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What does ibogaine do to the brain?

As with all medicines, most people probably don’t care how ibogaine works, as long as it does. But the more we learn about ibogaine’s mechanisms of action, the better we understand how it can be used to treat addiction, depression and a number of other conditions.

Research has revealed that the anti-addictive properties of ibogaine may be partly down to the way in which it binds to opioid receptor sites in the brain, thereby alleviating withdrawals and cravings. Yet addiction is about more than just physical sensations, and recovery requires the adoption of new modes of thinking, behaving and living. Amazingly, ibogaine may facilitate this process by interacting with N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors in the brain. Since NMDA receptors play a role in regulating synaptic plasticity – that is, the formation of new neural pathways and the breaking of old ones – it is likely that ibogaine actually impacts our ability to develop new patterns of cognition and change the way we think.

Ibogaine also stimulates the release of key growth factors in the brain, such as Glial Cell Line-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (GDNF) and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which help to restore damaged neurons and strengthen new neural connections. Not only does this allow for changes in cognition, but there is also evidence to suggest that this could help to alleviate dementia by repairing the brain cells that get damaged in old age.

On top of all this, ibogaine blocks serotonin and dopamine reuptake receptors in the brain, ensuring that less serotonin and dopamine is removed from the synapses, meaning more remains available for brain cells to use. Since serotonin helps to regulate mood and dopamine produces feelings of pleasure, this generates a noticeable anti-depressant effect, leading to enhanced mood for some time after treatment. This is prolonged by the fact that ibogaine is converted to noribogaine, which remains in the system for up to four weeks and continues to ensure a greater availability of serotonin throughout this period. It is this that creates the so-called ‘after-glow’ that most people experience after ibogaine, and which provides that vital window of opportunity for the making positive changes in one’s life that can lead to lasting happiness and abstinence from drugs.

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