Dutch iboga practitioner, Sara Glatt, is being held in police custody, charged with manslaughter, after a 28 year old man was hit by a truck on a motorway in March, 2011 and died, 56 hours after he had taken the African plant hallucinogen iboga.
The plant was taken under Glatt’s supervision, in her home, in order to combat the man’s alcoholism. However, he discharged himself after 36 hours, having been due to stay for 10 days. An inquiry into the death came to the conclusion that the consumption of iboga had been the cause of his death. As a result, Glatt was arrested and charged. The death, which happened in the Netherlands, has sparked a public debate about the safety and practice of iboga treatment, leading to Glatt being vilified in the Dutch press, despite the questionability of her arrest.
PsypressUK spoke with Daphne van Vliet, executive of the Iboga Foundation and Glatt’s daughter, about iboga treatment and the case. Over his 10 day stay, the man was due to take a number of capsules of ground-up iboga root bark. The capsules, which Glatt makes, contain 0.5 grams, while the average dose for someone wanting to break their addiction is 3 grams. However, this number fluctuates from person to person, as the dosage is unique to a person’s needs. If someone, for example, has been addicted to heroin for twenty years they will need a stronger dose. Van Vliet told PsypressUK that everyone, before they enter into treatment, has a small trial sample, in order to gauge how they are personally effected.
There have been remarkable reports by addicts, who have struggled with rehab time and time again but who, after undergoing a session with iboga, have managed to break their habit. Van Vliet told us: “This happens when a person really, truly, wants to break their habits. Yes, the cravings have gone after you have taken Iboga, but if you have been a junkie for twenty years and after treatment you go back to living in the same flat as your dealer, mixing with your same junkie friends, the likelihood is, is that you are going to relapse. You have to make changes and Iboga gives you the motivation to make those changes.” The time spent at Glatt’s house would have been used by the man in question in order to diminish his own psychological dependency and safe integration of the experience.
Tabernanthe iboga is an evergreen and is native to central and West Africa, particularly to Gabon, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Traditionally, the bark of the root is chewed on before hunting, to heighten senses and alertness, which is purportedly an effect when taken in small doses. When the dose is increased, often in group ceremonies involving music and song, an intense trance is brought on, which enables group bonding. Traditional ceremonies in the Bwiti tribe, in Gabon, have been recorded to last for 24 hours. When taken alone, however, iboga is highly introspective. The internal journey supposedly runs far into the psyche and what is seen and experienced there can be analysed. In this sense, the plant is regarded as being both sacred and a teacher.
Reports also describe the difficulty of the experience, which can be harsh and uncomfortable, as the process of self-reflection can be brutal if elements of one’s life are troubling. However, this is deemed a necessary part of the process. When treatment is focussed around addictive behaviour, the dissection can give one the psychological power and energy to break an addiction.
As well of the psychological impact of the experience, which can be long lasting if integrated into life after the trip, in terms of freeing addiction, iboga has significant physical affects. The alkaloids in the plant root affect the dopamine neurotransmitters and ‘resets’ them, diminishing the physical cravings brought on by opiate addiction. Ibogaine is one identified alkaloid that can be used in treatment. However, the bark, when taken as a whole, has a mixture of many alkaloids. The man received iboga root bark, as opposed to the alkaloid on its own, and Sara has received criticism from this. For more information on the differences between iboga, ibogaine and the root please visit here.
Government approaches to iboga vary worldwide. Iboga, used within the introspection and addiction context is supplied in some clinics in the U.S, where it is Illegal; Schedule 1, it is being medically researched in New Zealand and there are a number of clinics in Mexico. It is not illegal in the Netherlands but iboga treatment for addiction has not been integrated into established medical practice, meaning treatment is given out by practitioners in their homes, such as with Glatt.
The importance of set and setting within the fields of psychedelics and entheogens is of utmost importance. As opposed to a clinical setting, many people prefer the home environment, like Glatt’s, where her children and animals are present and that can provide a more personal level of comfort for people undergoing the effects of iboga. However, for obvious reasons, this is not without dangers to both parties.
There is not currently an established medical model, specific to iboga in the Netherlands and which can be used to ensure safe practice. Practitioners, dealing with people in their homes, are dealing with a range of possible difficult effects in their patients. In the case in question, for example, Glatt has reported in an interview with Shroom with a View that the man was being aggressive after his experience, before insisting on going to a hotel and leaving the nurturing environment. This situation, more than anything, seemingly demonstrates the need for a legal network of support for both practitioner and patient. Of course, such state interventionary measures are not without dangers in themselves.
Van Vliet told PsypressUK that when Glatt was first charged with manslaughter she received visits four times a week at her home where they thoroughly searched the house, searching for anything and everything that could possibly be iboga; herbs, tinctures and other homeopathic remedies. Currently, Glatt is in custody where she has been for the last two months because she broke her bail conditions, which were for her not to leave the country or to practice iboga treatment. She has been accused of practicing in another house and because of this she will remain in custody until her trial. Every month she is brought in front of the court, where the prosecution either say they have enough evidence for a case to be put to trial, or they request for more time. So far the prosecution has asked twice for more time. Glatt is due to appear before the court again on September 9th.