memory, mood, nausea, sleep, and thermoregulation (Popik & Skolnick, 1998).
Ibogaine affects many different neurotransmitter systems simultaneously, it also acts as an antagonist (blocks agonists’ effects) of the NMDA receptor set (a glutamate receptor that is the predominant molecular device for controlling synaptic plasticity and memory function) and an agonist for the κ-opioid receptor set (a protein that binds opiate-like compounds in the brain, mediating the perception of pain, consciousness, motor control and mood) (Popik & Skolnick, 1998).
On the use of ibogaine for transformative practice
On October 2013 I started an integral research in San Francisco (Mexico) to investigate on how to use ibogaine as a therapeutic tool for transformative practice. The research applies multiple methodologies, which generate innovative and effective perspectives by using 1st, 2nd and 3rd person methods, combining the strengths of qualitative and quantitative data from each method while attempting to minimize the weaknesses.
The 1st person method is a four-month study on my experience of an ibogaine treatment, an exploration into the alternative state induced by ibogaine and the integration of the experience and changes in behavior. For the 2nd person method I interviewed four ibogaine providers (of detox and psycho-spiritual treatments) to learn about their approach and treatment’s protocols. The 3rd person method included surveying 76 individuals that have experienced an ibogaine treatment, to learn about the experiences, integration practices, behavior changes and aftercare.
Some of the preliminary results from the 1st-, 2nd— and 3rd-person methods, uncovered the following key themes related to the experience of a treatment:
- Symbiotic relatedness of the sensation of release of patterns and beliefs of the self to physical openness and relaxation,
- Perception of insight inner-connected to the biological defragmentation effects on the neurological receptors of the brain
- Spiritual experience of being human from the essence of life — from ancestors to human existence to the vast void
- Clarity of mind and awareness of ego constructs (individual & collective).
The results related to 2nd method, the ibogaine providers’ approach to treatment show in common these themes, located in the upper left and upper right quadrants (Wilber’s AQAL):
1. Importance to develop trust with client
2. Ongoing care of client’s physical health (nutrition and exercise)
3. Providing psychological and emotional support
4. Client centered dosage protocol
All providers include in the treatment elements of medical care for the client’s physical health and experiential knowledge on ibogaine’s effect on the body (upper right quadrant). They also include guiding the client on cultivating intention, mindfulness and healthy thought patterns (upper left quadrant).
Most differences between providers are related to difference in worldviews, ranging from having greater focus on balancing the client’s physical health and physical activity to supporting the client into cultivating awareness, depth and mindfulness. Regarding an integral approach to treatment that includes aspects from all quadrants, the results show that providers include mostly upper left and upper right elements, as you can see in the chart below:
|UL quadrant (inside-individual)
Working through resistance 75%
Cultivate mindfulness & awareness 100%
Intention & focus 75%
Developing trust 100%
|UR quadrant (outside-individual)
Client centered dosage 100%
Nutritional support 75%
Physical health 100%
Alternative therapies (massage, reiki) 50%
|LL quadrant (inside-collective)
Ritual and ceremony 75%
Ibogaine community support 50%
Constructing supportive environment for client 75%
|LR quadrant (outside-collective)
Comfortable and safe setting 50%
Being in nature 100%
Treatment protocol 100%
Contract with client 75%
The survey method included a mix of 25 open-ended and close-ended questions, multiple choices and also descriptive text targeting to gather different type of data about the individual’s experience of taking ibogaine, treatment at providers and clinic and integration. Preliminary results from 76 survey respondents, individuals who have experienced an ibogaine treatment whether at a clinic, with a provider, with sitter, or by themselves show that the majority are male 71% (and 29% are female) within the ages of 28 to 48; 85% of the respondents considered taking ibogaine a transformational experience while 15% did not. Some of the data collected from the survey is illustrated below.
|Question 8 Type of first ibogaine treatment||%|
|Psycho-spiritual / Self- development||42|
|Opiate, methadone, alcohol, substance addiction||36|
|Other (e.g. fibromyalgia, chronic pain, anxiety, violent episodes)||15|
|Depression, mood disorders (e.g. bipolar, anxiety)||7|
|Question 10 What did your treatment include?||%|
|Medical check up||63|
|Ritual / Ceremony||60|
|Alternative therapies (e.g. massage, Reiki)||52|
|Question 15 After your treatment what helped you integrate into your life?||%|
|Being in nature||62|
|Question 20 What were the benefits of the ibogaine experience?||%|
|Release of old ways of being||68|
|Awareness of unconscious material||67|
|Relaxed into being yourself||62|
|Question 23 What was present during the ibogaine experience?||%|
|Feeling of insight||73|
|The cosmos and expanded consciousness||55|
|Heightened perception of the world||54|
|Love, forgiveness, acceptance||52|
|Life review of significant past events||47|
|Renewed commitment to life||46|
|Realization of possibilities and choices||40|
The data gathered from the three methods is currently being untangled and analyzed. The complete document with all research results from the 3 methods is still in the making.
Integral, ibogaine, shadow work… well being.
Ibogaine induces a state of deep introspection and witnessing, which relaxes oneself into healing unconscious wounds and uncovering shadow material. So far the results show possibilities to use the healing effects of ibogaine inside an integral transformative practice by using a safe small to medium dosage protocol with an incremental and accumulative process. Ibogaine used in small to medium doses for short intervals relaxes the urge to repeat old ways of being giving the person a chance to consciously choose a new direction and take on new behaviors.
A client centered integral transformative program designed for the use of ibogaine includes mixing various practices like shadow work, meditation, inquiry, yoga, contemplating nature and nutritional support. The customized program is tailored to clients’ worldview and needs using tools like Enneagram, lines and levels of development and the four quadrants.
An integral perspective on transformational practice includes the following:
- Awareness of self: understanding your worldview (levels of development), knowing your shadow, a sense of self according to experiencing different states of consciousness.
- Embodiment: being grounded in your body, learning from the body as an instrument capable of tuning into multiple sounds and vibrations that communicates the needs for balance and healing.
- Connectedness: with provider/therapist/facilitator and with a culture and community that supports and challenges for greater growth.
- Healing ground. An environment that is balanced, safe and intimate and a system that allows for your creative impulse to be explored and expanded.
The integration process starts once ibogaine’s altered state has ended leaving a fertile ground for new seeds to be planted, during this phase it is important to be mindful and cultivate awareness. The support of a coach, mentor or therapist with experience on ibogaine guides the individual into taking the necessary actions and practices to develop and support new ways of being. The idea is to take the medicinal plant teachings, the opportunity for changing the way you see your self and the world and cultivate mindfulness and awareness to be from this ‘new’ perspective. Learning to utilize your energy into attitudes that support your well being, sensitizing oneself to our inner will to bring forth new behaviors.
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About the Author
Paulina Alanis is a transformative coach weaving psycho-shamanic exploration, shadow work and altered states within an integral practice. During her Integral Theory MA studies she focused on shamanism and altered states as elemental for personal growth. Paulina has been in Mexico researching on the use of Ibogaine for self-realization and psychospiritual work. Her research integrates perspectives from phenomenology, hermeneutics and empirical analysis to answer the question how to use Ibogaine for transformative work within a coaching program. Paulina was trained by Integral Coaching Canada.