A quick recap: In 1962, Howard Lotsof, a 19-year-old junkie, was given a psychedelic drug derived from the root of Tabernanthe iboga, a West African shrub. The root had been used for centuries in local ceremonial rituals. He came out of a 33-hour trip with no withdrawal symptoms, and no further desire for heroin. After testing ibogaine on a few other junkies, he realized that he might have discovered a cure for addiction.
Lotsof patented the drug in the 80s and, since then, has been trying to get drug companies interested, but to no avail.
Well over 100 research papers concerning ibogaine have appeared in medical journals since, and NYU Medical School recently hosted the first international ibogaine conference. If approved by the FDA and picked up by a drug company, it could represent billions in profits.
However, ibogaine's hallucinatory effects leave it classified a Schedule 1 drug?on par with LSD?making it illegal in the U.S. Plus, some tests revealed that it may result in brain damage or seizures?and there have been at least two reported deaths associated with ibogaine treatment. Those facts?together with the fact that much of the evidence to date has been anecdotal?have left the pharmaceutical industry skittish.
As a result, addicts are being sent out of the country?to Amsterdam, to Montreal, to the Caribbean?in order to get ibogaine treatment legally.
Nevertheless, research continues, and many are coming to the conclusion that there may be something to the claims being made by the drug's proponents.
But there's another story going on within the world of ibogaine research that the media hasn't mentioned?a twisted story involving fraud, political intrigue and murder. Or something like that.
In 1992, Lotsof?under the banner of NDA International?cut a deal with the University of Miami's School of Medicine to conduct research into ibogaine's efficacy. The project was headed by Dr. Deborah Mash, a professor of neurology and molecular pharmacology, who put together a team and set to work. In her research, she discovered a metabolite, noribogaine, produced by the liver after receiving the treatment. This metabolite, she argues, is the real addiction blocker.
At this point, things become extremely complicated, and in December of 1996, Dr. Mash and the university began a civil suit against Lotsof.
"That arose when she broke the contract," says Dana Beal, author of The Ibogaine Story and an organizer of the annual Million Marijuana March. "She screwed him... She's basically bankrupted the New York company that owned this stuff."
Beal claims that Mash was having difficulty obtaining funding in 1996. What's more, he argues, she wanted to get her own patent for noribogaine.
"...She says the NMDA receptor stuff isn't important, the ibogaine isn't important. It's only the noribogaine. Obviously, these are two radically different ways of looking at this stuff. In one, it actually reverses addiction, in some people, for a length of time?versus it's just a long-acting depo-opiate. It can't be both."
As a result, according to Beal, Mash sued to get out of the contract and continue work on her own, reaping whatever benefits may arise. Lotsof countersued, charging the University of Miami with fraud and patent infringement.
Dr. Mash tells a different story:
"I've never done a patent in my life," she said from her office in Miami. "But as I'm working on this, I'm beginning to think that there may be some value to [noribogaine]." She informed the university and Lotsof of her findings.
Lotsof flew to Miami to discuss what should be done with the discovery. The decision they came to, according to Mash, was a 50/50 deal between the university and NDA International. Noribogaine was a discovery independent of the research they were doing for Lotsof, Mash said, but they didn't want to cut him out.
"He shakes hands... We alert legal and our dean. He goes home, and he immediately reneges on the whole thing. Comes back and demands that the patent be assigned to him in totality."
The university, according to Mash, hoping to avoid a suit, agreed.
"Then he comes back and gives the university a notice for half a million dollars to take back this patent application. I've talked to his patent attorney, and he told us that they've only spent $15,000?and now he's demanding half a million from the UM?"
Shortly after they had applied for the first noribogaine patent, Mash discovered, Lotsof applied for a patent for something called "noribogaine-plus," naming himself as sole inventor.
"So we had no choice [but to file suit]. He's put all this on the Internet?crazy stuff?to hurt me. He's bannered this to the American Psychological Association... My grant evaluations go in front of these people. We had no choice but to go and ask the courts to revert that patent back to the UM."
Complicating matters further was a suit brought against Lotsof in connection with the 1993 death of a young woman who took ibogaine in Holland. Again, the accounts of what actually occurred differ dramatically.
"Originally, Howard went to the woman's funeral. He was real close to the mom," Beal said. "Someone in the press said something kind of deprecatory about the woman who died, which enraged the mother. And using that entree, Deborah Mash proceeded to try to construct a chain of evidence. Her science was more like forensic science in a murder case than actual research. I think it's telling that she's working with a medical examiner of Dade County to do this?and she used the medical examiner's facilities, besides her own, to establish that he had negligently given this woman a second amount of ibogaine when it was not working. This thing of giving it step-wise is done both in Western medicine and in Africa. It's not unusual."
