Preparing for an Iboga Ceremony: the Godfather of All Plant Medicines

By Madeleine Cullerton

Guest Writer for Wake Up World

What do you see when you think of plant medicine? Is it the mind-bending visions, violent purges, the stereotypical “crazy” person of 50’s propaganda? For me, it was the latter. I was terrified of losing my mind or of seeing some monster I didn’t want to see. Conversely, some see plant medicine as the answer, the one and only solution to all their problems.

These aren’t uncommon fears and of course, there are numerous benefits to doing plant medicine. It’s a classic yes/and situation.

Regardless of whether you’re afraid of these sacred medicines or if you’re devoted to their healing properties, one of the key aspects before partaking in them is managing your expectations.

Frequently before the retreat, I’ll hear guests exchanging stories of their previous experiences. The way the forest spoke to them on ayahuasca or the tree that told them the meaning of life while on mushrooms. And while these are incredible stories, personally, I would advise against carrying them into your next ceremony. Perhaps most importantly because not all plant medicines are alike, each having its unique personality and spirit.

The amazing thing about these medicines is the way they adapt to you, in particular Iboga. Each iboga ceremony is different because what this particular sacrament shows you is the truth, your truth. Even if that means it’s difficult or uncomfortable to face. Iboga can be patient, loving, or stern. It can make you laugh as it did in my first ceremony, then utterly dismantle you as in my second.

As is common with these experiences, it’s difficult to put into words but I found that releasing my expectations in all cases was the greatest gift I could give myself. Giving yourself over to the medicine, a complete surrender, is by far the best advice I could give to anyone thinking of doing any kind of ceremony. Do your research, yes, but once you’ve decided which medicine is right for you, let go of your expectations.

What is Iboga?

For those unfamiliar, Iboga is the root bark of the Tabernanthe Iboga Tree found in western Africa. While it’s been the sacrament of the Bwiti for thousands of years, it has recently become more well-known throughout the world due to the popularity of the alkaloid Ibogaine being used as a treatment for addiction.

As I’m primarily experienced with Iboga, I can say that much of what you read online cannot be relied upon. While true to those individuals, your experience may be entirely different. I can only speak from my experience, which is to say that, before Iboga, my anxiety was so bad I used to walk down the street thinking of all the ways I or my loved ones could die at that moment. Before Iboga, I spent hours of my life in self-help looking for that one special thing that would fix me. Before Iboga, I hung onto my traumas like trophies but I didn’t even know it.

These are just some of the things that haunted me, subconsciously or not, before Iboga. Having gone through two ceremonies completely open to the experience I can say that most of that has been cleared out. Was it entirely comfortable or joyous? No, but parts of it were. Growth can be like that.

I’m certainly not enlightened, I’m still me, but now I’m okay with being me. My sense of trust in myself has been mended and therefore, my anxiety has eased.

Through being entirely present at ceremonies and releasing my expectations I was able to get the most out of my ceremony, and for this reason, it’s some of the only advice (outside of getting medically cleared) I will give about the subject.

However, below are some essential pointers when looking for an Iboga retreat:

1.   Safety

Iboga can be dangerous for certain people. Be sure that whatever retreat center you choose requires a Health Examination, Intake Interview, EKG, and liver function test. There should always be a nurse or doctor on staff who can monitor you throughout. These policies, while strict, are necessary for protecting you from the rare adverse side-effects.

2.   Location

While it’s unfortunate that such an incredibly healing plant is outlawed in many countries, several countries do allow its use. Countries such as Portugal, Mexico and Canada offer legal retreat options ensuring your safety on all levels.

3.   The Provider

With the growing popularity of plant medicines, many people are offering Iboga without proper training in administering. To safely provide this medicine one must be extensively trained and cleared by a Bwiti shaman. Be sure to thoroughly vet the person providing the medicine to you before making your decision.

4.   The Iboga

Ethical sourcing is of critical importance. Just like all other plants, the western commodification of Iboga needs to be prevented at all costs. Ensure that the Iboga being provided is from a sustainable Bwiti source and has been ceremonially prepared. Generally, if your provider has been trained by a Bwiti shaman that means your Iboga will be of the utmost quality and therefore, efficacy in your healing.

5.   Is the Ceremony Traditional Bwiti?

Maintaining the sanctity of this plant by using it traditionally will ensure that you get the most out of it’s healing properties. This isn’t just about the physical benefits of the 30 potent alkaloids found in the roots, this is about the spirit of the plant itself.

Everything Bwiti has been given to the Bwiti from Iboga itself. This tradition was dictated by the medicine itself. Their temples, their music, their rituals all came from Iboga to promote its power, bring in the spirits, and the help of the ancestors. With a proper Bwiti ceremony, you should have a more spiritually charged experience with the medicine.

Again, Iboga is highly individual and adaptable, meaning depending on the person, numerous things could be said about proper preparation, the experience itself and integration thereafter. The above are just some of the essential things to note before embarking on such a potent journey. There’s always more, but this should give you a good start and if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to us at Root Healing.

About the author:

Madeleine is a writer, nascent herbalist, and coach. After having been a cynic for many years regarding plant medicines, she finally came to Iboga in 2020. After two ceremonies, she knew this medicine had changed her life forever and committed to helping in its facilitation. Using her years of experience in the hospitality industry, she currently works as head of hospitality at Root Healing, providing a nourishing environment to its guests. As a practicing Buddhist and coach, she is  integrating the profound teachings of the Bwiti (and therefore Iboga) into her practices.

She works alongside Ryan Rich, the founder of Root Healing and a traditional Missoko Bwiti Iboga provider. Trained by 10th generation Bwiti Shaman Moughenda, Ryan’s work with Iboga  includes Traditional Bwiti Iboga Ceremonies, Individual Psycho Spiritual Journeys, Iboga Preparation and Iboga Integration Counseling.

Their center, Root Healing, offers retreats primarily in Thailand, but also in Mexico, Costa Rica, and Portugal. All Iboga Retreat ceremonies are done following the traditional Missoko Bwiti protocols. Root Healing values the Bwiti tradition from which this sacrament comes and promotes the Bwiti tradition in all aspects of their work. Their medicine is ceremonially and ethically sourced and safety is prioritized at all retreats, with on staff doctor and nurse and extensive medical clearing prior to and monitoring during ceremony. All retreats are seven days with integration coaching before and after.

For more information, visit  or on instagram @root_healing_iboga

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