Posted Thursday February 23, 20112 --- 6 p.m.
It's called ibogaine, and it's a hallucinogen that comes from the root of a shrub found in western Africa. Currently it is Illegal in the United States. But that hasn't stopped addicts from seeking ibogaine treatments.
Users claim the drug not only got rid of their addiction, but it also eliminated their painful withdrawal symptoms.
42-year-old Rafael is one of those users. He lives in the bustling Chicago metropolitan area. That's a long ways away and a life time ago from his home of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
It was there that Rafael, who doesn't want us to use his last name, discovered heroin.
"In Puerto Rico I got exposed while I was working in bars," says Rafeal. " I was working in the kitchen and I did a line of what I thought was coke but it turned out to be heroin."
In 1993 his addiction started. In '96 Rafael, a writer and amateur photographer, entered his first rehab program.
He says, "Of the dozen plus years that I spent in heroin addiction most of those years I spent trying to kick. "
It wasn't until Rafael bumped into an old flame that he learned about ibogaine. Thanks to some help from his family in 2005, Rafael illegally received an ibogaine treatment in New York City. It only cost $600.
"I flew in at 8 p.m. and the next morning at 7 a.m. I was already treated," says Rafael. "It was just amazing to just wake up and not feel the need for anything. I didn't even feel the need for cigarettes."
Rafael is clean now but he did relapse. He doesn't blame ibogaine, he blames himself for not addressing the psychological roots of his addiction.
Marcus David left Chicago when he was 19, and headed to San Francisco. David, who now lives in Evanston, is a drummer. He's played with some of his era's biggest names, like the Doobie Brothers, the Allman Brothers and Huey Lewis before the News.
"Back in the 70's coke and heroin were kind of like a shot and a beer," says Marcus.
In 1998, after more than 20-years of use, David got clean. Ironically he was at his dealers house when he saw a book by medical marijuana and ibogaine advocate Dana Beal.
Months later, in another strange twist of fate, David returned to the Bay area, where his addiction began, to receive his ibogaine treatment.
"I felt emotionally unable to keep going every day. Trying to maintain the monkey," says David.
About 12-hours after he got the treatment his addiction, cravings and withdrawal symptoms were gone. With only a few exceptions David has been clean ever since.
Back in Madison, Dr. Randall Brown with the UW, treats people suffering from heroin addiction.
Dr. Brown says it wasn't until last year people really started asking him about ibogiane. He says there has been some research done on the drug but not much. The research that has been done has had relatively small sample sizes.
Dr. Brown says the drug has shown some promise but there needs to be much more research done.
"It's kind of all over the map. So we really need a little more work to really figure out what the potential is there. "
In some of those smaller studies ibogaine has done damage to brain cells. Currently, ibogaine is a schedule one drug. That means it is illegal and is in the same class as cocaine and heroin.
According to Dr. Brown, schedule one also means it has a high potential for misuse and a low therapeutic value.