I first heard of Chris Jenks while sitting in my office in the rainforest of Eastern Region, Ghana. I found a video presentation of his online during a rainy season evening with heavy showers. As the wind blew through our mesh netting windows and streams began to carve their way down the dirt road outside, I listened to this soft spoken man describe a process to produce various extracts from the iboga root bark through chemical processes and methods which he had specifically developed in South Africa. Through the slow connection, I patiently waited to continue streaming about one hour of Chris speaking as to how he spent about 6 months through trial and error to resolve the problem: how to make iboga extracts with basic everyday equipment and materials available in developing countries. The equipment and chemicals used seemed to be readily available in Ghana, and in fact most places. He described an acid-base extraction method. Since this first exposure to iboga extraction, I’ve had the chance to do my own trial and errors, and share new ideas with other chemists to eventually improve upon yield and purity results.
I’ve worked in various labs beginning in college and even into my first job out of the Georgia Institute of Technology with my freshly printed biology degree in hand. So, when it came to mixing chemicals with biological matter, I was quite comfortable. I applied the chemistry I learned in my organic chemistry classes and the tests we ran while I worked with the USDA forestry seed lab to follow Chris Jenks’s manual for ibogaine extraction. Of course, I was terrified when doing my first extraction. First of all, when you’re doing an extraction, it seems like you must destroy your precious medicinal plant material by pulverizing it then submerging it in an acidic solution. At this point, I’m thinking, “well, if I’ve destroyed all this iboga, there goes thousands of dollars!” Maybe I move with too sure a step, but when I try something new, I go all in. Luckily, I’m proud to say it all worked out that first time, and I made Total Alkaloid extract, or TA, as we usually call it. According to my lab notes, I got a yield of about 6.11% from the total mass of the root bark to the TA. Not bad for a first go.
As a scientist, or an aficionado, it is very important to keep notes on all your methods, weights, volumes, times, etc. The more notes the better. Notes are used for learning, improving, and comparing. After making TA I decided to try further purifying the ibogaine in the TA by precipitating crystals out using hydrochloric acid, or HCL for short. This is another method we use in tandem with a solvent which gives us a product with a purity of about 75-80% ibogaine, we call it Purified Total Alkaloid extract, or PTA for short. Again, trying something for the first time gave me that sinking feeling in my stomach that I would throw away what is now the TA, a concentration of the precious iboga root bark medicine I began with, making this a much more sensitive procedure with higher risks to failure. When you begin to add the HCL into the dissolved TA solution, each drop turns into little white crystals dropping out. This is probably one of the most visually pleasing steps in the process of extraction, being able to see chemistry work instantaneously right in front of you. My first PTA production came out ridiculously well. I sent the PTA sample out for a spectrometry reading, which analyzes the atomic content of your crystal, and the results came out at an astounding 98% ibogaine purity. I could hardly believe it. Call it “beginner’s luck”.
There is a final step to purification of the iboga extract which is a recrystalization of the PTA. This step can be desired by some, who want to strictly work with the ibogaine molecule en lieu of the cornucopia of alkaloids also present in the PTA and TA. The final product is denominated Ibogaine HCL, as it is typically somewhere around 96-99% ibogaine in content. The process to produce Ibogaine HCL, or HCL for short, involves losing almost half of the mass of PTA used to create HCL, leading to the high prices in HCL derived from an iboga source, since it would have to be double the price of the PTA to break even. Chirs Jenks and many medical doctors who use ibogaine for therapy, agree that using PTA is just as effective as HCL, so this final extraction is a procedure I rarely do, unless the customer specifically asks for it.
Making all these extracts is a process I do with care and thought of the final client. I intend that all people have access to high quality and safe iboga and its extracts. This is an unequivocal objective of my work and my work relations from iboga source to treatment centers and clinics.