Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a serious condition that affects many veterans who have been exposed to blasts or other forms of head trauma during their service. TBI can cause a range of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems, such as memory loss, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately, there are few effective treatments available for TBI, and many veterans suffer from chronic disability and distress.
However, a new pilot study published in Nature Medicine suggests that a single dose of ibogaine, a psychedelic compound derived from a Central African plant, may help improve the functioning and mental health of veterans with TBI. Ibogaine is traditionally used in the Bwiti religion for spiritual and healing purposes, but it is also known for its ability to reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms in people with substance use disorders. Ibogaine is illegal in the U.S., but it is available in some countries where it is administered in specialized clinics under medical supervision.
The study involved 30 male U.S. special operations forces veterans who had been diagnosed with TBI, mostly mild, and who also had symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. The veterans traveled to Mexico, where they received a single dose of ibogaine, along with intravenous magnesium to protect their heart from a potential side effect of the drug. The researchers assessed the veterans’ functioning and mental health before, during, and after the treatment, using standardized questionnaires and interviews.
Ibogaine improved functioning and mental health in veterans with TBI
The results showed that ibogaine treatment was associated with significant improvements in the veterans’ functioning and mental health. The veterans reported less disability, better quality of life, and fewer symptoms of PTSD, depression, and anxiety. These improvements were evident within a few days after the treatment, and they persisted or increased until at least one month later, which was the length of the follow-up period.
The researchers also found that ibogaine treatment was safe and well-tolerated by the veterans. None of them experienced any serious adverse events, such as cardiac arrhythmia, which is a possible risk of ibogaine. The most common side effects were headache, nausea, and vomiting, which are typical of ibogaine. The veterans also reported positive subjective experiences during the treatment, such as enhanced insight, emotional release, and spiritual connection.
Ibogaine may have multiple mechanisms of action for TBI
The researchers speculated that ibogaine may have multiple mechanisms of action for TBI, such as neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and neuroplastic effects. Ibogaine may also modulate the activity of various neurotransmitter systems, such as serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate, which are involved in mood, cognition, and addiction. Additionally, ibogaine may induce a profound psychedelic state, which may facilitate psychological healing and transformation.
The researchers acknowledged that their study had several limitations, such as the small sample size, the lack of a control group, the uncontrolled setting, and the self-selection bias of the participants. They also noted that they did not measure the levels of ibogaine or its metabolites in the blood, nor did they perform any brain imaging or biomarker tests to confirm the effects of ibogaine on the brain. Therefore, they called for more rigorous and larger-scale studies, including U.S.-based clinical trials, to further investigate the potential of ibogaine as a treatment for TBI and related conditions.
Ibogaine may offer hope for veterans with TBI and other mental health issues
The study was initiated and funded by the Capones, a couple who founded a nonprofit organization called VETS (Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions) after their own experience with ibogaine. Marcus Capone, a medically retired Navy SEAL, had suffered from TBI, PTSD, depression, and anxiety after multiple combat deployments. He had tried various conventional treatments, but none of them worked for him. He was struggling to function and even contemplated suicide. He decided to try ibogaine at a clinic in Mexico, and he said that the experience changed his life. He felt healed from his TBI and mental health issues, and he regained his sense of purpose and joy. He and his wife, Amber Capone, wanted to share this opportunity with other veterans who were suffering from similar problems, and they contacted Dr. Nolan Williams, a psychiatrist and neuroscientist at Stanford University, to conduct the study.
The Capones and Williams hope that their study will raise awareness and interest in ibogaine as a possible treatment for veterans with TBI and other mental health issues. They also hope that their study will inspire more research and policy changes to make ibogaine more accessible and affordable for those who need it. They believe that ibogaine may offer hope for veterans who have not found relief from other treatments, and who deserve a chance to heal and recover from their service-related injuries.