I had six days sober; Mark had 30-something. It was my first time around. He had been there before. We met one afternoon after a meeting outside Perry Street, an unassuming storefront-turned-12-step meeting space in New York City's West Village. To me, Perry Street was a kind of church. Cocooned by the mint walls and blackout curtains faded purple by the sun, it had become the one place I felt safe to let myself be the alcoholic, unemployed, failed writer that I was.

An addict is always looking for a solution, a quick fix — whether that be a shot that makes the next hour or so bearable, or a rehab center promising a whole new life. Driven by that desire, I filled my hours with 12-step meetings. I didn't know that people called AA a cult, and that there were whole books and researchers who had dedicated their careers to debunking the program's simple teachings. Like most addicts, I only trusted what worked and for me, that was 12-step.

Bored and lonely, I bummed a cigarette at the break to strike up a conversation. Mark gave me the Marlboro from his mouth and lit himself a new one. He was good looking, a dirty blond with a tough-guy face. Just my type, I decided, not that I was particular. We chatted for a while and then returned for the rest of the meeting.

Later that night, we met up for a coffee. Instead of speaking in slogans or wanting to talk about the Steps, it was during that first date that Mark introduced me to ibogaine.

Ibogaine, he explained, was a naturally occurring psychoactive substance that is said to alleviate the physical symptoms of opiate withdrawal. Made from the root bark of the western Central African Tabernanthe Iboga, the medicine has been used for thousands of years as a rite of passage in parts of Africa. In the West, it's been used clandestinely since the 1960s for spiritual development and addiction treatment.

According to Mark, under the influence of ibogaine someone could go "cold turkey" from opiates without any physical or mental symptoms of withdrawal. Unlike traditional treatment methods like suboxone or methadone, ibogaine didn't need to be taken continuously, and was non-addictive. Just one treatment reset the brain's neuro-chemistry, freeing the drug user from a destructive pattern of abuse.

A little over a month earlier, Mark told me, he had done his third and, he said, final treatment. His heroin addiction was cured.

By virtue of having ingested the medicine, Mark considered himself a part of a voodoo-like spiritual discipline originating in Gabon, a coastal country in Central Africa. Mark's first treatment, which had taken place years earlier in Mexico, had been administered by a N'ganga, or spiritual healer. Swallowing the medicine was just one part of an elaborate ritual that involved prayers, body paint, and ceremonial objects such as woven mats, feathers, and animal skins.

That first night at the coffee shop, Mark showed me YouTube videos of similar ceremonies, underwhelming displays of white men in what looked like an economy room at a Best Western dancing around in face paint waving feathers and playing drums.

I was skeptical. I didn't know a lot about heroin but I knew that once you had a habit, you didn't just quit. My older brother had been a heroin addict, and I'd grown up watching the consequences of his use. At the time, no one knew what was wrong with my brother, only that he was constantly sick. I knew it could take weeks or even months for a drug user to regain their balance once they'd stopped, and so most addicts didn't — they just kept using. And yet, according to Mark, ibogaine had helped him to conquer fears and confront negative emotions. Years of therapy, he claimed, had been replicated in a matter of hours. After a lifetime of addiction, this third ibogaine treatment, he said, had set him free. In his view, the medicine was no less than a miracle. If that was the case, I wondered, why had it taken three treatments? Because, I decided, ibogaine didn't really work.

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