Alternative Approaches to Opioid Painkiller Addiction

Iboga root bark, source of the alkaloid ibogaine.

Iboga root bark, source of the alkaloid ibogaine.

For over a decade, states have battled in court against Purdue Pharma, the company that makes the highly addictive opioid painkiller OxyContin and that launched the opioid epidemic by telling doctors and patients the prescription narcotics they manufactured and marketed were not as addictive as they actually were. In March 2019, New York state upped the ante and turned up the heat by suing the Sackler family that owns Purdue Pharma, alleging systemic fraud.

However, as State Attorney Generals seek justice and recompense, and build court cases against Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family through the court system, millions of Americans have already become addicted. Over 200,000 Americans have already suffered accidental overdoses from prescription painkillers. Most of these people were prescribed a painkiller after an accident, wisdom tooth extraction, or surgery. The scandal that has unfolded around the Sackler family revealed the systematic fraud that helped push addictive narcotics onto American families without proper safety warnings about the risks.

However, those who became addicted to prescription opioid painkillers have been offered few effective treatment options to help themselves, or their families, reclaim their lives before opioid addiction. Especially treatment options that are affordable. Instead, many have transitioned to morphine or suboxone, and remain addicted to these narcotics.

What are the alternatives?

There are 4 alternative plant-based approaches to healing from opioid addiction that provide new hope for millions of families. These include naltrexone, ayahuasca, iboga and kratom.


50 mg of naltrexone, an endorphin peptide booster, has been approved by the FDA to help people recover from addiction to alcohol, heroin and other opiate drugs, including opioid narcotic painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. Naltrexone blocks the effect of narcotics. Naltrexone is safe and has no contraindications or side effects except for one: it causes withdrawal in opioid users. So for narcotic detox, you have to be off the narcotics before using naltrexone.

Interestingly, more than 20 years ago it was discovered that very small doses of this endorphin booster—3 to 4.5 mg—have profound anti-inflammatory effects on the immune system. Low-dose naltrexone has proven beneficial for people with immune system dysfunction and pain from chronic inflammation. Positive results were shown in cases of Alzheimer’s, autism, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s, MS and Parkinson’s.


Ayahuasca is a sacred plant medicine derived from a vine that grows in South America. It is brewed into a thick tea-like liquid, and given with a second brew made from the chacruna plant. The chacruna plant is high in DMT, or dimethyltryptamine, the “spirit molecule” hormone produced in the mammalian pineal gland at birth and death. Ayahuasca contains monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs) that neutralize the monoamine oxidase enzyme in the stomach that breaks down the DMT molecule, allowing it to enter the intestine and be absorbed. DMT is associated with transport of the spirit in and out of the body. Its psychoactive effects bring out-of-body experiences, lucid dreaming, internal retrospection and self-knowledge, and a direct experience of unboundedness and unity consciousness.

Studies of ayahuasca and addiction show it helps release addictions to heroin, cocaine and pharmaceutical opioids. Ayahuasca is usually experienced lying down with eyes closed and a bucket close at hand, as it is a powerful purgative that causes mucosal flushing of the upper gastrointestinal tract. Restricted in the U.S. since 1967, religious exemptions have recently been granted. In Peru indigenous shaman have used the plant synergy as a healing plant medicine for thousands of years for a variety of ailments, including spinal injuries. Ayahuasca is best experienced in a ceremonial context, because the effects are emotional and psycho-spiritual as much as physical. Contemporary urban shaman have been educating the public and bringing ayahuasca ceremonies to urban cities around the world.


The alkaloid called ibogaine, derived from the root bark of the African hallucinogenic plant iboga, has shown remarkable effects treating addictions to prescription opioid painkillers, heroin, cocaine, crack cocaine, alcohol and tobacco when used in high doses. Used in traditional tribal initiation ceremonies in Central Africa, iboga in root tinctures or powdered ibogaine extracts are reputed to obliterate addictive cravings. Studies report iboga releases OCD and habitual behaviors as well as physical dependencies. Ibogaine works by blocking receptors in the brain that trigger addictive cravings, stopping the symptoms of withdrawal. Unfortunately, iboga was restricted in the US in 1967, along with LSD, psilocybin mushrooms and ayahuasca. Fortunately, clinics that use ibogaine exist around the world, including in Mexico and the Bahamas.

Given the crisis of the opioid painkiller epidemic, iboga’s restricted status should be upgraded along with ayahuasca’s. Users report an introspective experience that provides clarity, detachment and wisdom. Iboga is an intense physical and emotional purgative—meaning iboga is also experienced lying down in bed with a bucket close at hand. Just walking to the bathroom can cause intense nausea. Cleansing the colon and liver before taking iboga is best, as ibogaine is metabolized by the liver, and not recommended for those with heart conditions.


Kratom is a tea, tincture or powder made from the kratom evergreen tree in the coffee family native to Southeast Asia. It is traditionally used in places like Thailand for pain relief and as a stimulant, and today it’s being used successfully by many people to treat chronic pain while getting off prescription opioid painkillers. In low doses, kratom acts as a stimulant, and in higher doses it acts like a sedative and painkiller, though kratom is not an opiate. The leaves from the tree can be chewed or brewed into a tea, delivering a low dose to anyone who grows the plant. It can be addictive itself, so it requires mindfulness about dosing.

If someone you love or care for needs help getting off opioid painkillers, make sure they know all their options—including alternative ones their doctors may not be talking about. Know what you are looking for, and you will find it, even if the healthcare system in the U.S., including health insurance, has lagged behind the science and clinical experience. But don’t wait. Waiting is avoiding, and with opioid addiction, waiting never makes it better or easier, because the risk of accidental overdose is too high.