Still, until researchers concoct just the right formula to treat drug addiction safely, without eliminating the ability to feel pleasure and without nasty side effects, addicts will turn to other options. In the early 1960s, Howard Lotsof, a heroin addict looking for another high, discovered Ibogaine (the drug that Jeff, the Florida entrepreneur, took), which is derived from a shrub in western Africa. When Lotsof's heroin craving subsided after one dose, he told fellow users. A decade ago University of Miami neuroscientist Deborah Mash became one of the first serious researchers to champion it.
Little is known about how Ibogaine works, but it appears to stifle the creation of dopamine and cleanse the body of opiates in a frisson of frantic brain cell activity. Mash is the only scientist authorized by the U.S. government to distribute Ibogaine, but she hasn't been able to raise enough money for clinical trials. To demonstrate that the treatment works when administered by a professional and accompanied by psychotherapy, Mash is treating addicts in a private clinic in the West Indies. "I had one patient-a real party boy," she says. "While on Ibogaine, he looked down and saw that he was dressed in black and surrounded by red satin. He realized he was in a casket and this was his funeral and though he tried to explain his life to the funeral visitors, he couldn't speak." She says he stopped taking heroin immediately afterward.
Like virtually all drug treatments today, though, Ibogaine is terribly flawed. At least two people have died after taking it without professional supervision. Which is the reason for the frenetic pace of research at places like Brookhaven. These scientists are untangling complex biochemistry to achieve the simplest of goals. They want to stop people from having to take trips nearly out of this world just to kick a habit that is keeping them from living normal lives on Earth.
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