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Ibogaine Therapy: A rundown on the controversial rehab treatment

Meagan Morris is an entertainment and lifestyle journalist living in New York City. In addition to SheKnows, Morris contributes to many publications including The New York Times, Yahoo! News, PopEater, NBC New York and Spinner. Follow he...

Scott Disick’s attempting to cure alcohol problems with iboga treatment, but does it work?

Can alternative therapies help when it comes to addiction? Keeping Up With the Kardashians star Scott Disick certainly hopes so. The reality star just checked into Rythmia Life Advancement Center in Costa Rica to deal with personal problems.

Why Rythmia? The Central America-based rehabilitation facility specializes in alternative therapies, including iboga therapy.

Iboga therapy is based off the use of ibogaine, a psychoactive alkaloid that occurs naturally in the iboga shrub native to West Africa. Taken in large doses, it induces a psychedelic state and has been used in healing ceremonies for believers in the Bwiti religion, according to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. Because of its psychedelic properties, addicts report it helps to reduce opiate withdrawal symptoms and eliminates cravings. According to Rythmia, the iboga detox process works by "resurfacing cellular receptor sites in your entire body and brain."

It's also believed that iboga helps "reset your mind on the deepest of levels, often showing you the subconscious patterns that you’ve had in your DNA and in the first few months of your life and drastically increasing neuro-plasticity (the ease and ability to rewire your mind) where you have several days to truly transform yourself and stop making choices through the programs, and much more with your spirit," according to Rythmia.

A quick search on Google brings up plenty of anecdotal evidence on whether or not iboga therapy works.

"I am an alcoholic. It absolutely did not work," reads one story on a website called The Ibogaine Dossier. "As for addicts, I was treated along with about 10 heroin addicts who also felt that it probably did not work for them. We were not allowed to visit much with either other so I have no idea how to reach those people once they got home. Addiction is addiction."

"Two years after that one dose of ibogaine, I abstain from all drugs," an anonymous author wrote in a 2013 New Scientist article. "Given the chance of relief from the physical and psychological dependence, I am free to make conscious choices again. We don't yet know how effective this treatment would be in others, but the change in my life is startling."

The main problem with iboga therapy — and with many alternative therapies — is the lack of controlled, double-blind scientific studies that truly measure effectiveness.

"Radical options are needed," David Nutt, head of the UK's Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, told BBC in 2012, adding that he's still skeptical about "so-called wonder cures."

"The history of medicine is littered with people doing interesting, challenging things, but when you do proper control tests they reveal a massive placebo effect," he said.

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