Plant Based Medicines That Can Change Addiction Treatment As We Know It

By John Giordano, Doctor of Humane Letters, MAC, CAP

cbd and marijuana

Mark Twain once famously said that, ‘truth is stranger than fiction.’ That pretty much sums up my thoughts on how we treat addiction here in the U.S. There are things about our healthcare that make me think I’m looking at our system through Lewis Carroll’s ‘looking glass’ where nothing is quite what it seems. It’s as if I’m in some strange parallel universe where everything is backwards.

A perfect example of this is the way the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies drugs. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) of 1970 established five different schedules or categories of controlled substances, numbered I–V, with I being the most dangerous and V the least.

The criteria determining the different Schedules are based on three factors:

Potential for abuse: How likely is this drug to be abused?

Accepted medical use: Is this drug used as a treatment in the United States?

Safety and potential for addiction: Is this drug safe? How likely is this drug to cause addiction? What kinds of addiction?

Seems straight forward enough, right? However, this is where truth and fiction collide and form a new surreal coexistence.

In the early 70’s, Cannabis/Marijuana, Ibogaine and a host of other substances were designated as schedule one drugs. I always found this peculiar for a few reasons. First and foremost, Ibogaine has never been found to be addictive and cannabis is far less addictive than schedule 2 opioids. Moreover, comparatively very little research had been done at the time to determine if these substances held any medical value. And because they were categorized as schedule one substances – the most restrictive of all the drug categories – it became much more difficult for researchers to access and test the substances to see if they hold any beneficial qualities.

Humanity is blessed in that there have been dedicated and talented researchers, both here and abroad, who were undeterred by the heavy-handed regulations. One of those pioneers is a doctor by the name of Debra Mash. Dr. Mash conducted the only FDA approved human study of Ibogaine in the mid to late 90’s. I was fortunate enough to be one of only a handful of experts invited to be part of the entire study.

Ibogaine is an organic plant-based medicine found in the root of the Iboga shrub that grows in west central Africa. It has been used safely for hundreds of years by locals for mental health issues, religious and rites of passage ceremonies.

Medically, Ibogaine is considered a hallucinogen. I suppose this could be due to a lack of a  better description. Not only was I part of the three-hundred-person human study, but I’ve also personally experienced Ibogaine therapy. I can tell you firsthand that what is being referred to as a hallucination is more of a lucid wakened dreamlike state than what you think of as a hallucination. Everyone’s experience is unique; but most say that it is transcendent – they see themselves as a child and as an observer, watching themselves as they go through life. Almost all say they’ve found the cause(s) of their addiction in their dreamlike journey.

People usually come out of the dreamlike state after about 8 hours claiming the experience was like years of therapy. Moreover, they have absolutely no withdrawal symptoms or drug cravings whatsoever. Ibogaine acts like an addiction interrupter. Although the exact mechanisms are not completely known, Ibogaine resets the brain chemistry to ‘pre’ addiction positions.

The effects of Ibogaine therapy do not last forever. They can start wearing off anywhere from 30 to 120 days after treatment. This is why it is critical for everyone who has gone through Ibogaine therapy to get into aftercare treatment with an expert in Ibogaine right a-way. In doing so, the patient maximizes their opportunity for a complete and full recovery.

As promising as the FDA approved human trials of Ibogaine was, and with all the additional encouraging information provided by respected Ibogaine clinics worldwide, a sane rational person might think that heads of government agencies responsible for safe prescribing of opioids and addiction treatment might want to look deeper into the potential of Ibogaine to  curb the raging drug epidemic we find ourselves in today. That would be a sane rational person who in this skewed Lewis Carroll type reality has no place calling balls and strikes. No, instead, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded research for Suboxone – an opioid that eventually became the replacement drug for heroin and other prescription opioids as part of the Medicated-Assisted Treatment (MAT) program – at the same time the Ibogaine study was concluding.

In this manipulated reality we live in today, the very people we’ve trusted our health to – in their infinite wisdom – think it best to extend a person’s addiction by moving them to a ‘new and improved’ opioid as opposed to treating the cause of their addiction.