Beal claims the woman got up in the middle of the treatment, went into the bathroom, did heroin, then collapsed and died.
"The police [determined] that it was a heroin overdose," he said. "This took three years to work up to the Dutch Supreme Court at the end of last year, when it was thrown out... So Deborah Mash and [the victim's] mom go to a prosecutor in Germany, who starts a new case... Then they get a U.S. attorney to interrogate Howard... They were never able to make their case, but they really have fucked up the science of ibogaine by pursuing it. Which I think is unforgivable."
In fact, he argues, the science behind ibogaine lies behind the whole case. Mash, he says, in order to forward her own theory, is using this case to discredit Lotsof. Dr. Mash denies this.
"I told Mr. Lotsof that he can't go on doing this stuff in a hotel room without an MD and emergency equipment," she said. "It's my opinion that that girl should not have died... She didn't get up and do heroin. There was no heroin in her blood at the time of death... That's in the public record. That was presented to the FDA, to NIDA [National Institute on Drug Abuse], and it's in the autopsy report, and we secondarily confirmed it. We wanted to know, why did she die? Because if ibogaine's dangerous, we can't go giving it to people."
She says her involvement in the case was simple.
"The mother was very angry with Mr. Lotsof. Her lawyers contacted us. She wanted to know what the cause of death was. Under our agreement with getting those autopsy specimens, we had to disclose our findings. That's all we did... Believe me, having Mr. Lotsof on trial in a wrongful death action hurts the ibogaine project. I'm not stupid. What bothers me is that I believe they have not been forthcoming. The story from the Lotsof camp is that this young woman got up and took heroin.... [While on ibogaine you] can't even get out of bed unescorted, let alone go do heroin. And how in God's name would you allow a person to be in the suite taking ibogaine with heroin on their person? You have to monitor a person under the influence of ibogaine. If you're monitoring them, the person ain't gonna get up and go to the bathroom to take something. I was in the Netherlands, I know how they work over there. Scared the shit out of me, because it wasn't a safe study. It was a time bomb waiting to go."
Beyond all the legal battles, there are also rumors of political corruption. According to Beal, Dr. Mash and her research associates have connections with both the Attorney General and the White House.
"The codiscoverer of the metabolite...was the medical examiner of Dade County under Janet Reno," he says. "When I was friendly with Deborah Mash, she bragged to me that she used her connection with Bill Clinton to help him personally intervene with the FDA to get this stuff approved for clinical trials. That's great, if he did it for public-spirited reasons. But not if it was to rip off a patent."
Hillary Clinton is involved too, Beal claims. "She gave a pro-ibogaine speech in Oakland in '94... Deborah has claimed to me...a special Hillary connection. Hillary Clinton should be made to account for her friends using the system in a way that frankly stinks, in order to take millions in drug development money away from New York?and delay release of ibogaine to New York junkies."
Apart from being a Democrat, Dr. Mash denies any connection with Reno or the Clintons.
"I've been plagued by these people for a very long time," Mash added, speaking of Beal and Lotsof.
As things stand now, both the wrongful death and the patent suits continue. At the same time, both camps are still offering ibogaine treatments. Dr. Mash works with the Healing Visions clinic on St. Kitts, which offers clients a two-week program for $12,000?which includes the ibogaine treatment as well as follow-up therapy.
Beal thinks that that cost is absurd. Ibogaine, he says, is available on the Internet for much less. As far as the plans he offers, he explained, "We have facilities right now in Amsterdam. And not only that, we have authorization from the Ministry of the Interior in Slovenia to run a religious retreat. We can give it as a religious thing, but not as a medicine. But we can give the full dosage. And it's completely legal."
The one thing?perhaps the only thing?that both Beal and Mash agree upon is that ibogaine works?even if they disagree as to how.
"Ibogaine doesn't work for everybody. That is my position," Beal clarified. "In fact, about one out of five people go back to drugs pretty quick. Of course, one out of five who use it go on to a drug-free existence... If I could give it every time somebody walked in and asked for it?which I can't do, because of U.S. law?I could get people off dope. You just have to have it when they need it. I think it's really fucked up that the people who need this don't have $12,000. And this stuff is available on one website for $75 a gram."
"Honestly, in my heart of hearts, I believe that this thing works," Dr. Mash said, "and that Mr. Lotsof's seminal discovery will stand and he will go down in history for making that discovery happen."
For further information about ibogaine, you may contact Mr. Beal at 677-7180, or the website at http://cures-not-wars.org/index.html.
Or you may contact Healing Visions at 1-888-IBOGA-86 (1-888-426-4286), or their website at http://www.ibogaine.net/ibogaine.html