A reader writes:
I have been following your blog for some time, and I have really enjoyed the occasional post on psychedelics. I've read about psilocybin, LSD, and ayahuasca, but never about a plant that changed my life years ago: ibogaine. It is native to West Africa, and people who experiment broadly with psychedelics consider it the most powerful drug in the world.
During my junior year of college, I found myself sinking into a depression. On the surface, my life looked quite good, but something still felt wrong. I had been raised to believe that happiness came from successfully achieving your goals. I had achieved some fairly ambitious ones, and had acquired considerable respect from my peers, but happiness eluded me. Even worse, I had no hope that life would get better. I started drinking myself into blackness twice a week and watching a lot of TV, desperately hoping that one day I would feel better. When I decided to try ibogaine, I was nearing the end of my rope. Despite my antipathy towards drugs (aside from the occasional joint), I figured it could not hurt.
Ibogaine stays in your system for 48 hours, and the first 24 hours of my session were the most horrible 24 hours of my life.
Every single thought that I normally repressed came into my awareness – and I was forced to look at them without any filters. I saw that I had no idea who I was, and so I desperately sought other people’s approval. Everything I did, all my plans, were simply to make people give me positive feedback.
I also saw that everyone else was in the same boat. Society was one big lie – we all hide our suffering behind a façade of confidence and forced happiness, hoping that it will just go away. I saw images of people’s faces: friends, parents, teachers, politicians; and I saw the desperation hiding just behind their eyes. Finally, I saw how human beings are never truly happy. We may have a few moments of happiness in a long lifetime, but mostly we jump from one distraction to the next until death takes us. After 20 hours of visions like these, I drifted into sleep.
I woke up several hours later and sat down outside, staring into the trees behind my house. Physically I was fine, but emotionally I felt horrible. How could I possibly function in the world, knowing that life is a pointless joke? I realized I could not go back to my old self, but who would I be? I assumed my girlfriend would leave me, all my friends would grow tired of me, and my parents would stop loving me. And forget about a career. How could I possible compete with people who believed that success would bring them happiness? So I just sat in my deck chair, mentally preparing myself for a life of loneliness and menial work.
And then the bottom dropped out. Somewhere, deep down in my psyche, I accepted everything I had seen on ibogaine. I accepted that I did not know who I was; I accepted that all my previous plans were based on getting people’s approval; and I accepted that happiness cannot be achieved. And with this acceptance came an extraordinary bliss and that can only be described as religious. I saw light everywhere, and felt an intense love coming into me and through me. Over the next 24 hours, as the ibogaine left my system, this joy receded into the background and my normal mind slowly came back.
But I never returned to the person I had been before. A sense of peace is always there in the background, and while it can get obscured by the mind, it never goes away. I still don’t know who I am, but I don’t need to know. I stopped chasing after happiness, because I know happiness is my natural state. And my relationships did not fall apart; they were actually strengthened by an increase in love. Even my career in mainstream international economics has gone well. It turns out people really appreciate genuineness and authenticity.
This happened six years ago, and in this time I have come across many accounts of similar transitions; some with psychedelics, some with meditation or prayer, and some without any outside help. In comparison, my experience was relatively easy. Ibogaine was like a decade of psychotherapy and meditation rolled into one night, and while it was a horrible night, it saved me from years of suffering.
(Photo by Megan Scheminske)