Iboga or Ayahuasca – Which Plant Medicine Is Right For You?
Amber Antonelli, Awaken Your Soul
ENTHEOGEN: derived from ancient Greek words meaning “full of god, or inspired by the divine within.”
While people all over the world are seeking alternative, holistic approaches to emotional challenges, physical healing and spiritual awakening, many are finding that conventional methods are not as fast or effective as they would like. Consequently, the use of entheogenic medicines (also known as psychedelics) has risen dramatically over the last couple of decades.
Although there are multiple choices in the arena of entheogens, Ayahuasca appears to be the most popular gateway for many who choose to dive into this type of self-help realm. However, more recently, Iboga is also making its mark on the world as well, and as a result, these two powerful plant medicines are often compared and confused by many seekers.
Therefore, to support your personal journey, this article will help you understand the contrasts and similarities between Iboga and Ayahuasca, allowing you to choose the plant-medicine that might be right for you!
My Journey with Plant Medicines
No doubt, the exploration of plant medicines has changed my life in the most profound and positive ways (albeit very challenging at times).
Along with my husband, Anthony, my first awakening experience was with Ayahuasca in 2010 on an island in Thailand. This marked a turning point in our consciousness that could never be undone. So much so that we left our cushy, relaxed lifestyle on a tropical island to embark on a pilgrimage to the Sacred Valley in Peru, and most importantly, into the depths of ourselves.
My relationship with Ayahuasca was deep and fast and there was an immediate craving for more; more wisdom, more clearing and more unveiling. Throughout dozens of ceremonies, filled with profound wisdom and quite a bit of ass-kicking, the medicine and I had a beautiful and tumultuous relationship; eventually resulting in a “break-up” a few years later. But, in the meantime, I had been broken wide open – and this was only the beginning.
About a year later, Anthony discovered the plant medicine known as “Iboga” and he immediately committed to training with the medicine. I soon followed as a participant; at first, more with a curiosity than an actual call to Iboga itself. But again, my “internal doors” were blown wide open, and ultimately, I embraced Iboga as my medicine as well. Ayahuasca and I have since healed our relationship and I now accept both sacred plants as divine instruments of change in my life, as well as sacred vehicles for expanding consciousness as a whole.
Deeply inspired by the power of Iboga, my husband and I now have our own wholistic Iboga retreat. At “Awaken Your Soul” in Costa Rica, we hold space for personal transformation for those who are ready to heal and awaken.
Not surprisingly, we are often presented with the question, “What’s the difference between Iboga and Ayahuasca?” Unfortunately, there are no complete clinical trials or official documentation to answer this question, not yet anyway. So, I can only speak from our own extensive experience with each medicine, as well as drawing from the anecdotal descriptions from many others with whom we have closely worked. (If you have anything to add we would love to hear from you!)
Two Master Teachers!
As two master teachers, both Ayahuasca and Iboga are psychoactive plant-based substances that ignite an experience of personal and spiritual transformation. Both enter the body with the sole mission to aid healing and awakening, thereby transcending old dysfunctional ways. By connecting with the highest wisdom of the seeker, each medicine offers a highly customized and personal experience.
Ayahuasca and Iboga each carry their own unique power to release the past, heal trauma, shed limiting beliefs and transform anyone who is truly ready.
We highly recommend one or both medicines for seekers who are mentally stable, aligned with the appropriate health requirements and ready to do the work required in order to implement what they learn from the plant medicine(s).
There are, however, some very stark and powerful differences between these two medicines that are important to distinguish, especially for the first time explorer, and certainly, one or both medicines may not be the right fit for everyone. It is also important to note that each medicine teaches in a distinct way that resonates with the vibrational frequency of the individual seeker.
In order to outline the differences between these two powerful plant medicines, let’s now look at a comprehensive overview of each.
Ayahuasca is a brew that is made from the stems and leaves of a vine (Banisteriopsis Caapi) in combination with other plants. It is used by many shamanic traditions within the Amazon basin to connect with the wisdom of nature; for the purpose of spiritual study and physical and emotional healing. Over the last few decades, Ayahuasca has become popular for ceremonies held around the world and is now one of the more well-known enthogenic plants.
Since the essence of Ayahuasca is a feminine spirit, it is often known as Mother Ayahuasca, the Grandmother or simply Aya. Regardless of what you might call this plant medicine, “she” is nurturing and colorful; often inducing incredibly bright, fractal visions. Moreover, the teachings of Aya can be multi-dimensional, often taking us far outside ourselves into endless cosmic realms, and many experiences are laced with visits from animal spirits and esoteric beings.
