A research team at Columbia University soon hopes to show whether or not ibogaine, an extract of iboga — a psychoactive West-African plant medicine — may have unique benefits in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
The majority of existing research on ibogaine has explored its increasing use over the past several decades as an experimental treatment for substance use disorders, and particularly for opiate detoxification. But in addition to ibogaine’s anti-addictive properties, which have been explored in early clinical trials and observational research, there’s reason to believe that ibogaine may be beneficial in Parkinson’s treatment. Columbia’s two-year animal study represents the first time that researchers will probe for a direct link.
Parkinson’s disease, which is recognized as the second most common neurodegenerative disorder after Alzheimer’s, is caused by the loss of a specific type of brain cells called dopaminergic neurons from a small and concentrated area in the mid-brain. This results in gradually increasing symptoms that include motor effects like tremors, muscle stiffness, difficulties with speech, severe lack of coordination and balance, as well as non-motor symptoms such as dementia, depression and others.
According to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation the condition affects an estimated 7 to 10 million people worldwide. And although treatments are available that offer some symptomatic relief, there is currently no known method of reversing the effects of the disease.
The exact mechanisms of action of ibogaine are still obscure, but the theory for ibogaine’s benefit for Parkinson’s rests on the fact that amongst its other effects, it has been shown to increase the production of a protein called glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor, or GDNF. This and other neurotrophic factors have been shown to stimulate the production of dopaminergic fibers throughout the brain, and some existing research shows that GDNF in particular improves the recovery of dopaminergic neurons and leads to an improvement of Parkinson’s symptoms.
Previous methods used to increase the expression of GDNF were limited gene therapy and direct brain infusion, but according the research abstract, the research team, led by Dr. Serge Przedborski, President of the World Parkinson Coalition, is exploring whether ibogaine could provide “a safer and more convenient means to enhance GDNF production in the brain.”