The Story of Ibogaine – report on the Staten Island project
By Dana Beal and Paul de Rienzo
CHAPTER II – HOWARD LOTSOF
A split had occurred between a small group in NewYork who knew of Ibogaine and had worked through its implications and the conventional wisdom, which held that the next logical step after legalizing pot was to legalize cocaine. To outsiders, starting work on Ibogaine a month before Reagan was inaugurated would have seemed like embracing a lost cause. It was only a little more than ten years since prestigious academics tried, and failed, to stop LSD prohibition. In fact, when asked about LSD by an inte rviewer in 1978, Keith Stroup of NORML said: « You want LSD, go talk to theYIPPIES. »
But even as he was handing Lotsof the money, Dana remembered Leary had considerable success treating alcoholics and prisoners in the early ’60s. And in a way, the decision to develop Ibogaine to fight addiction harkened back even further, to the 1950 ‘s, and CIA experiments in psycho-pharmacologic warfare. Because they did experiment with Ibogaine, and they refuse to this day to release the results.
In March of 1955 Eisenhower’s special assistant for Cold War Planning, Nelson Rockefeller, was briefed by Allen Dulles on all Covert CIA operations. The old Psychological Strategy Board of the National Security Council had been rechristened the Operat ions Coordinating Board, designed to shield the President from direct knowledge of CIA « crown jewels » including Operation Bluebird and MK-Ultra, notorious for dosing unsuspecting Army guinea pigs with psychedelics. The CIA was looking for, among other thi ngs, a substance that could be put in the water supply or sprayed in an aerosol over Moscow, which would cause loyal Soviet citi-zens to wake up in the morning as loyal Americans. You’d win without firing a shot. Unfortunately, they could never figure out a reliable delivery system, and they never found the right substance.
In 1955, as part of MK Ultra or Bluebird, Dr. Harris Isbell of the Federal Narcotic Hospital at Lexington, Kentucky, did try doses of up to 250 milligrams on eight, black, ex-morphine addicts. The catch was that they’d been clean for six months, and 250 milligrams is a sub-therapeutic dose, so the interruption of an active addiction wouldn’t have occurred. Isbell was investigating the potential of indole-alkalamines to « mimic » psychosis–according to the »psycho-mimetic » model of the time.
Did the CIA or Defense Department discover Ibogaine’s ability to interrupt addiction? They « refuse to confirm or deny » that any file exists (even CIBA-GIEGY’s reply to Isbell, not only in the face of Lotsof’s Freedom of Information requests, but even to NIDA researchers. New evidence has surfaced, however, that the Addiction Research Center at Lexington, Kentucky continued to be on the CIA payroll from 1957 to 1962–the years it would have taken them to check out Ibogaine and its probable impact. The record of payments (See exhibit on facing page and page 14, plus pgs. 16, 18 for CIA Office Codes and Abbreviations) with entries panning 1953 to 1961 (years during which Isbell was ARC director of research) came into our hands from one such frustrated source, minus any additional discriptions of the disbursements or results of experiments carried out.We know all this because in the’80s CIBA-GIEGY released to Howard a letter (See left) from Isbell requesting the drug for thirteen more subjects. And because one of CIBA’s own.researchers, named Schneider, discovered in 1956 that ibogaine potentiate s morphine analgesia (Ibogaine multiplies the painkilling effect of opiates), it is fairly certain Isbell checked it out further. Since Isbell was also looking for an addiction cure, and experimented with all different psychoactive agents in all different dose regimens, both during and after withdrawal from morphine, the next logical step would have been to try to wean active addicts off opiates by substituting progressively more Ibogaine for their usual dose of heroin. And if he used a threshold dose, 6 mill.-per-kg., he would have started observing the Lotsof effect.
If they did discover it, they didn’t follow it up. In Africa, the ritual use of the plant of which Ibogaine is the principal alkaloid, Tabernanthe iboga, forms the basis of a religion called Bwiti. To become fully initiated, all Bwiti must eat enough iboga rootbark to induce intense visions and enable them to « meet their ancestors » — including a kind of universal African ancestor (the Bwiti).
