It is no secret that comedian Chris Dangerfield has a heroin problem. He has talked about it on stage. When I met him yesterday, he was sweating a lot and he had just broken up with his girlfriend.
“You can say in your blog that I’ve just come out a relationship,” he told me. “Just mention that I didn’t leave her because I didn’t love her. I left her because I’m not well.”
“If you get clean, though,” I said, “then maybe…”
“I’m not going to get well and get back with her,” he insisted. “That’s a step backwards. It doesn’t work like that, because I’m a different person when I’m not using.”
“But you told me you’re going to try a new way to get clean,” I said.
“Ibogaine,” said Chris. “It comes from a West African root called the taberthnathe iboga and it’s full of psychoactive alkaloids but they’ve isolated one which is called ibogaine. It will never get used medically because it’s a one-shot medication, so there’s no money to be made from it. If you give a junkie methadone every day for ten years, someone’s making a fortune.”
“But with ibogaine?” I asked.
“Ibogaine,” said Chris, “makes your withdrawal last an hour instead of two or three weeks. Most junkies won’t get clean cos of fear of the detox: it’s so unbearable.
“When I done that withdrawal in Thailand when we talked for your blog back in April, I still couldn’t walk after four weeks. I didn’t sleep for nine days – and I only knew that because I kept a calendar because I was going out of my mind. With ibogaine, the withdrawal lasts an hour.”
“With just one jab?” I asked.
“It’s not even a jab. It’s like a pellet… Ibogaine has been around for a few years now, but there’s been a resurgence of interest in it recently. There have been a couple of fatalities but, because it’s been done in people’s bedrooms and things by hippies…”
“So someone might have a weak heart,” I suggested, “and…”
“Yeah,” said Chris. “When you do it in treatment centres, you’ve got to have a full body check like heart, blood pressure, CT scan. They give you a test dose to make sure you’re not allergic and then, if that’s OK, they give you four more and then you vomit and there’s a lot of nausea – about 60% of people vomit for an hour or two. They tend to top you up with a bit more if you do that.
“And then you go on a very introverted trip for I think it’s about ten or twenty hours. They put an eye mask on you and you stay wired up to a machine to measure your heart and blood pressure and all that.”
“A trip?” I asked.
“So you hallucinate?” I asked.
“Yeah. But you hallucinate your past. You confront your past as a third person and what they’re saying is it re-sets your addiction. You get to see all the things that led up to the reason you’re happy to jab heroin in yourself all day long. So not only does it get rid of the withdrawals – I mean, three weeks down to an hour is incredible – but it also has an effect on your addiction.
“You come out of it 24 hours later a bit physically weak because you’ve been lying on a bed not eating and apparently you can’t drink much on it… but the desire to use any drugs has gone in about 80% of cases.”
“But,” I asked, “isn’t a lot of the desire to use drugs psychological? This sounds very physical.”
“But they’re saying on top of that,” Chris told me, “it removes the psychological desire to use drugs. Addiction’s a weird one. It’s like it’s been turned into a disease, which I don’t go with.
“With someone like me who has been using since they were a teenager (Chris is 42), there’s a certain amount of hard wiring. They’re saying ibogaine re-sets all of that. So you don’t get a bit of fear in your life and think Oh shit, man, I want some Valium! or Oh, I’ve had enough of this! I want to get on the heroin! Instead, you actually deal with the fear and pain in different ways because of what ibogaine has done with your brain.”
“They are surely,” I said, “going to charge a fortune if it’s a one-off treatment.”
“If I wanted to do it alone,” said Chris, “I could get it on the internet for about £20. But I will do it in a medical clinic. There’s one out in Thailand.”
“Not in London?” I asked.
“They are doing it in Britain,” said Chris. “But, if I go to Thailand, I can get clean and have a holiday.”
“I still feel,” I said, “that I’m going to go to Thailand to get off heroin is a flawed concept.”
“Well,” said Chris, “it has worked several times. It just doesn’t last because I have to come back here. I’ve got clean in Thailand countless times.”