As a medicine of love and openness, Ayahuasca teaches us about the love, compassion and interconnectedness that weaves us all together as one. She shows us both the nature of the Universe and the nature of creation. Her medicine is a powerful heart opener that inspires us to unite, thereby bridging the gap of separation that we might often feel in this three dimensional life.
Although an experience with Aya can have euphoric and heart opening effects, at times, it can also be quite dark difficult, not to mention confusing. Nonetheless, Mother Aya can bring us deep into our own shadow, cleverly leading us to review what no longer serves.
In comical and classic feminine form, Mother Aya often says one thing but means another, and at times, deciphering her messages can be quite challenging. Due to the cosmic nature of her teachings, wisdom can often get lost in translation. Ayahuasca can also take us far out into other realms, and because this can compromise our grounding energy, we may be left feeling flighty or ungrounded. Although there is a beautiful euphoria in this space, the experience can be challenging to integrate into everyday life.
Ayahuasca ceremonies are held for small groups or anywhere up to 100+ participants, depending on the facilitators. The ceremony begins almost immediately by drinking the tea of Ayahuasca and the entire journey is spent typically in the dark, either sitting up or lying on a mattress. Most ceremonies are led by South American shamanic medicine songs called Icaros, as well as other spiritual music which is typically live but sometimes recorded.
Since Ayahuasca is a very communal medicine, it’s common for energies to travel around the ceremony space, and this means that we might be processing other participant’s “stuff” along with our own. However, since we all exist within a communal life and we are meant to support one another, this is often the core essence of Aya’s beauty and wisdom.
Although a communal ceremony can be powerful, it can also be challenging, especially for empaths who are already absorbing/processing the feelings of others and/or those who have a hard time distinguishing their own energetic boundaries (in fact, for most of my life, this was me).
While the effects of the medicine can last 4 to 8 hours, there’s often a cathartic purge of energy, such as vomiting, diarrhea, crying, yawning, etc…. The recovery time is relatively quick once the ceremony ends and it is normal to get sleep that night and be mostly recovered by breakfast. Typically, most participants experience a warm, loving afterglow the following day.
The teachings of this medicine are profound, yet they sometimes can fade quickly, often calling for multiple ceremonies in order to experience lasting results (some devotees will drink dozens if not hundreds of times). Therefore, although Aya’s infinite wisdom can be highly transformative, she can require consistent maintenance.
Iboga comes from the bark of a small shrub that is native to parts of West Africa. Known as the “Tree of Life,” it has been used for thousands of years by groups in Gabon, Cameroon and parts of the Congo. The indigenous devotees of this medicine are called the Bwiti and they use this sacred plant to study life within themselves. As a very deep plant-medicine with ancient wisdom, Iboga gives the user direct access to personal truth, and because it offers profound and life-changing insights, it is often called “the master of all teacher plants.”
Through a very grounding energy, Iboga can take us down into the root of who we are, pushing us to truly look into the depths of ourselves, our lineage and our belief systems. As a medicine that heals the mind, it pulls and cleanses stored files within the psyche as if de-fragging the hard-drive of an internal operating system; its mission is to create more peace and quiet within. Iboga also calms the central nervous system, drastically reducing the “fight or flight” response in many individuals, and it is also believed to rewire neurotransmitters in the brain.
The spirit of the plant is said to be masculine by most, and in this way, it is very direct, much like a stern yet wise father or grandfather, and, consequently, it is often called The Grandfather. However, the medicine is also known to carry both the highest wisdom of the masculine and feminine. The teachings of Iboga are simple and clear, and often funny as the medicine has a cheeky sense of humor. Because it is so direct, there is little room for confusion or a need to interpret messages.
In the Missoko Bwiti tradition, participants are individually guided by a provider to reconnect with their own. During this process they ask direct questions to their soul about their personal lives. Typically, the answers are very short, sweet and profound. By reconnecting with the softness and wisdom of our soul, it is common to experience lasting change in our lives. The soul also carries no ego so this is often a loving and compassionate experience. This process also connects us to our own intrinsic power where the belief in ourselves is reignited.
Initially in the west, Iboga has been known more commonly through the use of Ibogaine (an isolation of only one of the alkaloids) which quickly detoxifies the body from opiates with minimal withdrawal. Ibogaine has been most commonly used for this purpose for decades. Although Iboga and Ibogaine are very different in their true essence, they have been categorized together, and as a result, they have both gained a reputation for intensity that is mostly associated with addiction and detox.