In Bwiti, An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination In Africa, Princeton University anthropologist James W. Fernandez recounts an unforgettable first encounter, soon after arriving in Gabon in 1958:
Late one evening about three months after I had taken up residence in Assok Ening… there was a loud knocking at the door… The open door revealed in the light of the pressure lamp a man of about 35 years with a beard, a long flowing robe, and a red cord around his waist. « Monsieur, » he said addressing me in French, « I am Metogo Zogo, Nganga Bwiti, and I must speak with you. » He fixed me with an unrelenting gaze. « You seek the truth here but you will not find it. » As I stepped back, he made a dramatic entrance, sweeping himself and robes into the center of the room. « You do not know me but I am no stranger. I am a child of this village just returned from a long and spiritual journey. I have been following the truth! You will not find it in this village talking to these old men. You must come to the Bwiti chapel in my fathers house…
The Nganga could not contain himself… « You want to know the ‘old things.’ But none here know them. They have not seen them. We Banzie see them when we eat eboga. We see the ‘old people’ there. We know the ‘old things’ through them.
« Now you want to know why the condition of this village and of the Fang is desperate. None of this village except we Banzie can tell you that. The people here are lost in sin. They have not paid the price of those sins. They have not died for their sins. But we Banzie have died and paid the price. We die and return, die and return, each time more purified.
« You should dance with Bwiti. You have heard the harp at night. While all these villagers are asleep we dance and journey far. They go nowhere here. They wander around in confusion. They don’t know where to go. But we go far. » He took hold of the red-woven cord around his waist. « You see this cord? This is the Path of Birth and Death. We Follow this path. We know life. We know Death. »
The red cord represents the umbilicus which connects each of us back, generation through generation to the original Mother. Initiates are advised that in the visions red is the color of the true road that leadsto the Ancestors. In some versions of Bwiti, the Creator God is properly accessed only through the Mother. Bwiti is the only native religion that has success fully resisted the inroads of Islam and Christianity. By giving the initiate access to a universal African ancestor (the Bwiti), it unified the Gabonese Independence movement of the ’50s.
In the ’50′s, the United States was still in the thrall of segregation, of the racist police state of J. Edgar Hoover, nemesis of Marcus Garvey and Malcolm X. The highest-level person briefed on MK Ultra results was Presidential assistant for Cold War Planning –Nelson Rockefeller or his suceessor–who equated African decolonialization with international communism. The last thing they wanted was a drug treatment which would, through the population of Black junkies, release another force that could unify and electrify the Black movement in this country.
When, at the beginning of the ’60s, Tim Leary gave Allen Ginsburg acid, Ginsburg immediately flashed that an indole alkylamine of some kind could free the junkies, (although he was thinking more along the lines of substitute drugs.) But when the Harva rd Administration cracked down, Leary issued a call for his Great Leap Forward: for undergraduates everywhere to continue and broaden paraclinical research with all the indole-ring psychoactives, with one goal being to find a cure for addiction (See Leary-Ginsberg article, pgs 23-25 continued pgs. 36-38).
One of those who responded was a smart kid named Howard Lotsof. In those days it was possible to start your own chemical company with nothing more than a letterhead, and order all kinds of neat substances that were later controlled.
One day Howard was having breakfast with a chemist he knew who had been active in the small underground LSD scene of the ’50s. The chemist offered him a dose of Ibogaine that he had in the freezer. Lotsof asked him what he could tell him about it. « Wel l, it’s a thirty-six-hour trip, » said the chemist.
A thirty-six-hour trip was the last thing Howard could imagine himself wanting to do, so he gave it to a friend and asked him to check it out. A month later,at 12:20 at night, Howard got a phone call from the friend, who said: « You know that drug you g ave me? It’s not a drug, it’s a food. We have to tell Congress! »
Howard was 19 at the time, living at home with his parents, so he said: « You woke my parents up. I’ll get back to you. » After succeeding in getting the house back to sleep, he decided the matter bore further investigation. It took his circle six months to get further supplies, and they still didn’t know what they had.
To discover the interruption effect, you need active addicts, and you need enough experience with LSD to know sub-optimal doses of indole-alkalamines can produce a bum trip, where a larger dose gets you above the « tree-top » effect of getting tangled up in your own emotions. Only people seeking a high-dose, thirty-six-hour experience would do the amount–about a gram for a 150 pound person–that produces the therapeutic effect.
