The Ibogaine Crusader Brings the Fight to the Buckeye State

Bryan Hubbard is on a mission to stem the tide of opioid dependency – and restore the soul of America.

Bryan Hubbard is preaching fire and brimstone. The topic of his sermon: ibogaine.

“There is evidence a mountain high and a mile wide that has been collected through observational-study data now for decades” affirming ibogaine’s efficacy as “a significant disruptor of opioid dependence.” Hubbard says it with conviction, echoing remarks he made at a press conference on May 31, 2023, when he was chairman and executive director of the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission.

In Hubbard’s unabashed Southern drawl, “a mountain high and a mile wide” comes out as “a mountain hiy-uh and a miy-uhl wiy-uhd.” When Hubbard makes the case for ibogaine, it’s not hard to understand why the Kentucky native wants to shout it from a mountaintop: Decades of research have demonstrated that ibogaine “delivers almost curative results” for individuals whose neurological networks have been hijacked by opioid addiction, he declares.

In other words, ibogaine – a psychoactive compound that’s derived from the root bark of an African shrub – has the potential to become the antidote to America’s most harrowing and enduring public-health crisis.

“And full candor, I want access to treatment for everybody who needs it,” Hubbard tells Psychedelic Medical News. “And I want it immediately.”

A personal-injury attorney by trade, Hubbard could be just the man to do it.

When he led the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission – an entity that was created to deploy $842 million in opioid-lawsuit settlement money – Hubbard put the Bluegrass State on a clear path to become the first in the nation to sanction clinical trials of ibogaine for the treatment of opioid-use disorder. That months-long effort came to a screeching halt in December when newly elected Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman announced that former DEA Acting Administrator Chris Evans would head the commission. Hubbard announced his resignation on Dec. 26.

Undaunted, Hubbard is taking the fight up I-77 to neighboring Ohio.

Reasons for Optimism in Ohio

As part of a multi-state class-action settlement with opioid producers and distributors, Ohio – like Kentucky – is sitting on a mountain of cash to battle opioid addiction in the state.

Earlier this year, Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague retained Hubbard as a consultant for Results Ohio, an entity within the Ohio Treasurer’s Office “that enables policymakers and innovators to pursue pay-for-success projects aimed at tackling the most pressing social and public health challenges facing Ohio,” according to the Ohio treasurer’s website.

In this role, Hubbard says his mission will be to help develop a pay-for-success program that will provide novel treatment access and research opportunities for Ohio veterans impacted by traumatic brain injuries, PTSD and substance dependence. The project “may offer access to ibogaine as well as other plant medicines that show breakthrough efficacy for treatment-resistant mental-health and substance-use issues,“ according to Hubbard.

Hubbard also is partnering with the nonprofit REID Foundation (Reaching Everyone in Distress) “to conduct a focused campaign for the allocation of public funds to facilitate FDA-approved clinical trials with ibogaine for treatment of opioid addiction“ in the Buckeye State. If successful, Hubbard explains, the effort would yield “the same public-private partnership framework” that he aimed to implement in Kentucky.

The first order of business in Ohio: Secure a source of public funding.

“And there’s more than one option in the state of Ohio, which makes it a compelling opportunity,” asserts Hubbard. “It’s a much larger state than Kentucky is. It’s economy, frankly, is a lot healthier than what Kentucky’s is. … You have a much broader tax base with which to work. You have a much larger state budget with which to work. And you have within Ohio State University a center of academic research that is open to psychedelic research in a way that the University of Kentucky here absolutely was not.”

Ohio State University, which launched its Center for Psychedelic Drug Research & Education in 2022, isn’t the only psychedelic research hub in the Buckeye State.

Cleveland Clinic researchers are actively studying the use of psychedelics, and the health system recently announced that it’s taking part in a multisite trial evaluating psilocybin as a therapeutic for treatment-resistant depression. Last year, the Cleveland Clinic launched an LSD trial for patients with generalized anxiety disorder. Researchers at Case Western Reserve University also are involved in psychedelic research.

“So we have a lot of academic research support culturally within the state of Ohio that did not exist in Kentucky,” Hubbard says. “And it’s not because Kentucky is behind the times culturally. It’s because the research activities and what are referred to as the evidence-based practices – which are promulgated by the University of Kentucky’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research – are funded by the very companies that produce the evidence-based best practices. So they’re on the payroll.”

Hubbard hopes to secure a source of public funding in Ohio “within the next six to nine months, if not sooner.” Based on his experience in Kentucky – and if all goes as planned – he estimates that clinical trials could be underway “in the neighborhood of 18 months,” or perhaps sooner.

Another reason that Hubbard is optimistic about ibogaine’s chances in Ohio is the comprehensive public record that the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission established during his time as chairman and executive director. That includes expert testimony from Dr. Javier Muniz, a supervisory general health scientist for controlled substances at the FDA, who affirmed that ibogaine has the potential to receive an FDA “breakthrough-therapy” designation.

“We’ve already done a whole lot of homework and have an extensive public record in Kentucky through the three hearings that we had, which were truly congressional-level quality in terms of the expertise and the individual witnesses who were able to attest to what ibogaine did for them,” Hubbard says.

