Tabernanthe iboga Baillon is an understory shrub distributed throughout the lowland tropical forests of the Congo Basin. The plant, particularly the root cortex, contains a number of alkaloids, of which ibogaine, a psychoactive indole alkaloid, is attracting the most interest (Popik and Skolnick 1999). Taken in small doses, ibogaine is a stimulant used to sustain activity during arduous tasks. In much larger doses, it is hallucinogenic, and as such is used by members of the Bwiti religious tradition of Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and southern Cameroon (Fernandez 1982). The species thus plays a significant cultural role in the lives of many people within and on the fringes of the forests of Central Africa. Ibogaine has long been known to Western science, but has only recently come under increased scrutiny for its potential to interrupt drug addiction and its applications in psychotherapy (Popik and Skolnick 1999).
Although there are no official data concerning harvesting rates or trade, T. iboga is reportedly in high demand in certain West African countries, and the sustainability of current exploitation rates has recently been questioned (Wilkie 1999). If clinical trials studying ibogaine’s effectiveness and safety in treating drug addiction are successful, and no synthetic substitute for ibogaine is developed, demand for the raw material should rise further.
In: The key non-timber forest products of Central Africa: a state of the knowledge. Clark, L.E., and Sunderland, T.C.H. (Eds). Technical Paper no. 122. pp. 163-173. USAID, Washington DC. USA. Ad Publications, Office for Sustainabel Development, USAID.