More recently, Iboga has become better known in the spiritual community for its profound and transformational effects. While Iboga is very powerful, the intensity of the medicine is due to the duration of the direct effects and staying power of the wisdom, rather than the scary or psychedelic nature of the experience itself. Nonetheless, the ceremony and recovery period take time, and typically, the whole process is a 24 hour cycle until sleep and the appetite fully returns; usually, the strongest effects are experienced between 6 to10 hours. Although the duration can sometimes be shorter or longer, the combined length of the ceremony and recovery time are essential parts in the magic of healing.
For instance, at “Awaken Your Soul,” our ceremonies are facilitated for 6 to 12 participants, and at 8pm, the ceremony begins around a communal fire where teachings of the medicine are shared. After some time, the medicine is served, and soon thereafter, participants begin to lie down on a mattress where they spend the night and remain until dawn. The ceremony is guided by traditional Bwiti music that has a very fast tempo and is meant to clear and cleanse the mind.
Although an energy purge in the form of vomiting, sweating, shaking, crying, yawning, etc… is normal, it is not absolute. Even though purging can sound unappealing, it is a very important part of the process, resulting in cleansing and resetting the body, mind and soul. Since Iboga is a stimulant, it is rare for sleep to come until the following evening, and therefore, the day after an Iboga ceremony is spent as a “discovery day” for deep introspection; often being even more enlightening than the ceremony itself. After sleep and nourishing food, most participants feel amazing the second day after the ceremony.
Most who become followers of this medicine participate in 2 to 10 full ceremonies in order to receive what they are seeking, and typically more ceremonies are not needed. Although some will go on to micro-dosing in order to keep the spirit of Iboga alive, it is a very subtle and mild experience.
While the wisdom of Iboga is deep and lasting, and may not require dozens of ceremonies, the integration process is greatly boosted by the support of specialized coaches, healers and other complementary modalities.
Origin: Amazon Basin
Teaching style: colorful, indirect, confusing
Average duration of ceremony: 4-6 hours
Strongest effects: 3-6 hours
Physical purge: typically
Average ceremonies needed: dozens
Average group size: 12-40
Individually guided: no
Lasting effects: 1-2 months
Beneficial for: spiritual awakening, depression, anxiety, trauma, PTSD, cancer treatment, many other physical ailments, detox of the physical and emotional body
Form of ingestion: liquid (“tea” form)
Origin: equatorial West Africa
Energy: masculine/feminine combination (though many will say masculine)
Teaching style: clear, direct, simple
Average duration of ceremony: 8-10 hours
Strongest effects: 6-12 hours
Physical purge: typically
Average ceremonies needed: 2-10
Average group size: 5-10
Individually guided: yes (in certain traditions)
Lasting effects: 2 months – 1 year
Beneficial for: spiritual awakening, depression, anxiety, trauma, PTSD, addictive behaviors, brain injury, neurological issues, many other physical ailments, detox of the physical and emotional body
Form of ingestion: raw root bark powder, followed by capsules during ceremony (sometimes filled with root bark, some providers use a mild extraction called TA (total alkaloid)
While this article outlines the vast differences and benefits of two brilliant plant-medicine teachers, it would be impossible to include every detail. Moreover, to truly understand how each works and which one is the best fit for specific needs, one must have their own direct experience.
Listen for the “Calling!”
Since a plant-medicine or healing modality typically “calls” us, it’s important to tap into your own intuition and allow it to guide you. Although this “sacred calling” can start to show up in many areas of life, you might simply knowthat “it” is something you need to explore.
Regardless of the path taken, the quest to heal or awaken often ignites a strength of spirit that many of us didn’t even know we had. By diving deep into the core of “who you are,”you’ll inevitably uncover a soul connection that transcends even life’s biggest challenges – and this is when the journey becomes a beautiful, life-changing experience!
**This article is from our good friends at Awaken Your Soul. After reading this article, if you have questions about either plant medicine, we are happy to connect and provide additional insights, please do not hesitate to contact us.
* At Awaken Your Soul, we work only with psycho-spiritual participants who are not physically dependent on any substance. We do, however, treat those interested in looking at the nature of addictive patterns, as well as healing trauma, depression, anxiety and PTSD. Many of our guests, however, are simply seeking internal peace, clarity and presence in their lives.