To the best of my knowledge, there has never been discussion among the powers to be regarding changing Ibogaine’s schedule 1 status in an effort to help those afflicted with addiction. Years ago the state of Vermont was considering a pilot program but it was eventually scraped.

The same holds true for cannabis, another plant based medicine whose medicinal values have been suppressed by individuals whose beliefs are built upon the soft underpinning of conjecture. The flowering herb has a long history of medicinal use that crosses many cultures and dates back thousands of years. It is believed by many experts that ancient cultures knew about the psychoactive properties of the cannabis plant and used it in religious ceremonies and healing practices.

Domestically, beginning in the late 1800’s cannabis extracts were sold in pharmacies and doctors’ offices throughout the United States to treat stomach problems and other ailments. It was also used recreationally until being criminalized in 1937 and designated a schedule 1 drug in 1970 by then President Richard Nixon.

Once again, it was groups of forward thinking scientists and researchers who are dispelling  the myths surrounding cannabis, and are bringing it into the mainstream of western medicine. What they found was that cannabis is an effective chronic pain management therapy especially for people with cancer and going through chemotherapy. It also reduces the side effects of nausea and vomiting.

Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of 104 chemical compounds (cannabinoids) that are a naturally occurring constituent of cannabis initially thought to not hold medicinal value in the 70’s when it became a schedule 1 drug. However, progressive researchers have once again disproved this notion. It’s important to note that CBD is not psychoactive and is legal.

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a specialized system within the human body that is involved in regulating a variety of functions including sleep, appetite, pain and immune system response. Endocannabinoids are neurotransmitters produced in your body that bind to cannabinoid receptors in your nervous system.

What scientists are discovering is that CBD interaction with the endocannabinoid system opens the door to a plethora of non-toxic plant based remedies for common ailments. The publication Healthline published these examples:

• CBD oil may help reduce chronic pain by impacting endocannabinoid receptor activity,  reducing inflammation and interacting with neurotransmitters.

• CBD oil has shown promise as a treatment for both depression and anxiety.

• CBD oil has even been used to safely treat insomnia and anxiety in children with post-traumatic stress disorder.

• CBD has also shown antidepressant-like effects in several animal studies.

• CBD may help reduce symptoms related to cancer and side effects related to cancer treatment, like nausea, vomiting and pain.

• Researchers believe that CBD’s ability to act on the endocannabinoid system and other brain signaling systems may provide benefits for those with neurological disorders.

• Recent research has linked CBD with several benefits for the heart and circulatory system, including the ability to lower high blood pressure.

• Studies suggest that CBD may help people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders by reducing psychotic symptoms

And more relative to this story, CBD oils have shown promise in attenuating withdrawal symptoms. Although more research in humans is needed, researchers are encouraged by what they’ve seen so far and believe CBD oils will soon play a more substantial role in substance abuse treatment and treatment for mental health disorders.

These are just two examples of plant based medicines with far reaching medicinal values and low downside that have been locked up in a cupboard for the last fifty years in this upside down reality we live in today. There are other substances that hold great medicinal promise that are locked up as well. Fortunately, 31 states have legalized medical Marijuana, but it, along with Ibogaine, remain schedule 1 drugs.

We need to encourage our lawmakers to rethink this backwards universe they’ve created. Between 1999 and 2016 over 600,000 Americans died an avoidable death due to a drug overdose. In the same time frame, zero people died solely due to Marijuana or Ibogaine. On average, 115 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose; yet opioids (mostly schedule 2 drugs) continue to be handed out like lollypops by doctors and dentists across the country while plant-based medicines that can help curb this raging epidemic remain locked up on a dusty shelf as a schedule 1 drug. Truth is stranger than fiction.

John Giordano is the founder of ‘Life Enhancement Aftercare Recovery Center,’ an Addiction Treatment Consultant, President and Founder of the National Institute for Holistic Addiction Studies, Chaplain of the North Miami Police Department and is the Second Vice President of the Greater North Miami Beach Chamber of  Commerce. He is on the editorial board of the highly respected scientific Journal of Reward Deficiency Syndrome (JRDS) and has contributed to over 69 papers published in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals. For the latest development in cutting-edge addiction treatment, check out his websites: