The arrival of the first Europeans in Gabon during the 15th century (the Portuguese followed by the Dutch) marked the beginning of the abandonment of the indigenous ancestral initiatory traditions due to the forced evangelisation of the Gabonese peoples as well as to the many consequences of the Slave Trade. The practice of Bwiti was then driven underground.
France began its progressive occupation of Gabon during the middle of the 19th century, after a treaty signed with the “Roi Denis”, in 1839. In 1886, Gabon became a French colony and wouldn’t gain independence until 1960.
The first time Iboga was referenced in the West was by British naturalist explorer Thomas Edward Bowlich, who, in his description of Gabon in 1819, mentions the existence of a plant used by the autochtones so that they could go on long walks and stay awake at night.
From that point on, the enormous therapeutic potential of Iboga became increasingly apparent to western scientists, starting with French researchers, and its principal constituent Ibogaine was soon commercialised and was made available to the public in 1901 (nyrdahl lozenges).
In 1962 an American researcher, Howard Lotsof, discovered for himself the anti-addictive properties of ibogaine, especially with regards to opiates and other narcotics (heroin, cocaine, crack methadone...) and started carrying out a series of studies which lead him to file multiple patents on its clinical use. He became an avid international proponent of ibogaine which, combined with the advent of the new media, namely the internet, led to a a growing global enthusiasm for Iboga. Ibogaine extracted from Iboga, mainly exported from Gabon, made its entry onto the American black market in the late 60s.
In the light of this increasing international interest and potential issues with the sustainability of the resource as well as with the illegal nature of its exploitation, the late president of the Gabonese republic El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba declared Iboga a “national cultural heritage” and “strategic reserve” in July of 2000.
Then in November 2011, Gabon became the first country in the world to ratify the Nagoya Protocol on the access to genetic resources and the fair and equal share of the benefits derived from their use according to the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Despite these commitments, there are, at this time, more than 200 health centres (official and informal) using iboga(ine) as well as dozens of websites reselling this precious resource, primarily of Gabonese origin and sold at premium prices but without any significant economical returns for Gabon or consideration of its sustainability.