#28 Comparative analysis on iboga phenomenology research

The three texts I read for my own upcoming neurophenomenology iboga experiment were: Heink et al (2017), Rodger (2018), and Schenberg et al (2017) (see references at the bottom). I chose at least these three over others because they are recently published, published in academic journals with participants presumably from Western countries like myself, and the analyses are seen through the lenses of Western academics. This is not to say that I don’t value traditional Bwiti perspectives and approaches to iboga/ibogaine consumption and ritual use; rather, since I am from a Western country and the study will be done in a Western country, it makes sense, to me anyway, to draw on approaches within my worldview first and then in the future I will be more able to compare Western practices and analysis with traditional practices. Fernandez’s 1982 book on the Bwiti is obviously on my list to read, but hey, we all gotta start somewhere with the readings and research and continually move forward, reading text after text and conducting experiment after experiment. Below are some of my thoughts about the articles. 

Heink et al’s (2017) approach was good. They used Dittrich’s well-known 5d-ASC questionnaire to ask participants questions across its six scales. What I like about their study was that the questionnaire, which asked about the phenomenology of the iboga experience mainly from participants seeking addiction treatment, provided hard numbers of specific reported phenomenological aspects of the experience, especially in the section titled “psychedelic effects.”

Rodger (2018) comparatively analyzed the Westerner’s (in the context of drug addicts) mindset drawing on psychoanalytic theories from Freud, Jung, and Klein to name several with the Bwiti’s mindset consisting of traditional ritual use drawing from anthropologists who studied the Bwiti and their traditions (e.g.: Fernandez, 1982). Rodger’s analysis compares, at great length I would add, the reported visionary experiences occasioned by iboga from Western and traditional users. It is a rich analysis that not only goes into psychoanalysis but also social, cultural, and symbolic considerations. Some of the sentences are too long in my opinion, which could cause the reader (or is it just me?) to get lost at times due to the density and weightiness of the, at times, back-to-back points he’s making. With that said, it’s worth the slow (repetitive: as in rereading sentences/paragraphs) slog (in a positive way) to get a better idea where iboga stands in our Western cultures. 

While I appreciate the psychological/questionnaire stance of Heink et al and the anthropological/psychoanalytic stance of Rodger in their phenomenological analyses of the iboga experience, Schenberg et al (2017) resonated with me more, likely because my colleague and I will draw more from their work, replicating in some ways and modifying in others. 

Let’s start with my biggest critique of their study. They claim to use Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) to create experiential categories of the ibogaine experience from participants’ transcribed interviews. That’s fine. However, they cite Turton, Nutt, & Carhart-Harris’s (2014) study that makes use of IPA, but Schenberg et al and Turton et al do not explain how the method works. [I had to take a brief pause to look at Giorgi & Giorgi’s (2008) text that both Schenberg et al and Turton et al cite.] Mr. and Mrs. Giorgi are proponents of phenomenological psychology and give a good overview of present-day applied phenomenological methods. They give a summary of Smith’s IPA “method”; the Giorgis do not think IPA to be a method but rather a kind of approach or perspective (Giorgi & Giorgi, 2008, 168-169), a kind of loosely applied slant to hermeneutical phenomenology. I sort of agree; doesn’t make the approach/perspective bad though. My point is this: both Schenberg et al and Turton et al should have cited a primary source from Smith’s own writings rather than a summary from a secondary text. Mention of Smith’s work is nowhere to be found in both studies. Citing an original source would have allowed them to explain how they used Smith’s method, rather than the reader needing to place unquestioning trust in the researcher who analyzed the transcripts of the one-to-one interviews with the study’s psychologist. As well, why IPA rather than phenomenological psychology or van Manen’s hermeneutical phenomenological method? I’m being picky, but for good reason: I’m researching how I’m supposed to do my part of our research study and I need to know what method to use over others according to our research question and the testing equipment we’re using.

What I really liked from their study was that they came up with excellent categories of the phenomenology of iboga experiences that future researchers (like me) can apply to their own work. The categories and participants’ comments corroborate what previous iboga researchers have found, so this is good news. Also, importantly, they suggest that iboga should be in a substance class of its own, separated from terms such as “psychedelic” or “hallucinogen.” They suggest “oneiric,” “oneirophrenic,” or “oneirogen” because all of these terms relate to the dream-like experiences iboga occasions. There is a book on my reading list about oneiric substances by Toro & Thomas called Drugs of the Dreaming: Oneirogens: Salvia divinorum and Other Dream-Enhancing Plants. Schenberg et al say that it might be possible to use the framework of threat simulations in dreams, suggesting that research on dreams and dreaming might help us to understand iboga. The phenomenological analysis they provide backs up their prediction and I plan to keep this idea at the front of my mind as we do our study. 

Giorgi, A. P., & Giorgi, B. (2008). Phenomenological Psychology. In C. Willig & W. Stainton-Rogers (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research in Psychology, (165–178). London, UK: SAGE Publications.

Heink, A., Katsikas, S., & Lange-Altman, T. (2017). Examination of the Phenomenology of the Ibogaine Treatment Experience: Role of Altered States of Consciousness and Psychedelic Experiences. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 49(3), 201-208.

Rodger, J. (2018). Understanding the Healing Potential of Ibogaine through a Comparative and Interpretive Phenomenology of the Visionary Experience. Anthropology of Consciousness, 29(1), 77-119.

Schenberg, E. E., de Castro Comis, M. A., Alexandre, J. F. M., Tófoli, L. F., Chaves, B. D. R., & da Silveira, D. X. (2017). A phenomenological analysis of the subjective experience elicited by ibogaine in the context of a drug dependence treatment. Journal of Psychedelic Studies, 1(2), 74-83.

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