Pubdate: Wed, 19 Nov 2014
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Copyright: 2014 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Valerie Vande Panne


In the underground world of heroin, there is a legend of an African 
root called iboga, or ibogaine, that can cure addiction. Those in the 
depths of heroin use, often as a last resort, seek out the root, 
which can be dangerous to use. Some go to Mexico or to Europe to take 
it, as it is illegal here in the United States. It can be an 
expensive trip for the user, and often one made in a moment of final 

Native Detroiter Dimitri Mugianis was one of those drug users, and, 
after taking the root, he turned to a life of service, committed to 
helping people, especially impoverished users here in the United 
States. He's well-known in the harm-reduction and drug-user 
communities, and has some astute observations on drug culture, drug 
use, and religion, including Islam.

Mugianis now lives in New York City, but came home for a visit 
recently. MT caught up with him at Melt cafe in the Cass Corridor, 
which brought back memories to the 52-year-old, who recounted stories 
of drug use with a nostalgic smile, and gratitude.

Metro Times: So who are you and what the fuck are you doing?

Dimitri Mugianis: [Laughs] Who am I? That's the mantra of the Hindu 
[Nisargadatta Maharaj] who wrote I Am That. I'm born and raised in 
Detroit. I have worked for over 10 years on ibogaine. I was a 20-year 
heroin user. And with one ingestion of the sacrament of iboga, I 
haven't used heroin in over 12 years. I was pretty much coppin' on 
the North End and sometimes selling dope on the North End as well. 
And I used to sell dope in Cass Corridor. I sold dope on Second -- 
what's the street over from Second?

MT: Third?

Mugianis: Third! [laughs] I sold dope on Third. Heroin. So I think 
probably the reason you're talking to me is because of the ibogaine stuff.

MT: What is ibogaine?

Mugianis: Ibogaine is from the plant iboga, which is a plant grown in 
central West Africa in a country called Gabon. The root bark of the 
iboga plant is a sacrament to a spirituality, a religion called Bwiti 
. the religion and spiritual technology that has grown up around the 
ingestion of iboga. It's healing through music and dance, healing 
with the help of the ancestors, and healing with the pharmacology of 
the forest.

MT: So you took one dose of iboga after being a junkie for 20 years?

Mugianis: I took one dose of iboga after being a junkie for 20 years 
on cocaine, heroin, and methadone, and I've been clean for 12 and a 
half years. That's not everyone's story. That's a pretty rare story. 
Most people don't have that story of no relapse. And then I've taken 
other doses. I've been back to Gabon, where I've been initiated as a 
N'ganga [shaman] in the tradition of Bwiti.

MT: So how did you, after doing drugs for 20 years, how did you find 
iboga and come to take it?

Mugianis: I learned about iboga in the early '90s when I was living 
in New York. I was on the Lower East Side with my friend, the great 
noise musician Adam Nodelman. Adam and I were shooting dope along 
with his then-wife, and they were also part of the whole junkie boom 
scene, the drug users union in Holland. And they started telling me 
about this thing called ibogaine. It just kind of stuck in my head 
for about 10 years. Over time, my then-common-law wife died when she 
was pregnant with my child. My drug use became increasingly chaotic, 
although I'm really grateful to cocaine and heroin. I think they did 
a lot of good, but there was a point where the relationships turned 
problematic, and I found myself back in my parents' basement with a 
$200-a-day habit, speed-balling cocaine and heroin while on the 
methadone program, turning 40 with a very bleak future. My only goal 
was to go to take ibogaine, go to Greece, come back, and die.

By the way, the first place I ever shot up is a house two doors from here.

MT: Right here on Cass?

Mugianis: On Willis.

MT: How'd you end up doing ibogaine?

Mugianis: I went and I did iboga in Holland, and it's a very 
difficult process. I don't want anyone to get the idea that they can 
just do ibogaine and walk away and never do dope again; it just 
doesn't happen that way. But I'll explain my journey and maybe that 
will illustrate the point. I went to Holland and, again, the only 
desire was to do ibogaine and go to Greece because everyone I knew -- 
my family, Greeks, we go back all the fucking time, right? Go to 
Greece and just come home and continue to die. What happened -- God 
had other plans. I went there, I did iboga, and in that experience I 
saw the healing of childhood trauma, or at least the addressing and 
the beginning of the healing. I made contact with my ancestors, even 
though I didn't even know anything about it. I saw into my future. I 
saw one of my teachers that I would meet in Gabon six years later, a 
guy named Papa Andre. He was clear as day in front of me in the 
forest, looking at me. I saw that my life would be involved with this 
medicine. I saw that I was released from the guilt that I had killed 
my girlfriend, my common-law wife, Barbara, that I was responsible 
for the death of her and our unborn child.