When Hubbard announced his resignation from the Kentucky commission in December, Brett Waters, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Reasons for Hope, concurred that Hubbard’s efforts weren’t in vain.

“Mr. Hubbard and the commission deserve praise for their trailblazing work and the incredible amount of knowledge and expertise they amassed through this process for the benefit of not only Kentuckians, but our nation writ large,” Waters said at the time.

A Cycle of Dependence

From 1999 to 2021, nearly 645,000 people died from an opioid overdose in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since 2013, the opioid epidemic has been mired in its third wave, fueled by an alarming rise in overdose deaths related to illicitly manufactured fentanyl and other synthetic opioids, according to the CDC. Even as national opioid-prescription rates have plateaued, opioid-overdose deaths have skyrocketed in parallel with the rise of synthetic opioids.

The evidence-based strategies for opioid-addiction intervention center on a concept known as medication-assisted treatment – the backbone of which is prescribing FDA-approved medications for opioid-use disorder: buprenorphine, methadone and naltrexone.

One of the primary prescription medications for treating opioid addiction is Suboxone, which combines buprenorphine and naloxone.

Approved by the FDA in October 2002, Suboxone binds to the opioid receptors in the brain. “By doing so, it blunts intoxication with these other drugs, it prevents cravings and it allows many people to transition back from a life of addiction to a life of normalcy and safety,” Harvard Medical School instructor Dr. Peter Grinspoon explains in a blog post.

Here’s the paradox: While Suboxone is formulated as a recovery tool for opioid addiction, the drug is a powerful and addictive opioid, manufactured by a company – Indivior – that has been accused of engaging in some of the same deceptive practices that fueled the opioid epidemic.

Indivior – formerly known as Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals – and its former parent company, RB Group, have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, settlements and resolutions stemming from criminal and civil complaints alleging that the companies used fraudulent marketing practices to open the throttle on Suboxone sales and suppress competition. (In December 2014, RB Group spun off Indivior, and the two companies are no longer affiliated.)

In October 2019, when Ohio was set to receive $39.4 million as part of a $700 multistate settlement with Reckitt Benckiser, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said: “This firm downplayed the risks of Suboxone while marketing it to providers who sidestepped the rules for prescribing opioids. These are the sort of practices that landed us in this opioid crisis.”

When he was executive director of the Kentucky Medicaid Fraud Control Unit in the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office, Hubbard came to question the evidence-based best practices for treating opioid addiction, as he saw how “buprenorphine and Suboxone diversion” were lining Big Pharma’s pockets while perpetuating the cycle of addiction in the name of forestalling “potential death.”

“I didn’t just have to look at the statistical or fiscal reality to see that there was an exponential amount of resources being spent to deliver treatment modalities that were not making a measurable positive impact on the long-term trajectory of the opioid epidemic,” says Hubbard, who points out that the opioid epidemic has taken more lives than the number of U.S. soldiers killed in World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined.

“The present market dynamic we have is driven by a treatment modality that treats opioid dependency chronically over the course of an individual’s entire life,” Hubbard adds. “When you have a therapeutic system that derives cashflow from chronic lifetime treatment, there is zero incentive to develop a therapeutic that can be physiologically curative of the root cause of the affliction – in this case, opioid dependence.”

Why Ibogaine?

Convinced that “the market is wed to the delivery of chronic treatment and the monetization of sustained human misery,” Hubbard believes that the government “has a responsibility to incentivize the development of curative therapeutics.”

Although Hubbard admits he’d never heard of ibogaine until 2022, he got a crash course in the potential therapeutic value of the psychedelic substance during his time as head of the Kentucky Opioid Abatement Advisory Commission.

“It takes the brain 18 months of complete abstinence from [opioid] use to even begin to recover its natural neurochemical production, which is why abstinence-based programs have a 7% rate of success,” Hubbard says. “Ninety-three percent of people cannot navigate that because of the misery produced by the lack of dopamine and serotonin.

“Ibogaine restarts the brain’s organic dopamine and serotonin production within 36 hours of ingestion and fully restores it to its pre-opioid stasis within that same timeframe. You take a process that takes at least 18 months to begin and you fully complete that process in 36 hours with ibogaine, and that is what makes [ibogaine] compelling and necessary to develop as a competitor to what we have.”

Over the past two years, Hubbard says he’s learned how ibogaine “breaks the psychology of compulsion that is tied to the physiology of addiction.” He also has come to understand the spiritual component of ibogaine-assisted recovery.

“Perhaps just as consequentially as anything else, according to most who receive ibogaine treatment, at the end of the experience they come away with an absolute affirmation of their divine identity as a human being who is made in the image of an eternal creator whose essence is pure and unconditional love, a creator who has special and unique purpose for their life,” Hubbard explains.

“And that final property is exactly what every human being in the United States who stumbles around in the darkness of total hopelessness should have the right to experience and to have affirmed for them if they’re going to have a life of meaning. And that as much as anything else is what makes ibogaine such a compelling prospect to completely transform how we approach addiction and other circumstances that drive deaths of despair, which are killing hundreds of thousands of Americans per decade unnecessarily.”