Iboga Nights is a documentary exploring the use of iboga as a treatment for opiate addiction. Iboga is a psychedelic drug derived from the root of an African plant, Tabernanthe iboga, which it is claimed, can help drug addicts break free from the addictive grip of opiates, and other hardcore drugs via carefully controlled dosage. The film opens with its director and writer David Graham Scott explaining that he used to be addicted to methadone, the synthetic opioid widely used to treat heroin addiction. We begin with firsthand footage of David’s own night of treatment with Iboga. David no longer uses hard drugs, and for him iboga was instrumental in helping him break his addiction to methadone.
Iboga Nights is a very personal journey for the filmmaker who seeks to try and explore the effectiveness of the psychedelic drug as a treatment for drug addiction. Throughout the film we meet a selection of addicts and reformed addicts who have chosen to undergo Iboga treatment in an attempt to treat their addictions to various drugs such as heroin, crack cocaine, diamorphine, methadone, or a combination of them all.
The people David meets throughout the film are an interesting assortment of folk from a range of backgrounds and they all have two things in common; they are drug addicts, and they want to break the addiction.
Early into the film David travels to Holland to join some heroin addicts who sought treatment at an Iboga home situated about an hour from Amsterdam where we meet Sara, who runs a treatment centre from her own home. Sara explains that when under the influence of iboga she was met by a vision which told her that she was chosen to help drug addicts through the use of the hallucinogenic plant.
What follows through this early part of the film is a warts and all view of Sara’s patients consuming iboga on camera and slipping into deep, drug induced internal personal journeys in a bid to get off hardcore drugs. Under the watchful eye of Sara who acts as carer, ensuring vomit buckets, water, and more Iboga are on hand for as long as necessary to see her visitors through the other side of addiction.
It was around this time that the film began to raise more questions for me than it answered.
David stated at the post screening Q&A that it was incredibly difficult for him to secure interviews with medical professionals to discuss the implications of using iboga as a treatment.
And herein lay possibly the greatest challenge the film faced - the lack of medical study done to support or deny the evidence that iboga could be a groundbreaking treatment for substance abuse.
However, the documentary states that licensed clinics are finally opening in the west, with New Zealand being one of the first countries to do so which clearly means that the treatment is picking up traction as a viable alternative to conventional drug treatment therapy.
Because of this lack of discussion around the topic, we, as the viewer are left to read between the lines, following the subjects behind closed doors as David keenly seeks to find more willing participants for iboga treatment that he can follow through their journey. Despite the lack of scientific fact offered, the film succeeds in painting a very human and candid behind the scenes picture of individuals struggling with hardcore drug addiction, which, you should be warned includes scenes of drug use on camera.
For me, I found the story of Sid especially poignant. A young drug addict with a troubled past, Sid was personally guided by David through iboga treatment in his own home which was especially touching to watch.
I’d really love to see a follow up to this film, preferably with more medical professionals standing up to talk openly about this treatment as it is clear from the film there is something very powerful in the use of psychoactive substances to treat drug addiction. For now, however, I feel the initial question has been asked openly, and candidly, and I applaud David for making such a bold and personal film.
Written by Peter Jahn