Some Kentucky advocates are considering the idea of exploring ibogaine, a relatively unknown psychedelic drug, as a potential treatment for opioid addiction. The Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Committee is thinking of funding ibogaine research as part of efforts to combat the spiraling opioid epidemic and save countless lives.
America has been in the grip of an opioid epidemic and has lost hundreds of thousands of people to opioid overdoses over the past two decades. Opioids have been the main treatment option for chronic pain conditions for several decades due to their incredible pain-relieving capabilities. However, they have an extremely high risk of dependence and addiction, causing many chronic pain patients to develop addictions that can become destructive and fatal.
Researchers have invested considerable time and funds into developing safer alternative pain relief medications for quite some time. Psychedelics, a class of outlawed drugs that have primarily been used recreationally for their hallucinatory effects, are now attracting considerable attention due to their potential mental-health benefits. This includes treating mental conditions such as substance use disorder, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Ibogaine is extracted from a shrub called “iboga” that typically grows in Central Africa and is currently outlawed in the United States. However, the psychedelic has gained immense popularity in Mexico, where it is legal, as an alternative therapy for opioid-use disorder. However, unlike psychedelics such as psilocybin, which are relatively harmless even when taken recreationally, ibogaine can be deadly when taken without medical supervision.
Even so, the psychedelic has shown some promise as an alternative treatment for opioid addiction. Genís Oña, a researcher at International Center for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service, says we need better research to broaden our understanding of how ibogaine works.
Kentucky’s state opioid committee is planning to vote on whether or not the state should begin funding this ibogaine research. If the committee approves this move, $42 million of the nearly $840 million received as settlements from drug makers, distributors and pharmacies would be allocated to studying ibogaine therapy. This research would give scientists significant insight into the safety and efficacy of ibogaine therapy for opioid addiction at a time when America desperately needs such therapies.
Opioids were significantly responsible for the more than 100,000 overdose deaths that occurred in 2020, and Kentucky ranks second nationally in terms of drug-overdose deaths. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shows that the state has a drug-overdose death rate of 55.6 per 1,000 deaths and is only surpassed by West Virginia, which has an overdose death rate of 90 per 1,000 people.
While Kentucky considers funding studies to establish the efficacy of ibogaine in addressing opioid addiction, many startups such as Seelos Therapeutics Inc. (NASDAQ: SEEL) are focusing on developing a catalog of psychedelic-based treatments for several mental-health issues, including PTSD, depression and substance abuse.
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