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Folks such as Beal, pharmacologist Glick says, keep ibogaine and 18-MC from being embraced by the medical mainstream.
"There's a lot of baggage that comes with ibogaine, some of it warranted, some of it unwarranted," Glick says. "It's really a stigma. Drug abuse itself has a stigma, and unfortunately so does ibogaine. It has really hurt the science."
Beal shrugs off the criticism, arguing that grassroots activism is the only way to ensure that politicians will endorse ibogaine. Besides, he adds, the government stopped funding ibogaine research long before he was arrested.
"[The scientists] think if they stay away from us activists, NIDA will bless them," says the self-styled rabble-rouser. "NIDA is not blessing them. They're washed up and on a strange beach. How will they get they get FDA-approved clinical trials without activists?"
Earlier this year, Beal contacted the legislative offices of U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan. The St. Louis Democrat is the sponsor of the Universal Access to Methamphetamine Treatment Act, and Beal aimed to persuade him to earmark federal dollars for ibogaine research. Carnahan turned him down.
Beal jokes that the best advertisement for ibogaine might be an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit in which a heroin addict who needs to testify in court is administered ibogaine to make his withdrawal symptoms disappear overnight. "Maybe Congress will watch SVU and say, Maybe we should check this out — wow! — it works for methamphetamine, too?" he says sarcastically.
In truth, ibogaine's effectiveness against meth has already helped it gain acceptance abroad. Lawmakers in New Zealand, where meth use has skyrocketed in recent years, recently tweaked the nation's laws to allow physicians to prescribe ibogaine. Dr. Gavin Cape, an addiction specialist at New Zealand's Dunedin School of Medicine, says the nation's doctors have been reluctant to wield their new anti-meth weapon.
"[There are] no true controlled studies to give evidence as to its safety and effectiveness," Cape says. "There is a strong advocacy group [in New Zealand] for ibogaine, and it may turn out to have a place alongside conventional therapies for the addictions, but I'm afraid we are a few years away from that goal."
Last month, dozens of ibogaine researchers, activists and treatment providers gathered for a conference in Barcelona, Spain. Alper was among the attendees who gave presentations on the benefits of ibogaine to the Catalan Ministry of Health. The NYU prof believes that ibogaine's most likely path to prominence in the United States will be as a medication for meth addiction, for the simple reason that doctors and treatment providers have found that small daily doses — the kind that drug companies prefer — seem to work better for meth addiction than the mind-blowing "flood doses" used on opiate addicts.
"The visions have some psychological content that is salient and meaningful," Alper says. "On the other hand, there is no successful treatment for addiction that's not interpreted as a spiritual transformation by the people who use it. It's the G-word. It's God. We as physicians don't venture into that territory, but most people do."
Recently, Wilkins has been experimenting with such small daily doses for people with heart conditions or other health problems that make the "flood dose" inadvisable. The non-hallucinogenic regimen seems successful, she says, citing the case of Ron Price, the former bodybuilder, in particular.