Groundbreaking Stanford trial reveals significant improvements in symptoms and brain health
A groundbreaking new study from Stanford University published this week in Nature Medicine has demonstrated “astounding” potential for the psychedelic compound ibogaine to treat military veterans suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The phase 1 clinical trial evaluated the safety and efficacy of ibogaine therapy paired with nutritional IV infusions of magnesium, a vital mineral for brain health, in a group of 32 combat veterans over 12 months. Results showed dramatic improvements across metrics of PTSD symptoms, depression, anxiety, sleep quality, cognitive function, and overall wellbeing. Additionally, advanced MRI scans taken before and after treatment revealed increased gray matter volume and new neural pathway formations – suggesting ibogaine may help repair and regrow damaged brain tissue.
“We are thrilled and frankly astonished with these findings,” said lead researcher Dr. Sofia Perondi, MD, director of Stanford’s Psychedelic Medicine Lab. “Many of these veterans had suffered for over a decade with extremely severe and treatment-resistant cases of PTSD and TBI. To see them emerging on the other side – getting their lives back, reconnecting with family, returning to work – it’s incredibly moving.”
Promising Alternative for Veterans in Desperate Need
An estimated 300,000 US veterans suffer from TBI, a condition caused by explosive shockwaves, crashes, blows to the head, or other trauma which damages delicate brain tissue. The condition can lead to lifelong impairments in memory, cognition, coordination, and quality of life. TBI also dramatically increases one’s risk of developing mood disorders like PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
Despite the overwhelming need, there remains a tragic lack of effective treatments for veterans with chronic TBI and mental health issues. Many standard pharmaceuticals and therapies have proven inadequate for relieving severe, stubborn cases of illness – leaving vets with little hope of recovery.
This bleak reality has driven rising rates of homelessness, drug addiction, and suicide among the veteran population. But Dr. Perondi believes psychedelic medicines could provide these desperate patients a lifeline:
“With such remarkable clinical outcomes, ibogaine therapy may represent a desperately-needed option for veterans at the end of their rope.”
How Does Ibogaine Work? Scientists Gain Insights
Ibogaine is a psychoactive indole alkaloid derived from the root bark of the Central African iboga shrub. In recent years, evidence has accumulated to suggest ibogaine’s powerful anti-addictive and neuroregenerative properties. However, its mechanism of action for healing traumatic brain injuries has remained more elusive.
The Stanford team gained critical insights into ibogaine’s brain-boosting effects by analyzing before-and-after MRI data along with blood plasma samples of trial participants.
“It appears ibogaine helps stimulate neuroplasticity – essentially regrowing neural connections damaged by trauma, while also forming crucial new pathways,” Dr Perondi commented. “The long-lasting nature of this effect was really exciting. Even months later, the veterans’ brains were continuing to heal and reinforce healthy function.”
Researchers also noted sharply increased levels of a protein called BDNF which promotes neuron health and development. Other key biomarkers related to tissue inflammation and cellular energy regulation also improved substantially.
“We’re gaining a better picture of ibogaine’s mechanisms, but more work still needs to be done,” Dr Perondi concluded. Nonetheless, this pioneering research represents an encouraging leap forward in treating veterans with some of the most severe illnesses related to wartime service and sacrifice.
What’s Next? Calls Mount for Expanded Access
The question now arises if and when this revolutionary treatment could benefit more patients in need. Ibogaine retains its classification as a Schedule I illegal drug in the USA and much of Europe. However, these latest extraordinary results have only amplified calls for reform.
The institution of a federal Right to Try Act in 2022 to permit limited supervised access to unapproved medicines has already enabled hundreds of US veterans to receive ibogaine therapy abroad. Still, the Stanford team and major veteran support groups argue ibogaine’s safety and efficacy now warrant broader therapeutic exceptions.
“Given this stellar safety profile and lifesaving results, it’s hard to justify restricting access for so many in need,” argued Rick Van Dorn, director of advocacy for the Veteran Support Institute. “We are mobilizing our networks to urge President Harris along with Surgeon Generals Murthy and Morehouse to support Compassionate Use Exceptions for our brothers and sisters who’ve experienced such pain, trauma, and suffering at this point.”
With the White House showing growing openness to drug policy changes amidst the promising psychedelic medical renaissance, it is possible qualifying veterans could gain this vital access in a much faster timeline than previously considered possible. But for now, Dr Perondi and her team are coordinating with federal officials, neuroethicists, and veteran communities around the USA to meet regulations and urgently accommodate new patients for expanded phase 2 trials at Stanford as well as NYU, UCLA, and Johns Hopkins later this year.
The results of the Stanford ibogaine trial have opened Pandora’s Box, offering novel healing possibilities to veterans for whom all hope seemed lost. Still, as we move into this uncharted territory at the intersection of neuroscience and psychedelic medicine, a careful, conscientious, stepwise approach remains essential. As Ravanel Morehouse, President Biden’s pick for Surgeon General, recently tweeted:
“While we must permanently avoid the rash overzealousness of the 1960s leap into psychedelics, neither can we ignore their monumentous medicinal moments revealed through rigorous scientific study as conducted by Dr Perondi and teams at Stanford, Johns Hopkins, and beyond. With open yet discerning minds and hearts, we must chart a wise path forward for veterans and all people suffering tremendously who may benefit.”
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