Contrary to some published reports, Howard did not hand the stuff out to some friends at a party. (« Some party, » he says. « After the first hour it would consist of everyone lying around in a darkened room, not talking. ») It was administered one dose at a time, over eight months, to a variety of friends, including Howard’s future wife, Norma Alexander. Howard’s own experience had the Freudian overtones of dreams, or of a birth visualization–
« The first thing I saw was a pulsating yellow screwdriver, which disappeared abruptly. And the next thing I knew I was walking up a ladder leading to a 10-foot diving board over a pool. As I was walking up the diving board, my bathing suit disappeared and I was naked. As I dived into the pool, my mother appeared beneath me with her legs open, and I was diving into her vagina. As I got closer, she changed into my sister, who changed into an infant. Then I went into the water, and that was it. The vis ion tuned into a new one. »
« For three or four hours, the way the visualizations changed was always the same and different from any other hallucinogen. It appeared that you »d get one vision, and then a gold or silver web would carry it off and an entirely new set of visions woul d arrive. »
On another trip, he was watching a stage, and all of a sudden music started. The music was like, BOMdidaBOMPdidaBOMdidaBOMP, and pairs of cavemen and cavewomen came dancing onto the stage. The men were behind the women, and they were dancing with them. And then two more of them came onto the stage,rolling this giant stone heart... Later he « had the sensation of slides opening up and him sliding downward at a tremendous speed, with all my experiences arranged, accessible like filing cabinets flashing past. » He also experienced behavioral immobility, which wore off only when the visualizations ceased, leaving him in a strange, high energy state. Howard explains–
« The hallucinatory period ends abruptly, and the first reaction generally is, « What happened? I thought this was supposed the last for 36 hours. » Then all of a sudden you realize that it hasn’t stopped, it’s just changed. You’re no longer watching this motion picture, but there are like giant lightning flashes and movements of light all over the place…but there’s no waviness, things do not lose their normal form, as they do under heavy dosages of common hallucinogens like LSD or mescaline, where a w all will seem to wave.
« Another difference was, with hallucinogens generally, if you were to move your hand you’d see a wave-like pattern. With ibogaine, you don’t get a continuous wave, you get distinct images, and I noticed it the first time, when I was walking on the stre et…I was on my way to the west side, and I turned around, there were seven distinct after-images of myself. And as I took a step, a new one would appear, and the last one would disappear.
« During that second high-energy period, which lasts from six to twelve hours, you’re seeing all these flashes of light and what’s happening, is you’re getting thoughtscoming into your mind which support the deep symbolic material which came ou t in the initial three or four hour visualization phase. For instance you might be thinking that all people are playing roles, that the basic interaction of humans is on a sexual, nonverbal type of level. And that slowly diminishes, till after about twelv e hours that phase is completely closed out. Apparently a secondary stimulation effect occurs, and that slowly curtails, somewhere between twentyfour and thirty hours, and the subject goes to sleep. »
Says Norma: « I remember thinking, when is this going to end? I’m so tired. I couldn’t imagine anyone doing it for fun. »
Strangest of all, Howard awoke after three hours of sleep completely refreshed. « Ten steps out of my door it hit me: For the first time in months, I did not want or need to go cop heroin. In fact, I viewed heroin as a drug that emulated death; I wante d life. I looked down the street, at the trees, the sky, my house and realized that for the first time in my life, I didn’t feel afraid. »
Five out of seven of the twenty in this initial trial were addicts who quit heroin or cocaine, involuntarily, for six months or longer, says Lotsof. And two days later, five of the seven had not gone through withdrawal, and had no desire to use hero in, for periods ranging up to eighteen months–up to six months from asingle treatment, and up to eighteen months from a series of five treatments.
The other two got up the next morning and began their routine of going out to cop junk. « Why? » Howard asked them.
