August 30, 2011
Transhumanists seek enhancement in all aspects of existence. Or so they say. The average H+ers want better bodies, better and more deeply embedded tools for living, smarter brains and so on. But do the supermen and women want enhanced knowledge or awareness of themselves?
Ibogaine is a hallucinogenic compound containing Iboga, a substance largely found in the African Tabernanthe Iboga root. It’s safe to say it’s the world’s least popular psychedelic substance. An Ibogaine trip lasts 36 hours and is understood to launch the deepest probe into personal psychological material available to humans on planet earth. A couple of hours into the experience, the Ibogaine tripper experiences an irresistible need to lie down and close her eyes. After than, (s)he will usually receive information — often experienced as though watching scenes on a giant screen —about all the accumulated traumatic events and the other types of awkward, uncomfortable, pathetic elements of personality and experience that the vulnerable human organism represses — partially or entirely — in order to “grow up” and maintain the socialized ego required by a complicated and competitive civilization.
What seems to emerge from these experiences is not a shipwrecked husk of a human being (as occasionally happened with LSD). It’s more like the tripper has undergone a very positive “extreme makeover” — but not one of a superficial sort. Indeed, many of those in the West who have had the opportunity (and need) to experience Ibogaine arrived at the experience as shipwrecked husks — they were drug addicts.
In 1962, Howard Lotsof was a 19-year-old heroin addict who also enjoyed experimenting with a variety of mind-altering drugs. Knowing only that it was another exotic psychedelic to add to his list of heady adventures, he bought some Ibogaine from a dealer. A friend of his tried some and reported back enthusiastically, “That’s not a drug. It’s a food!” So Lotsof decided to take a dose. He underwent the sort of experience I described above. Then he slept. When he woke up, he no longer had a craving for heroin. In other words, aside from having an illuminating self-examination, somehow his body reset itself so that it would not experience a very difficult and very physical period of sickness.
From that day forward, Lotsof dedicated his life to organizing and legalizing experiments with this substance as a possible cure for addiction. Years of experimentation yielded positive results. The drug didn’t work for everybody, but it worked for most. It wasn’t always a permanent cure, but it stopped or lessened the pains of withdrawal for most — and usually kept the opiate lover away from his or her favorite kick for at least a few years without the usual need for a replacement opiate like Methadone. And it turned out to not just be a cure for heroin withdrawal. Similar results were observed in experiments with habitual cocaine and methamphetamine users. One guy even used it because he was tired of feeling like he needed to smoke pot every day. It worked for him too.
My own fascination with Ibogaine came about as the result of picking up a book called The Ibogaine Story: Report of the Staten Island Project, written by Paul De Rienzo and Dana Beal. It was like the book was written just for me, since Beal was a NYC Yippie leader, and a narrative about underground life in the East Village and other parts of Gotham was woven throughout the book, which was organized much like a scrapbook. So it had Yippies and Black Panthers and High Times magazine and New York Dolls and Warhol acolytes — a variety of touchstones of my early adulthood. You might say I was hooked.
But once my curiosity about the in the ins and outs of these movements and social scenes was sated, something else emerged that has been with me ever since. In gathering together the reports of the experiences shared by the trippers (and aside from psychological content, most of the trips also seem to involve lessons from a severe African god), Beal found himself compelled to reread Valis by Philip K. Dick. And through the book, he weaved various threads about Ibogaine research, the psychedelic movement, the NYC counterculture with Dick’s strangest and most amazing exploration into Gnosticism and — if that wasn’t enough — a smattering of experiential and scientific discourses on the nature of reality (quantum physics, neurology…).
As I explored this brilliant mess, a promise beyond even the deepest psychological self-exploration and the cure for drug addiction began to emerge. It seemed that Ibogaine might not just be a cure — or at least a tool — against drug addiction. It may be a tool against addiction itself. In other words, it may be a cure — or at least a tool — for resolving overconsumption, neediness, and habitual behavior. It may be a counteragent against what William Burroughs (yet another reference point in the book) — in explaining how he saw heroin addiction as a metaphor for the functioning of our entire civilization — labeled “the geometry of need.”
So, superman… can you pass the Ibogaine test? I’ve trembled before it in trepidation myself for the last 14 years and haven’t yet worked up the nerve. But surely, some of you stout rugged individualists amongst us who insist on a relentless dispassionate pursuit of objective reality however harsh or cruel… certainly you will want to chance a plunge into deeply buried psychological materials and know thyself. Or maybe not. My sense is that most people would rather “work on themselves” for 40 years than be dragged in front of stark actuality — a terrifying something that we have no control over.
So… will you take the red pill? Or will you take the blue pill… “you wake up in bed and believe whatever you want to believe”… for a long, extended time?
R.U. Sirius is currently editor of Acceler8or at http://www.acceler8or.com/