Photo: the sacred iboga medicine © E. Bast
Is it enough to bathe only once in a lifetime? Is it enough to practice yoga once? Meditate once? Go to the chiropractor once? Do an internal cleanse—only once? I suppose that all these, like the "booster dose," are ultimately subjective.
And what is a "booster dose?" This can be referred to a subsequent lighter dose of an entheogenic or psychedelic medicine, administered some time after an initial full ceremonial dose or "flood dose." The term "booster dose" is most often used in reference to iboga and ibogaine, the visionary sacred plant medicine from Africa and its pharmaceutical extract, respectively. Depending on the individual, a booster dose of iboga or ibogaine can be helpful or even critical to a person in recovery from severe drug or behavioral addiction.
My husband, artist Chor Boogie, and I first experienced the iboga medicine in a traditional Bwiti ceremony several years ago. We were initially drawn to the medicine by a terrifying healing crisis: Chor's opiate relapse. Once I started learning more about the medicine, it called to me to assist me with my own struggle with PTSD. Long story short, the medicine ceremony—as well as the highly skilled facilitation of our traditional shaman—rapidly helped to heal our primary issues along with much more than we ever anticipated. Six months after our first ceremony, we traveled to Central West Africa to immerse ourselves in the beautiful Bwiti culture, receive full initiation with the iboga medicine, and undergo a rite of passage. Six months after that visit to Africa, we were able to attend another Bwiti ceremony closer to home with the iboga medicine. Medical and therapeutic jargon might label these subsequent meetings with the medicine as "booster doses." Chor and I would simply call these being rerooted—to the iboga medicine as well as our Bwiti tradition. Though Chor did not need these booster doses in a critical sense after his first iboga healing ceremony to maintain his sobriety, they were extremely supportive for his continued well being—and mine.
Read the nutshell version of our process with the booster dose in this article in Rolling Stone magazine.
In Africa, the "booster dose" is what the tribe would regard as a regular part of village life, the medicine ceremony, held for a variety of purposes: healing, inspiration, divination, community relations, to celebrate special events, or to honor guests. These booster doses can be a healthy, occasional form of spiritual, mental, and physical cleansing and realignment. They may also serve as a deepening learning or initiatory process with the plant. They can reconnect our body and soul to the the ecosystem, that great web of life and Spirit.
In the same breath, we approach these "booster doses" with the medicine in a respectful way, as apprentices rather than entitled consumers. We inwardly ask the plant permission to partake of it, as our friends in Africa do, and then we listen intently for the silent answer. We wait for auspicious opportunities to commune. It's not just a matter of us humans deciding to take the medicine. It's the medicine calling to us as well. When we are fortunate enough to have medicine come into our lives, we infuse the sacrament with intentions, offer gratitude, and let go of our human ideas around how the medicine is doing it's work. Ultimately, we may become the full embodiment of our living prayer.
As our Bwiti teacher Moughenda says: We practice living without attachments, and we cannot even be attached to the medicine! If we are inwardly grasping at the medicine and choking it with the expectations of our limited minds, it can be disastrous rather than healing. Booster doses are a divinely timed gift of Grace.
Is a booster dose always necessary for people recovering from addiction? No. Some people have one flood dose of medicine, and that's all they need, for their healing and initiation, forever.
Yet, booster doses or seasonal ceremonies do have the potential to be good medicine for anyone, when the medicine calls, because we are all essentially "in recovery" from the human condition, every day. We are precisely wired with the receptor sites to receive the teachings of these sacred medicines. According to the Bwiti, sacred medicine is essential for most people to become fully realized human beings. Though sacred medicine might not be appropriate or necessary for every individual, they are right for humanity as a collective, and they work through some for the benefit of all.
Will a booster dose be needed or helpful? Again: We practice listening to our soul—and to the call of the medicine. And, hopefully, we are paying attention to the delicate issues of sustainability, ethical sourcing, and social impact on indigenous communities. We don't ever want to take more than we need or more than the earth can produce in a good way.
Sadly, the iboga medicine, along with all other psychoactive medicines, are currently highly illegal in the United States, even for qualified medical professionals and traditional practitioners, despite evidence of tremendous healing benefits and safety with good protocol. This is not only an issue of drug policy reform, but also one of of religious freedom. We pray to someday see the medicine made regularly available to all those who are called, in a way that is not only safe and responsible, but also culturally sensitive.
Cheers to the booster dose—and the rerooting of the soul.
Photo: Bwiti temple in Gabon © E. Bast