« Because we’re junkies, » they said. « We like being junkies. »
Howard was energized: « I don’t know if you know anything about heroin addiction, but one of the people that it worked on was a roomate of the other two that it didn’t work on. He was living with those guys for six months, while they were shooting up ev ery day, and he wasn’t using it. Now, if you know anything about heroin addiction, you know how hard that is . So we knew we had something very unique here. »
They sent a sample to Tim Leary, who didn’t like it because it’s not euphoric (no LSD mood swings, either). But Leary wasn’t looking for treatments, but for something with a more universal, sacramental application; and he was tethered by his preferenc e for a user-friendly party drug, whose therapeutic potential was supposed to sneak up on millions without them noticing (See pgs. 23-25 , cont. 36-38).
Howard procured a big supply of Iboga root and sent it to a dope chemist he knew, who refused to do anything with it after producing a small initial sample. Howard had run up against what has become a familiar syndrome: Instead of seeing Ibogaine as a Godsend for junkies who want to withdraw painlessly, many people see it as an affront to the myth of the potency of the »hard stuff »–KING HEROIN. Or as Howard says: « Dealers were not interested in selling anything that would cause people to quit doing dru gs. »
Through the years, though, the memory of one vision from his first Ibogaine experience resonated, and sustained him. At the end of the visions, he’d found himself in a darkened room, where a deep voice came to him, and said: « You will bring Ibogaine t o the world, and set it free. »
In 1963, the FDA was beginning to investigate hallucinogens, and they realized his laboratory was ordering large amounts of hallucinogens for experimentation. Lotsof got a « visit » from the FDA enforcement unit responsible for tracking a shipment of 100 grams of mescaline, which had come in one or two days earlier and had already been disbursed.
There’s the mescaline? » asked the two agents. At that time unauthorized use of mescaline on humans could only get you six months, but that was still enough to cause Howard to think fast: « It was used in rat experiments, » he said.
« Where are the rats? » they asked. « They were destroyed in the course of the experiments, » shot back Howard.
The agent eyed him for a moment, and said, « Good answer. » It was, in fact, the only answer that could get him out of trouble. In the search of Howard’s place, the agents unearthed two grams of the Ibogaine. « That’s not mescaline, » he said. « It’s Iboga ine. You can’t take that. » The agents’ mouths formed an « O. » They demanded to purchase the two grams as a sample and gave Lotsof a receipt. Now the feds knew he was involved in Ibogaine research. They cut off his supplies.of all controlled substances.
If that didn’t make Howard a marked man, events in Berkeley, where Howard and Norma had relocated by 1964, certainly didn’t endear him to the authorities. There they played a role in the FREE SPEECH MOVEMENT of Mario Savio, which erupted in September o f that year when the university administration sought to keep civil rights activists returning from the South from setting up the traditional literature tables on Sproul Plaza.
Howard modestly describes himself and Norma as bit players in the drama. But he tells the story of how someone smuggled a Bible into the local hoosegow, to the hundreds of kids being held after the takeover of Sproul Hall. A Bible soaked in LSD, whose pages were sacramentally consumed, thereby turning the Civil Rights Movement on to acid.
What Howard does say for attribution is this: « When the authorities realized their multi-million-dollar institution could be brought to a crashing halt with a few cents worth of chemicals, the decision was made to ban LSD. »
It was the CIA’s worst nightmare come true. One of their
pharmaco-warfare genies had escaped from the government labs to the underground. The communists had the Bomb, along with a mode of delivery we weren’t willing to use.
In 1965, the Senate held hearings, and Congress passed a law that became effective at the beginning of 1966. It established felony sentences for trafficking in a whole range of psychedelics including LSD and mescaline. At the same time a wave of media hysteria was loosed upon the country, intended to reprogram the populace to forget about therapeutic benefits and think broken chromosomes and acid-heads staring into the sun until they go blind.
Curiously, Ibogaine was not on the list, but the feds cut extraordinary corne to nail Lotsof–much more so than if he was the inconsequential acid dealer they claimed.
Howard was the very first person raided when the law took effect. They were waiting for Howard and Norma at their place in Brooklyn when they came back from a trip to Philadelphia. It was a typical case where there are no drugs–only conspiracy charges based on the word of an informant, because the drugs are gone. More curious still, the conspiracy was supposed to have taken place nine months earlier…before the law had become effective.
All Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau had was a flakey kid that Howard Lotsof had cut loose more than a year earlier, and who upon getting busted offered to give them… Lotsof. Howard was on some kind of priority list. His friends tried to ge t him the famous civil rights attorney Marvin Garbus,but that didn’t work out. So with inadequate counsel, there came a point when the judge turned to Howard and said: « Mr. Lotsof, you claim to be a serious researcher. Name one thing you ever discovered. »
« Well, your Honor, I discovered that Ibogaine can interrupt cocaine and her-oin addiction with a single dose. » The judge slammed his gavel down and barked, « The jury will disregard that testimony! » and cleared the courtroom for the day.
With that one decision not to allow Lotsof to testify into the court record, Ibogaine development was set back two decades–sacrificed to insure that the first-ever prosecution under a popular new law would not be derailed. Trial proceed-ings ground on to their foregone conclusion: Howard was found guilty on 4 misdemeanors and sentenced to fourteen months
in federal prison.
Howard got the message: The U.S. certainly didn’t want him around as an Ibogaine spokesman. He was in jail during the Summer of Love in 1967, when Dana got to know all the other local psychedelic luminaries. When Howard got out of prison in 1968, he w as shattered. He travelled to Nepal, where for the first time in five years, eating opium, he became re-addicted. When he tried to find some Ibogaine to de-tox, in 1969, it was completely unavailable.
In 1968, State Police under Gov. Nelson Rockefeller informed the feds Ibogaine was being used to cut heroin in the Syracuse area. (Curiously, Syracuse was a Rockefeller stronghold). Ibogaine soon became Schedule I, like LSD and heroin. Meanwhile, Rock efeller was busy engineering acceptability of his anti-crime brain-child, named Adolphine by it’s Nazi inventors–re-named « methadone » by its patent-holder, Rockefeller University.
Returning to New York, he and Norma enrolled in a methadone program, and got into NewYork University film school. But methadone withdrawal lasts about eight to ten times longer than kicking junk. It lingers in the tissues. The very long-acting quality that makes it socially preferable to smack ~(the addict doesn’t have to do up every four hours, so he can hold down a job) makes it a prison without walls. Addicts call it « the orange handcuffs. » Still, Lotsof had one unique advantage over the average add ict, who literally doesn’t remember what it’s like to be off drugs. From Ibogaine, Howard remembered that somewhere, the trap had an exit. Graually, laboriously, 5 milligrams at a time (since methadone cold turkey can kill), he and Norma de-toxed themselv es. On his own Howard invented what is today the only standard method for methadone de-tox: several months of Hell.
A big factor in subsequent negative attitudes toward methadone later, among the initial supporters of the Ibogaine Project, came from Norma and Howard’s recounting their difficulties in getting off of it. They were just finishing getting off methadon e in December 1973, when they were introduced to Dana Beal by a friend of pot guru Ed Rosenthal.
As final survivors of the psychedelic movement, they hit it off from the start. Soon Dana was making regular morning runs on the D train to hang out at their place in Brooklyn near Pratt Art School. One morning in early 1974, in the period of the gas l ines after the first OPEC price hike, they were discussing which drug was « most psychedelic. » Howard said it had to be Ibogaine.
« What’s it like? » asked Dana. « Kind of like harmaline, » said Howard. « Oh, you mean telepathine, » said Dana, regurgitating the only thing (its synonym) he knew about harmaline.
« Yeah, » said Howard. « But you know what? It stopped my heroin
The effect on Dana wasn’t like a blinding flash of light–more like a bell going off. As the putative new leader of the YIPPIES, Dana was poking through the wreckage of the movement for anything that could be an asset. He filed this interesting fact aw ay among the YIP crown jewels.
During the next six years, as they collaborated on a number of projects, including three films, Howard gradually regained the confidence he would need to become Ibogaine’s spokesman. But to this day, Norma Alexander, a brilliant Afro-American woman who is chief financial officer of NDA International, refuses to go on camera as a spokesperson. She’s still paranoid from the ’66 bust–and from being Black in America.
Rockefeller capped off his successful installation of methadone maintenancewith the toughest drug law in the country, named in his honor and used to incarcerate a substantial and growing minority of young, black men.e one thing you ever discovered. »