During my first experience with iboga — a powerful psychedelic made from the wood of the African tabernanthe iboga shrub — I took a “flood dose,” which is considered the highest dose you can take. I threw up several times, hallucinated for about two days, and needed to be monitored by a doctor to ensure my heart rate didn’t drop too low. The trip was so intense, it took me a day before I could walk unassisted without losing my balance.
So, I was surprised that when I microdosed iboga a few months later, the effects were nothing like this. I felt energized, my heart rate seemed to increase, and I grew inspired to write. I was also perfectly able to socialize; in fact, I felt less inhibited and more articulate. Nor did I have any trouble navigating a foreign city while under the influence.
The different, almost opposite effects iboga produces at high and low doses are well known among those who administer it. In Gabon, where traditions around the substance originated, a microdose is known as a “hunter’s dose” because its stimulant, focus-enhancing properties are used for hunting, explains Dimitri Mugianis, founder of Iboga Revolution, who has been initiated in Gabon to lead iboga ceremonies. In addition, shamans and others providing support usually microdose iboga while assisting with ceremonies. Those who have used iboga to recover from drug addiction may also take microdoses if cravings or withdrawal symptoms come back, says Mugianis.
Iboga’s tendency to produce different effects at different doses makes sense scientifically: The alkaloids that make up iboga bind to an opiate receptor in the brain called the sigma receptor, which can cause hallucinations at high doses but, at doses below 50 mg or so, just produces euphoria, insights, and alertness, says James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center.
However, just because microdosing iboga is a different experience from taking a flood dose doesn’t mean it eliminates all risks associated with the drug. Regardless of the dose, it’s quite possible for iboga to cause side effects like insomnia. And even if the trip may not be as strong, you can still have a bad trip while microdosing iboga, says Mugianis, especially if you’re in a bad mental state to begin with. Giordano recommends starting with a very low dose — just 10 mg or so — and then working your way up once you become familiar with the effects.
It’s also not impossible for iboga to slow down your heart rate when you’re microdosing. It’s recommended that people get an EKG before going through an iboga ceremony, and this should be done before a microdose as well, says Giordano, as cardiac abnormalities can put you at risk for bradycardia (low heart rate) under iboga. You also shouldn’t take iboga in any dose if you have issues with blood pressure or if you’re taking other drugs with contraindications, such as medications for hypertension or any stimulants, even just caffeine.
Tricia Eastman, founder of Psychedelic Journeys, believes it’s best to take iboga in a ceremony, where you have proper support and music that’s designed to assist you on your journey, especially if it’s your first time doing it. In addition, she cautions people about acquiring their own iboga. Buying iboga on the illicit market can be problematic, as the funds often go back to elephant poachers who end up taking iboga out of the jungle while they’re hunting, she says.
Eastman also recommends caution in microdosing iboga because of sustainability issues. Iboga grows in very few parts of the world and takes seven years to grow to the point where it’s consumable, she explains, and Gabon is currently suffering from a shortage of it. “When people are all microdosing, what happens is it takes away from the supply of iboga for initiations in Gabon,” she says.
Mugianis agrees, suggesting that if you do microdose iboga, you compensate by donating to an organization like Blessings of the Forest, which works on iboga conservation. “We have to be conscious of the fact that it’s in danger,” he says.