A Phenomenological Report on the Novel Non-Hallucinogenic Psychedelic Tabernanthalog

Arthur Juliani
7 min readDec 27, 2023

There is growing interest in the possibility of non-hallucinogenic psychedelics. The promise of such substances is to retain the psychoplastogenic effects of classic psychedelics while removing the trip. This is being done in the hopes that it would result in a drug which can be more widely and cheaply administered than classic psychedelics. It is a somewhat controversial idea, and I have written about it in more depth in an article I wrote earlier this year.

The critics of this approach point out the correlation between certain phenomenological aspects of the psychedelic trip, such as mystical experiences, and positive therapeutic outcomes. Given that these kinds of experiences also correlate with general strength of the effects, and thus dose, it is possible for those on the pro non-hallucinogenic side to then argue that perhaps the phenomenology is just a correlate of the actual underlying therapeutic effects, such as dendritic growth or changes in epigenetics. While this debate has largely been theoretical, that may not be the case for much longer. A number of potential non-hallucinogenic psychedelics are being developed, and some of them have even begun evaluation in human clinical trials as treatments for depression.

What is Tabernanthalog?

One of these potential therapeutic drugs is Tabernanthalog. It gets its name from the Tabernanthe iboga plant (the name meaning tabernanthe-analogue), which is the source of the psychedelic compound Ibogaine. Ibogaine has received attention for its potential to treat substance use disorders. Looking online you can find reports of serious heroin addicts going on Ibogaine retreats and coming back with no cravings or desire to use. There are two problems with Ibogaine as a therapeutic drug, however.

The first problem is that the phenomenology of the Ibogaine trip is particularly unpleasant, with many people describing it as one of the most unpleasant experiences of their lives. The second is that Ibogaine is cardiotoxic, with a few cases of deaths resulting from Ibogaine use. As such, Ibogaine is particularly interesting as a molecular target for modification. In 2021 researchers from David E Olson’s lab reported developing Tabernanthalog, a substance which addresses both of these issues. They demonstrated in animal models that the drug is both completely non-toxic and fails to induce the characteristic head-twitch response in rodents which is thought to be a robust marker of a drug’s hallucinogenic potential.

Molecular structure of Tabernanthalog.

Tabernanthalog is currently being investigated for its potential in humans to work as an antidepressant and treatment for substance use disorder. While clinical trials through official channels will take years to complete, industrious chemists and psychedelic self-experimenters have begun to synthesize and test the drug through less official channels. I noticed that there are around a dozen trip reports of Tabernanthalog usage scattered across reddit, discord, and elsewhere (see here for a nice summary). Interestingly, reports seemed to suggest that the drug was not devoid of psychoactive effects, as would be expected from the officially published research. Some compared it to a dissociative, while others to a traditional LSD experience. Given my personal and professional interest in the question of non-hallucinogenic psychedelics, I decided to procure a sample of Tabernanthalog and proceed with a small controlled self-experiment.

A quick note before the report: I do not advocate for the consumption of substances without clear safety records in humans. I was familiar enough with research on this substance to believe that it was reasonably safe for myself at the dose I consumed. Everyone should make their own determinations with full knowledge of the potential safety concerns.

Phenomenological Report

I consumed 150mg of Tabernanthalog in a powder form at 11:30am. Other reports had suggested that strong psychoactive effects are present at a dose of 200mg, so I decided to consume less than that. I put the dose under my tongue, and the taste was particularly unpleasant. After a minute I washed it down with a glass of orange juice. Perceptible phenomenological effects began about forty-five minutes later at 12:15pm. I went for a short walk around my neighborhood and began to notice that the way in which I was looking at my surroundings had changed.

Each place where my gaze rested began to appear as if it was a perfectly-framed photograph, distinct and standing on its own. This effect will be familiar to anyone who has consumed a classic psychedelic such as psilocybin. The difference is that there were none of the enhancements to contrast, vividness, or brightness which accompany psilocybin use, to say nothing of outright “visuals.” My vision was completely ordinary, but I was seeing that ordinary vision in a more significant way. I also noticed that my thoughts had begun to become less frequent and spontaneous. A sense of mental quietude was setting in which accompanied the change in how I was looking.

