IbogaLife, an organization in Costa Rica, seeks to help addicts transition from heroin to sobriety through a powerful psychoactive drug, ibogaine, which is derived from a Central West-African bush called iboga. Abby Haglage describes visiting IbogaLife ceremonies, where she witnessed a young woman named Grace undergo the treatment:
In the first stage of the ibogaine trip, which lasts four to eight hours, users experience fantasies like walking on water, through fire, or flying. In the next stage, which can last anywhere from eight to 48 hours, users contemplate—usually with images from childhood—the meaning of what they saw. It is during this time that many discover the underlying reasons for their addiction, and, ideally, work through them.
So Grace trances, we watch, the Bwiti music plays. She howls afraid, we play instruments to keep her calm. For many minutes, she’s frozen and silent. The faces of the village soft and solemn around her. Then suddenly, without warning, terror invites itself. Her eyebrows furrow with pain, her mouth falls open in shock, her hand reaching out to be saved. For the next few days, this is her reality.
A week after the ceremony, Haglage talked to Grace about her visions, which she described as “more uncomfortable than scary”:
Finding these things, seeing them, wasn’t easy. “My whole body was on fire. I was in so much pain,” she says. But living through them seems to have changed, at least for now, the way she sees the world. “What this did, it gave me a perspective. That was the whole point of my trip I think, perspective,” she says. “Decisions are not good or bad, but what you hold them up against. I have a choice if I want to keep using and that’s fine, but if I do, it’s going to suck. This is the only life I have, as far as I know, and I’d at least like to give it a shot.” …
As for the trip? “I wouldn’t recommend it to somebody who is trying to have fun,” she says dryly. “If you want your body to explode into 1,000 pieces and rebuild itself into something beautiful, then yeah—but don’t expect it to be pleasant.”