They Had PTSD. A Psychedelic Called Ibogaine Helped Them Get Better

After multiple deployments with the US Army Special Forces, Joe Hudak returned home in 2011 changed by his time in Iraq, Afghanistan, and South America.

He was quickly diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He tried talk therapy and a range of medications, but they didn’t help. He attempted suicide twice in 2012. “I was fighting a war in my head,” he says. He retired in 2015 after 20 years in the Army.

Eventually, he learned about Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions, a Texas-based organization helping service members access psychedelic treatments in countries where such drugs are legal or unregulated. In 2022, the group paid for him to fly to Mexico to be part of a study sponsored by Stanford University testing a psychoactive drug called ibogaine.

Derived from the root bark of the African iboga shrub, ibogaine has been used for centuries by the Pygmy tribes in Central Africa in spiritual and healing ceremonies. It is illegal in the US and many other places.

Hudak was one of 30 special operations veterans with traumatic brain injuries and severe psychiatric symptoms who took an oral dose of the drug. After treatment with ibogaine, they experienced an average reduction of 88 percent in PTSD symptoms, 87 percent in depression symptoms, and 81 percent in anxiety symptoms. The effects lasted for at least a month, when the study period ended. The results are published today in the journal Nature Medicine.

“I had all these voices in my head that would yell at me and shame me,” Hudak says. “What ibogaine did was cut out those extraneous voices.” He suddenly had more life, more energy. He could be present for his 7-year-old son. A friend from high school remarked that Hudak seemed like his old self again.

Veterans are already at a high risk of developing psychiatric conditions because of their combat experiences, and physical trauma to the head, such as from blast explosions, can compound that risk. Antidepressants and antianxiety medications are commonly prescribed, but they don’t address the underlying brain injury.

At the beginning of the ibogaine study, 23 of the participants met the criteria for PTSD, 14 for an anxiety disorder, and 15 for alcohol use disorder. In their lifetimes, 19 participants had suicidal ideations and seven had attempted suicide. Their mental illness was so disabling that it interfered with their cognition, mobility, self-care, and daily activities. Like Hudak, they had previously tried multiple treatments. A month after taking ibogaine, the veterans’ average disability ratings improved, decreasing from 30.2 to 5.1 on the World Health Organization’s disability assessment scale. Cognition showed the greatest boost.

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