When I arrived home, I sat in a chair for about an hour and simply looked out into space, gently thinking about the events of the previous week. I later made myself lunch around 2pm. Once prepared, I proceeded to consume a cooked bell pepper in the slowest and most intentional manner I had ever eaten a vegetable in my life. Despite this change in mental behavior, my thinking, feeling, and perception was all completely normal. I was perhaps even a bit disappointed to find that my affect was more or less the same as it was that morning. What changed so distinctly with the drug was the nature of my attention.

Tabernanthalog seems to retain one important aspect of psychedelic phenomenology: the psychedelic deployment of attention. In practice this meant that I was able to sit with a kind of almost supernatural patience. In reflecting on it now, I think of the mantra often repeated by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh: “nowhere to go and nothing to do.” I was able to calmly entertain whatever thought or emotion appeared in my mind, without the urge to do anything in particular. In Buddhism this capacity is referred to as Upeksa (or equanimity), and it seems that Tabernanthalog is capable of instilling this quality in a powerful and consistent way.

Around 4:00pm, I went for a longer walk to a park and sat at a bench looking out over the city. Again, I was able to gently approach thoughts about all the tasks which awaited me in the coming weeks and months with no judgment or anxiety. This effect of inducing equanimity seemed comparable to that of MDMA or Ketamine. In both cases one arrives at a capacity to evenly accept all thoughts or emotions, either through an abundance of self-love, or through a radical detachment from oneself. In both cases though there are other distinct phenomenological effects which accompany that equanimity (for better or worse).

What was so unique about the Tabernanthalog is that there was only the change in attention. To be clear, this effect is not equivalent to a light dose of psychedelics, it was similar to what I might experience on 2g of psilocybin mushrooms, but only in the one limited aspect of mind: attention. While this might make it unappealing as a recreational drug (there is no “high”), this property makes it extremely compelling as a potential psychotherapeutic agent. I can imagine that if I were to participate in a psychotherapy session while on the drug, I might have been able to achieve similar progress as is possible with other psychedelic-assisted therapies. I can also imagine that it would be excellent for use in enhancing a meditation practice.

The effects of the Tabernanthalog lasted about nine hours, and by 8pm I was feeling mostly back to normal. While overall positive, the experience was not without its drawbacks. For the entirety of that day I experienced stomach discomfort which was difficult to completely ignore. I had consumed the Tabernanthalog on an empty stomach, but did eat lunch a few hours into the experience, which may have had an effect. I also had a headache by the end of the day, but for me this is a relatively common experience when using any psychedelic and may not be representative (I frequently get migraines).

The other downside is that Tabernanthalog is still a very early-stage research chemical. It is only being produced in small batches and as such is relatively expensive, at least compared to other psychedelics. The fact that it lasts practically all day may also be a downside depending on the intended application. For example, this makes it somewhat impractical for use in traditional one-hour psychotherapy sessions. Lastly, it has not received much testing in humans, so there may still be safety concerns. That said, I felt completely fine the next day, and even experienced a bit of the classic “afterglow” the following morning.

Takeaways

I learned a lot from this experience. Personally, I was able to reflect on certain issues in my own life which I had been somewhat ignoring recently. I didn’t reach any grand revelations, but just the act of accepting and being with difficult emotions or thoughts had a powerful therapeutic effect. On a professional level I learned a few things. The first is that it is possible to dissociate “psychedelic attention” from “psychedelic thought,” “psychedelic emotion,” and “psychedelic perception.” This has important implications for drug discovery and the neuroscience of psychedelics more broadly. I would love to see a drug which is capable of induced these changes in attention, but which lasts only half as long.

The second important learning from my experience is that Tabernanthalog is indeed a psychoactive substance. Because of this, it seems that the debate around the importance of phenomenology in psychedelic therapeutics may still not be resolved anytime soon. Even the original results in seen rodents can now be potentially attributed to their phenomenological effects just as much as to their more low-level neurobiological effects. We can’t ask the rodents, so we can’t know for sure. It also calls into question the reported lack of psychoactive properties in other recently developed non-hallucinogenic psychedelics. Given my own experience and research, I am inclined to believe that there is an essential role for both the structural effects on brain plasticity and the acute phenomenology in making a drug experience therapeutic. That said, I’d be happy to be proven wrong and see evidence of a powerful therapeutic drug with no psychoactive effects… Tabernanthalog isn’t it though.

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Arthur Juliani

Interested in artificial intelligence, neuroscience, philosophy, and meditation. http://arthurjuliani.com/