And I didn't have a habit. It was an incredibly difficult 
two-and-a-half days, but I woke up, not far from Amsterdam, with a 
bunch of money in my pocket, two-and-a-half days off of cocaine, 
methadone, and heroin, with no desire to use. And I've never had the 
desire to use again. It took me over a month to have a solid bowel 
movement, be able to walk without pain, to sleep more than two hours 
at a time, but I never had a desire to use and I've never had a 
desire to use since. You know, I went to Greece, and I started to 
know something about myself and about my family and about my history 
and who I was. I was on the island of Icaria, where Icarus fell from. 
I went through that whole healing process. There was a pivotal moment 
where an old woman came up to me and asked me a question. I thought 
she was asking me, "Who was I?" She was asking me "Whose was I?" So 
that's the whole ancestral thing that's attached to Bwiti, that's 
attached to many traditions of healing. So I believe that [with] 
iboga, you heal yourself, you heal your ancestors, you heal future 
generations. It's an omnipresent healing. Then I came back, not far 
from this neighborhood again. I started work for my brother, who 
owned a restaurant called Agave at the time. I got a little place in 
Hamtramck. I started going to see the great poet Ron Allen. A Detroit 
legend, right? And I knew he was involved with recovery. I knew his 
reputation as a poet and a community activist, and I went to Ron and 
I said, 'Ron, I've got this stuff called iboga.' And he knew 
everything about it. And he said, 'But what are you gonna do to save 
your own ass?' He suggested that I go to a 12-step fellowship, which 
I started to go to. And I started to go to a shrink. I remember my 
first 12-step meeting in the Brewster Projects. And I remember I used 
to cop there.

The whole time, I was burning to bring this medicine to the States. 
To bring it here. And it's a felony. I just wanted to come back and 
be of some service. And, you know, after a while I was able to do 
that. I was able to do over 500 treatments.

MT: Here in the U.S.?

Mugianis: Here in the U.S. In Detroit. I started doing treatments. I 
went back to New York, and I had been there a year and a half clean 
or off of drugs. I don't like to use the word clean because that 
implies that people who use drugs are dirty. But the idea was 
completely insane, so it appealed to me. We stood in front of 
methadone clinics with fliers that said 'Methadone is slavery' in 
Harlem. We were just like, "We're doing this! We're committing a 
felony, and here's the fliers and here's where to find us." And we 
just started to do that. I thought I was gonna be arrested. I think 
we ended up doing 30 [treatments], which if you know anything about 
ibogaine, that's crazy because we did 30 in a very short time. Just 
in people's apartments, motel rooms, and so forth. And that gave me 
the training, or the beginning of the training.

Then I started to incorporate aspects of the Bwiti into my 
treatments, [and they] became ceremonies. And then we started to 
bring in the village to support our ceremony. And that grew and grew 
in New York. We did a parade through Astoria, Queens ... [like the] 
processional to the water in Gabon before a Bwiti ceremony. We 
literally did the procession with people dressed in white [in 
Queens], carrying candles, playing these instruments ... before 
committing a felony, we would have a parade to announce it. And then 
this became my way of praying. It became my religion. I pray and I 
think about Bwiti every day. I still do. So that went on for years, 
and it took a lot of forms and it was beautiful and chaotic and 
crazy. I also started to realize the energy that I was absorbing 
doing this kind of work. I tried to practice the level of self-care 
that any healer needs to do, that we all need to do.

And also realizing there were forces that I didn't bargain for. 
That's the thing about entheogens or any of these traditions: It 
ain't all good. There's a certain kind of racism to believing that 
all this shit is good just because it ain't European, you know what I 
mean? The noble savage bullshit. So we have to acknowledge folks' 
humanity and call them an asshole when they fuck up.

I started to get really sort of burned-out and tired. I was turning 
50 at this point, you know?

[I started] serving so-called underserved populations, a lot of 
people whose capital is their diagnosis. They get paid by being 
HIV-positive, formerly incarcerated, sex worker, drug user, hepatitis 
C-positive, bipolar, victim of child abuse. Not much either, like a 
couple dollars, but that's what they get paid to do. The deal was 
that they're not any of those things; you're not an addict. I don't 
know if I believe in the word addict. I think it's all bullshit. 
You're not formerly incarcerated, you're not a sex worker. You're not 
even Dimitri. You ask me, 'Who am I?' Actually, you're a spiritual 
being that coming in has a problem. Come in as a spiritual being and 
give your gifts. What happens with most of us, and especially 
"marginalized" people, is that we have nothing to contribute, to be 
in contribution. We're either consuming or contributing. And these 
are folks that, they've been pushed out of this area, apparently 
[gestures to Cass Avenue]. This area has been colonized. But those 
are folks that -- most people want to contribute. We all care. We all do.

