Image courtesy Dr. Joseph Barsuglia

“I set the intention of healing the nerves in my body and removing this persistent brain fog that I self-medicate with coffee and things like that. And I also just wanted to have a spiritual experience. I got all that and then some.” – Dr. Joseph Barsuglia

Approaching any psychedelic experience — especially a week-long shamanic journey with one of the most potent psychedelics known to man  is a nervous and exciting undertaking, but Dr. Joseph Barsuglia was more than ready. Joseph, a counselor and psychologist who studies the effectiveness of ibogaine-assisted addiction treatment at Crossroads Ibogaine Treatment Center in Mexico, was highly impressed with the results he was seeing in the people who underwent ibogaine treatment, and he was ready to try the medicine for himself. What he found was more than even he ever expected.

Embarking on a Shamanic Journey

Joseph’s introductory journey with iboga took place at Iboga Wellness Center, a shamanic iboga retreat in Costa Rica that we’ve featured on this site before. We caught up with Joseph just a week after he arrived back in the US. When asked about why he chose Iboga Wellness Center, Joseph said “I wanted to experience Iboga Wellness because they have a longstanding tradition with the Bwiti. I wanted to learn more about that culture and that form of sharing the medicine connected with the lineage in Africa. I also just wanted to go to Costa Rica, too!”

The shamanic foundation of Iboga Wellness Center’s program lends itself to an interactive group experience facilitated by ceremonial leaders who are trained in the Bwiti tradition. Coming from a more clinical and academic background, Joseph found the interactivity to be a wonderful segue into a deeply personal journey. “The evening you take the medicine, you start around the fire. We talked about life and got real. In my training as a psychologist, I have all these complicated ways of understanding the unconscious and development, and it was refreshing to just get real with your soul, asking what is preventing you from being happy, being yourself, being authentic. We spoke about that around the fire and then took the root bark.”

Iboga is a very powerful psychedelic, and Joseph described how the onset of the iboga felt: “The best way I could describe the physical experience is being really drunk, with the ground moving and not being able to keep your equilibrium. You might see some faint visual tracers but there’s not much of a shift in your visual field. Once I laid down and put eye covers on, it was like boom, sci-fi, like being transported into this…dream in fast forward, an onslaught of images.”

It’s hard to use words to paint an accurate picture of a transcendent experience, but Joseph told us about one of the most striking visions he had during his journey. “I saw a pulled-back view of the universe, and a tree of life going up to the top of the cosmos. I saw iboga, spirits, guides, and Christ at the top. I saw all the plant medicines in the tree, and I saw iboga as the godfather or grandfather of them. The earth was slowly ascending up towards the top of the tree as if by magnetism, and the medicines were coming down.”

Healing the Mind and Soul

Before he was doing postdoctoral work in psychology, Joseph was a Christian pastor, and he still considers himself to be a progressive Christian today. “Being a Christian, I’d say the majority of Christians I know are very against psychedelics and very suspicious of them. To see Christ dancing with all of this, as a master orchestrator of what I was experiencing, it brought together two parts of myself that seemed hard to reconcile. And it gave me a sense of my own mission, to share the healing that psychedelics can offer with that demographic.”

Beyond the amazing spiritual aspects of Joseph’s iboga experience, he also felt immense healing within his body and his brain. “I was blown away by the brain healing effects of the medicine and how much I could literally feel it while it was happening. I’ve had longstanding lyme disease for 15 years or so, and it has been really hard on my body and nervous system. It felt like someone was going in and doing surgery on the frontal lobes of my brain. I don’t know what exactly the iboga was doing, but there was a sensation of a kind of sweeping across the tissue of my brain. I don’t know if it was a placebo effect or something actually happening, but after going through it twice and sitting with it long enough, it was undeniably massively brain healing on a neurological level. Afterwards, I felt so euphoric and calm and centered. Not like a substance-induced euphoria but a lasting bliss or peace.”

The neurological healing properties of iboga are not just wishful thinking or subjective hallucinations either. As Joseph told us, “This medicine is one of the few things in nature that reliably regrows brain cells and stimulates new brain cell growth. It creates new neurons, particularly in the dopamine centers of the brain that are heavily implicated with addiction, depression, and ADHD. I noticed that after my experience I didn’t need coffee, I was able to focus longer, and I’ve had had much more mental clarity.”

Iboga and its purified form ibogaine are mostly known for their addiction-interrupting properties, but it is great to hear from a trained psychologist like Joseph about the immense mental and even spiritual healing properties that this medicine offers as well. We’re grateful to Joseph for sharing his experiences with us, and it sounds like we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what iboga has to provide.