Society for Medical Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The therapeutic potential of psychedelics has become a popular topic within academic, scientific, and medical communities in recent decades. Several psychedelics are now studied and used to treat a variety of health issues, including addiction. One psychedelic utilized specifically for drug treatment is ibogaine. A naturally occurring psychoactive substance, ibogaine is used for “addiction interruption,” as a way to reduce or eliminate drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms. It is simultaneously employed as a tool for introspection to help one reflect on their drug use and the path out of it. But, how does ibogaine provide that path toward meaningful change? What kind of change is possible? And how do people who use drugs re-envision or re-make themselves by taking this substance? Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork at ibogaine centers in Mexico, this paper engages these questions by critically examining what change means in the context of this psychedelic-based drug treatment. Focusing on the discourses of “addiction” and “recovery” that circulate among ibogaine clients and providers, this paper discusses the multiple ways in which this treatment and its capacity for change are imagine and promoted. This paper shows that, while drug treatment is generally predicated on the modification of behavior, psychology, or physiology, what sets ibogaine treatment apart is the process through which this is achieved: a psychedelic experience. However, the kind of change facilitated by ibogaine and the altered state of consciousness it can induce – its form, its mechanisms, and its potential effects on recovery – are varied and vague.