Home » The Ukrainian Military Is Experimenting With Psychedelic Drug Ibogaine to Treat Traumatic Brain Injuries

The Ukrainian Military Is Experimenting With Psychedelic Drug Ibogaine to Treat Traumatic Brain Injuries

The Ukrainian military is experimenting with ibogaine, a psychedelic drug banned in the U.S. but often used to treat opioid use disorder elsewhere, to treat traumatic brain injury and promote battle readiness. 

To do so, it is partnering with a founder of the Yippie movement, Irvin Dana Beal, a longtime ibogaine advocate. Beal recently traveled to Ukraine to help launch the project. Oleksii Skyrtach, a Ukrainian military psychologist, provided Beal with a letter for immigration authorities to help him move through customs with the drug. 

Ibogaine’s most famous American patient may well be Hunter Biden, who has battled his own drug addiction with help from ibogaine treatment at a Mexican clinic. At low doses, Beal and researchers behind the project believe ibogaine can have salutary effects on TBI as well as help with battle readiness. “These guys need something for traumatic brain injury,” Beal said. “But nobody else is willing to fucking go into a war zone with ibogaine but me, apparently.”

Skyrtach agreed. “We really need as much Ibogaine as possible,” he said. “Even if the war ends now we’ll have too many ‘rambos’ to come back home from the frontline. It’ll be much more serious problem [than the] USA faced when thousands of veterans came home from the Vietnam war.”

Militaries since World War II have plied soldiers with amphetamines, with Nazi Germany relying heavily on the practice. Russian soldiers in the current war are known to rely on Captagon, a dirt-grade speed produced primarily in Syria. The benefits of amphetamines — the ability to remain alert while on watch duty or obtain some of the chemical courage helpful for combat — come with significant risks to the mental and physical health of soldiers, including addiction, paranoia, premature aging, and other complications.

A recent study on ibogaine and TBI published in the prestigious journal Nature Medicine found positive results. Ibogaine, like marijuana, is a Schedule 1 drug in the United States, meaning the federal government bans it outright and considers it to have no therapeutic value. “This is possibly the first study to report evidence for a single treatment with a drug that can improve chronic disability related to repeated TBI from combat/blast exposures,” the authors of the Nature Medicine study wrote. “After [treatment], participants showed a remarkable reduction in these symptoms with large effect sizes … and the benefits were sustained at the 1-month follow-up.”

“Areas of improvement after treatment” included “processing speed and executive function, without any detrimental changes observed.” Cardiovascular risks, including heart attack, are a known potential side effect of high doses of ibogaine.

Beal, known as something of a godfather of the pro-pot movement, was a founder of the Youth International Party, known as the Yippies. He’s been interested in ibogaine as a treatment for opioid addiction since the 1970s, when he challenged Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern on live television on the role of the CIA in assisting heroin traffickers in Southeast Asia.

Rick Doblin, head of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, the leading organization aimed at the advancement of the therapeutic potential of psychedelics, said MAPS helped raise funds to back the project bringing medical-grade ibogaine from Africa for Ukrainian military research. Doblin said that the use of MDMA, sometimes known as ecstasy, is banned in Ukraine even for research purposes, which left ibogaine as an intriguing alternative. High doses of ibogaine, the kind used for opioid treatment, put users into a dreamlike state of intense hallucinations — not ideal for combat, which explains why Beal’s project relies on microdoses. 

Beal said that veteran Jon Lubecky, who has made repeated humanitarian relief visits to Ukraine, also helped finance the project and made connections, including to the Ukrainian Psychedelic Research Association. Lubecky, legislative director for Veterans Exploring Treatment Solutions, confirmed his involvement. “As a combat Veteran of Iraq who suffered through 8 years of crippling PTSD, returning to a war zone, and having no effects, while seeing everyone around suffering as I once did, I knew something had to be done, and I could,” said Lubecky. 

MAPS is also pushing forward with an educational program around MDMA and post-traumatic stress disorder for Ukrainian therapists now in Poland as refugees, as well as with interested Polish therapists. The aim is to treat Ukrainians in Poland suffering from PTSD, with the goal of expanding the work to Ukraine if and when changes in the law allow it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering approving MDMA for therapeutic use and may rule as early as this summer.

Asked to describe the feeling of a microdose of ibogaine, Beal said it has a softer lift than speed. “Say you’re in the morning, and you’ve just done your first thing of the day successfully, you sit back, maybe with a cup of coffee,” Beal said. “On ibogaine, the extra feeling of satisfaction is ineffable. People have better ups, and that kind of reward is extremely important for keeping people’s morale up in a battlefield situation. Also, ibogaine is good for pattern recognition and coincidence detection. The NMDA receptor, which is the one for ketamine, which is also activated by ibogaine, is the coincidence detector and it up-regulates right-brain functioning, so that you have better pattern recognition, faster pattern recognition, get-out-of-the-way-of-the-incoming-shell kind of pattern recognition.” 

Skyrtach, in the letter he provided Beal, said that both battlefield burnout and TBI were areas the military hoped could be addressed by ibogaine. “On the initiative of Rick Doblin of the Multi-Disciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies, we have contracted with I. Dana Beal and Howard Lotsof’s Ibogaine Company IboGrow to supply Ukrainian veterans hospitals and the Ukrainian Army with pharmaceutical grade ibogaine both for traumatic brain injury and experimental micro-dose use for battlefield burnout and enhanced performance and survival,” he wrote in the letter to Ukrainian immigration authorities. Skyrtach confirmed the letter as authentic. “It is urgent that we find a battlefield energy supplement other than amphetamine (which promotes premature aging) that will instead act as neurotrophigen and rejuvenant.”

Ibogaine extract tinctures and ibogaine root.

Photo: Getty Images

Ibogaine is derived from an African root, but, the letter adds, a synthetic version is being pursued: “The sample amounts Mr. Beal is bringing us are derived from Voacanga Africana, produced in Accra, Ghana; however Beal is also in talks with [a Ukrainian company] to give Ukraine the process to make completely synthetic cGMP ibogaine in a production-sharing arrangement with his Israeli affiliate Ibogacine.”

Beal turned toward Ukraine after he ran into immigration problems in Mexico in December, when, he said, he was barred entry at the behest of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, citing his past criminal record related to cannabis. (DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) Beal, who had flown to Mexico from Spain, was put back on a plane to Europe and made his way to Ukraine. After setting up the experimental project, he has been able to return to the United States — but was reportedly arrested on Monday for marijuana trafficking.

Beal noted the Russian use of Captagon and argued Ukrainians would be at an advantage. “We think what we’ll do is we’ll get our side to live longer,” he said. “It’ll be the Ukrainians on ibogaine versus the Russians on meth.”

Update: January 17, 2024, 3:56 p.m. ET
This article was updated to include Dana Beal’s reported arrest in Idaho on Monday.

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January 2024