The head of the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission has suggested using up to $42 million of the more than $900 million in settlement funds with drug companies to invest in clinical trials to study a psychedelic drug, ibogaine, as a treatment for opioid-use disorder.
Ibogaine is a powerful psychedelic that comes from a plant found in Africa that is anecdotally reported to stop the withdrawal symptoms of opioid dependence. It is not approved for use in the United States.
Alex Acquisto and Taylor Six of the Lexington Herald-Leader tell the story of a Kentucky woman who took ibogaine for opioid-use disorder. Jessica Blackburn, 36, told the reporters that she had success taking ibogaine in her 20s to help end her addiction to OxyContin, the leading brand of oxycodone.
Blackburn, of Floyd County, recounted her struggles with addiction and attempts at recovery, including many stints at a residential treatment center, attempts with abstinence-based recovery programs, and taking buprenorphine, or Suboxone, to help wean her cravings. She also told of her repeated arrests on drug-related charges.
“But no recovery attempts or her lengthening criminal record dissuaded her from returning to OxyContin,” the Herald-Leader reports. After years of trying to stop, she said her father told her about ibogaine.
“In 2008, with roughly $6,000 in cash, Blackburn traveled alone to Jalisco, Mexico. There, in a house in a small village, she took two doses of ibogaine under the watch of strangers. The only medical device present was a battery-operated blood pressure cuff,” the newspaper reports. “For the next 24 hours, Blackburn lay in a bed, largely immobile with ataxia, a side effect of the drug. She sweated, her heart rate slowed and accelerated, and she hallucinated vividly.”
“It was not a fun trip,” said Blackburn. “It was violent, like being choke-slammed by God.”
When she woke up, she no longer had a craving for oxycontin and did not have withdrawal symptoms, no longer desired cigarettes, and had lost her compulsion to bite her nails, Blackburn told the newspaper. Further, she said ibogaine changed how she viewed her addiction at an emotional and spiritual level.
Blackburn said she had relapsed twice since taking the first ibogaine treatment, that the psychedelic worked a second time, and she has been sober for six years after being put on Vivitrol to suppress her cravings.
Bryan Hubbard, the chairman and executive direcor of the opioid commission, which operates under Attorney General Daniel Cameron, asked it to consider funding clinical research into use of ibogaine as a treatment for opioid-use disorder, with the hope of getting it approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
In June, the commission scheduled two public hearings to learn more about the drug, July 17 and Aug. 16, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. in Room A125 of the Administrative Office of the Courts Building, 1001 Vandalay Dr,, Frankfort, at the northeast quadrant of the I-64/US127 interchange.
The Herald-Leader looked at research on ibogaine research, and its risks. “Though anecdotes and case studies show ibogaine reduces withdrawals and cravings, it has also caused ‘severe toxic adverse events,’ detailed in the Journal of Substance Use and Addiction Treatment,” the newspaper reports. “More than 30 deaths associated with ibogaine ingestion have been reported in peer-reviewed scientific literature, according to the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies.”
The reporters add, “Ibogaine’s exact impact on the brain is less clear. . .The drug does show promise for its ability to curb withdrawals and cravings, but its impact on cardiac activity is what makes it risky.”
Kentucky is already part of National Institute of Health-
funded research that is built on expanding existing addiction medications already approved by the FDA, and described it as “an endeavor still stymied by state policy and stigma,” the reporters write.
Dr. Margaret McGladrey, a drug researcher with the University of Kentucky, told the Herald-Leader, “I feel like investing in something largely untested [in the U.S.] doesn’t make a lot of sense when we have so much effort that needs to be poured into making sure we are ensuring this kind of equitable access to the three FDA medications at our disposal.”
McGladrey is part of UK’s $87 million grant-funded HEALing Communities study, which seeks to build a model to reduce opioid overdoses by 40% in 16 Kentucky counties. If successful, that model will be applied to the rest of the state.