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"We'd hear cell phones ring through the wall and ranchero music — you'd hear everything," she recalls. "You'd try to go into a guided meditation and hear someone hammering a nail."
Wilkins now rents a lavish four-bedroom home on a hill overlooking Tijuana's upscale Playas neighborhood. Amenities include a hot tub, a weight room, a fireplace, and a veranda with a panoramic view. Safety was not overlooked: The subdivision is gated, and security guards inspect every vehicle that enters.
Stays at Pangea aren't cheap. For the standard 10-day detox, Wilkins charges $7,500, travel not included. She employs a staff of 10, including two Mexican physicians, a paramedic, a masseuse-acupuncturist and a chef. The chef, Wilkins' sister, Sarah, is a recovering addict who credits ibogaine for kicking her drug dependence.
To date, Wilkins says, she has treated more than 300 patients. "Sixty-two percent of our clients are chronic-pain patients," she says. "You're not talking IV [heroin] addicts or crack addicts. You're talking grandmas on Oxycontin."
Some people come for "psycho-spiritual" purposes. Ken Wells, an environmental consultant from Northern California, says he underwent conventional counseling for depression for 15 years before trying ibogaine as a last-ditch effort to save his crumbling marriage.
Three days after taking ibogaine for the first time, Wells compares the experience to "defragging a computer hard drive."
"It was outrageously powerful," Wells says. "It was like the inside of my eyeballs was an IMAX screen. It was all-encompassing, just a multitude of images, like 80,000 different TVs, all with a different channel on — just jillions of images, shapes and colors."
Did the experience help him find what he was looking for?
"I think I'm different," he says. "But I don't know."
It's easier to track ibogaine's effect on hard-core addicts. Wilkins, who keeps tabs on former clients, estimates that one out of every five stays off his or her "primary substance" for six months or more.
Tom Kingsley Brown, an anthropologist at the University of California–San Diego who describes his area of study as "religious conversion and altered states of consciousness," recently began recruiting Pangea patients for an independent assessment of ibogaine's long-term efficacy. Brown follows up monthly with opiate addicts for a year following their ibogaine treatment, to gauge whether their quality of life has improved.
"People I've interviewed at the clinic have had really good results, especially in the first month or so," reports Brown, who has enrolled four study subjects to date and hopes for a group of 30. "We know ibogaine interrupts the addiction in the short term, but what we're really curious about is: Does that translate into long-term relief from drug dependence?"
Participants in Brown's study fill out questionnaires that ask them to rate the intensity of different aspects of their trips, on a scale of one to five.
"People have been circling a lot of fours and fives," Brown says. "One of the things we're trying to look at is if the intensity of the ibogaine experience correlates with treatment success. I strongly suspect there's some sort of psychological component. I doubt it's just a biological phenomenon."
Some scientists beg to differ. Foremost among them are Mash and Glick.
"The hallucinations are just an unfortunate side effect," Glick asserts, explaining that ibogaine works on the brain like a "hybrid" of PCP and LSD. "Part of the problem is that when you go through this thing, it's so profound, you've got to believe it's doing something. In part it's an attempt by the person who's undergoing it to make sense of the whole thing."