[We] talk about God in this program. The harm-reduction world was 
created by a lot of lefties, right? The grass-roots people are people 
on the streets and shit, but the people running it are a lot of 
people with advanced degrees at Ivy League schools and so forth. But 
the people running it have no relation with God. The people who come 
into a needle exchange? In my experience, I would say 95, 96 percent 
believe in God. And I think that that's a lot of a drug user's 
journey, to find God. The problem with iboga is the problem with 
ayahuasca and peyote, is that what we want to do is we want to 
commodify it. We want to take what is basically a problem of 
overconsumption -- which is the problem of all so-called addiction -- 
and we want to mold it into a product that can be used within the 
existing patriarchal, racist, capitalist system. And expect change. 
And you can tell by the entheogen movement, a bunch of white 
motherfuckers telling people that they're gonna change everything 
except their own power.

That's the problem with it: It doesn't get you off of heroin. Nothing 
does. We gotta replace that with something else. Or keep using -- 
that's fine too. That's my problem with all the entheogens is, again, 
they wanna make a product and put it into -- what's the saying? Do 
MDMA with your MD? What a fucking drag that would be! Can you imagine 
rolling with your doctor? Because they're white, Harvard 
motherfuckers, no offense. So it's horrifying. I don't see any of 
these entheogens as a solution to anything, even heroin addiction. I 
don't fucking see it. And I'm sick of it.

Fuck Burning Man, too. You can put this in there: Burning Man is 
whiter than the Tea Party. Because that's a narcissistic movement, as 
the entheogen movement is a narcissistic movement. A narcissistic 
movement made of overconsumption made by the consumers.

If you wanna experience indigenous culture, go get fucking ebola. Go 
get genitally mutilated, OK? Then you can experience some poor people 
shit. But this is the thing -- we're always co-opting. I've co-opted 
this shit, too. I'm a Greek boy from Detroit. What the fuck am I 
doing? And that's something that I have to constantly check. And it's 
absurd. Even the attachment to Bwiti. This is my religion. But we 
have to have some sort of reciprocity for what we take. We're at a 
point now where we have to have some reciprocity.

I think ... the problem with iboga therapy is that we're saying that 
there's a success: "Success" is that you don't use drugs ever again, 
which is bullshit. And I don't want to continue in that mode. I don't 
want to continue to add harm to the world by saying this gets people 
off of drugs and that "success" is stopping using drugs and "failure" 
is using drugs. I don't think Charlie Parker was a failure. I don't 
think Edgar Allan Poe was a failure. I don't think Richard Pryor was 
a failure. On and on and on. So unless we can break that nut -- and 
that takes money and resources and professionals -- I'm not that 
interested in working with it.

Because it doesn't get people off of drugs. Nothing does, and I don't 
really care about that. Just like I don't fucking care about the drug 
wars. I don't give a shit about policy. I don't understand how people 
can take these substances and then wake up and say, 'We have to work 
on policy!' Really? You just went to the universe and back, saw God's 
hand, and you thought maybe you'd make an incremental change. I just 
saw the apocalypse, man! Policy? Shit. So fuck policy.

What I'm doing right now on iboga is I'm working to bring iboga to 
Afghanistan, and what's exciting about Afghanistan is my colleague -- 
he's done amazing work in Afghanistan bringing needle exchange to 
Afghanistan to drug users. We want to set up a true harm-reduction 
clinic where we can treat people with that sort of idea that there's 
no failure, with professionals and so forth. I don't plan to work 
there full-time. My job is just to help in any way that I can and let 
the [Afghan] folks carry it on from there. The idea of working in 
Afghanistan, with all the horror we've done to that country, to offer 
some sort of healing really appeals to me.

I also think that the villainization of Islam is complete bullshit. 
If you wanna talk about what kills more people, more gay people, and 
what kills more women than anyplace in the world, any system in the 
world, it's called representational democracy with a capitalistic 
economic system. People wanna say it's ISIS. I wanna go work with 
Muslims because at least there's a movement against consumerism 
happening in the Islamic world. There's no movement against 
consumerism in this world.

MT: There is here, but you have to buy it.

Mugianis: You have to buy it [laughs]. The other thing I'm doing is 
I'm still working at the needle exchange. I'm still interested in 
doing something in Detroit; I'm just not sure what it is yet. Maybe I 
could be a spy against colonial rule. -- mt

Learn about ibogaine, Dimitri, and more at
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