July 18, 2011 -- Charlie Sheen's ex-wife will head south of the border to enroll in an "extreme" rehab program, where she will take a controversial hallucinogen used to curb drug addiction and aid in the recovery process.
Brooke Mueller hopes that the seven-day treatment in a Mexican clinic with the hallucinogen Ibogaine will help "rewire" her brain, according to TMZ. The troubled celebrity, who has two young boys with Charlie Sheen, has been in and out of rehab several times, and hopes the treatment will finally end her visits once and for all.
Last month, Mueller ended 45 days in rehab, but since then, she has been photographed holding a crack pipe and reportedly ejected from a plane for erratic behavior. Mueller's camp did not return multiple requests for comment.
Ibogaine is a psychoactive chemical compound that is found naturally in the root bark of the West African iboga shrub. The drug is used by members of certain African tribes and religions during healing and rite-of-passage ceremonies. Studies have shown that the drug curbs symptoms and prevents drug cravings for people trying to get clean.
The hallucinogen is illegal in the United States, where it is classified as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning it has "high potential for abuse" and "no currently accepted medical use in treatment." It is legal in several other countries, including Canada and Mexico, and clinics have been set up for drug addicts seeking the hallucinogenic treatment. Experts say Ibogaine does not contain addictive properties, but has caused some deaths.
"Ibogaine treats opiate withdrawal through a biological effect, and also induces a psychospiritual state or mystical state of consciousness that is similar to other hallucinogens like LSD," said Dr. Stephen Ross, director of NYU Langone's Center of Excellence on Addiction.
It is not the first time that hallucinogens have been used to cure drug addiction. In the 1960s, several specialists studied LSD as a treatment for the disease."
Some people swear by it," said Dr. Daniel H.Angres, medical director of Resurrection Behavioral Health - Addiction Services, reiterating that most addiction experts are skeptical of quick fixes. "Despite any possible usefulness, there are safer, more conservative, pharmacological approaches that have better data."
For those who take Ibogaine, they "may have visual hallucinations where they will feel they're transported beyond three-dimensional time and space," said Ross. "They may feel interconnected to a higher form of energy, their consciousness is part of a greater consciousness, and have a sense of sacredness, awe and reverence."
That might sound pretty good to some people, but without proper supervision from a clinician or sitter, a person can experience frightening trips that include extreme paranoia and anxiety.
While the hallucinogen does indeed have promise in treating drug addiction, there have been about 20 deaths associated with its use. Ross said the drug can cause heart arrhythmias, which, combined with other drugs, could be deadly. He also said that the therapy is not good for people with significant mental illness, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, because evidence shows that people with those conditions can relapse.
But even if Mueller does experience a spiritual awakening, experts say it is only the beginning in a long recovery process.
Ibogaine May Help Addicts Overcome Addiction
"She may have an experience where she realizes a stark choice between her kids or drugs, but, unless she's with someone who understands the nature and after-care of this drug, the effects can wear off," said Ross. "Rarely would an experience like this, without post-therapy, cause long-term recovery and sobriety."
And other experts agreed. No matter the initial treatment, addicts are doomed if they don't participate in rigorous follow-up treatment and structure to continue on the path of sobriety.
"Sad, truly sad, both for her, and the children, in particular," said Dr. Scott Basinger, associate dean of extramural affairs at Baylor College of Medicine. "[I] feel that her multiple relapses are a failure, not of the rehabilitation programs she has attended, but of her total unwillingness to follow an aftercare program."
Basinger noted that rehabilitation, whether "extreme" or in a conventional program, is only a "band-aid to the disease of addiction."
"Without a well designed post-rehab program of therapy, 12-step meetings, and a serious, total commitment to not only [to] get sober, but stay sober and make recovery the number one priority, relapse is almost inevitable," said Basinger.
"This is particularly hard with those in the limelight," said Angre. "For anyone with a history of multiple relapses following treatment, it is often necessary to have a very extended stay that might even include a supportive living environment-- not seven days, but perhaps seven months is a better idea in my estimation."
"One must go to any lengths to make long-term changes," he said.