Premiering at the Detroit Film Theatre this week, I’m Dangerous With Love follows native Detroiter Dimitri Mugianis’ transformation from Ibogaine evangelist to Iboga shaman. Ibogaine, an illegal hallucinogenic drug used in underground clinics to alleviate symptoms of heroin withdrawal, is derived from Iboga root bark, a sacrament of the West African Bwiti religion when ingested. Mugianis begins as a clandestine administrator of the drug, advocating its efficacy from his own experience as an addict who found respite in the drug’s power to quell withdrawal symptoms as well as cravings. Although he is a passionate and charismatic counselor, at times the story of his breakdown and subsequent self-actualization feels simplistically portrayed. The film is harrowing and admittedly lo-fi — which is by no means a deal-breaker, and actually seems representative of the grimy underground circles Mugianis navigates — but the telling leaves a vaguely unsavory taste in the mouth, possibly because the viewer’s inevitably voyeuristic response to the subject overpowers, with delicious sordidness, the story of the man himself. Left hungry for answers about Mugianis’ motives and intentions, Metro Times asked him some questions.
Metro Times: Why do you think Ibogaine is not a medically accepted, or even acknowledged, treatment for heroin withdrawal symptoms?
Dimitri Mugianis: That’s a long and complicated answer. First of all, you can’t make money off of it. Second of all, it’s from Africa, from this weird group called Bwiti. You trip on it; junkies found it. So you have a lot working against you. It doesn’t fit into the medical model we have set up.
MT: Would you have it legalized, though?
Mugianis: My feeling is that Iboga is legal, because it’s legal to practice my religion. I just think the courts and the legal system need to catch up and realize they made a mistake.
MT: In the documentary, Ibogaine is described as an addiction interrupter. To what extent do you think that people believe it’s in fact a cure for addiction?
Mugianis: I’ve never seen Ibogaine get one person off of drugs. This is an opportunity, an experience, a doorway, but the individual has to engage, and the community has to engage. So the idea that you consume this and it takes care of it is complete nonsense. That is the idea of Western psychopharmacology. We take the pill and come home and it does something to you. This involves you coming to it. That’s the big problem. It will not get you off of heroin. It will not get you off of crack. It didn’t get me off of it — it opened up the doorway.
MT: How does Ibogaine differ from such hallucinogens as acid, PCP, mushrooms, etc, with which people struggle and find either great spiritual awakening or detriment?
Mugianis: I don’t consider it a hallucinogen; I consider it a vision. I don’t believe I hallucinate on Iboga; I believe I see.
MT: Your journey from drug addict to Ibogaine evangelist to Bwiti shaman seems unlikely. Has it been difficult to reshape your understanding of your own identity through all of these transformations?
Mugianis: Look, I’ve got a sense of humor. I’m a Greek boy from Detroit. Then I threw Mobengo into the mix. I understand who I am and where I come from. But a piece of me is from Gabon. I remember that I’m a Greek kid from the west side of Detroit, and that’ll always be with me. What we’re really reclaiming are the technologies taken from all of us, regardless of what your background was. You’re not that far from the soil. The medicine is in each and every one of us.
MT: In the beginning, you discuss your love for administering the treatments, and your enthusiasm and passion are very evident. In a way, it looks like you are replicating the high you got from drugs, but instead, it’s from the risk of human success or failure. Was this the case at any point?
Mugianis: To look for that rush, to look for that challenge and danger was part of it, absolutely. I’m getting ahold of it. The Bwiti calmed me down. I hope I’ve tempered that with my practice. But it was a part of an act of radical service. I quoted Bakunin in the beginning and I still believe that, that the urge to destroy is also a creative urge. So the answer is yes, it comes from the same place. But it also makes it me unique for my ministry.
MT: And would that rush and the impulse to obtain it come at the expense of the people you’re trying to help?
Mugianis: Here’s the thing: It could, but I don’t think that it ever happened. I think one of the things working in my favor is how careful I am. Yes, I might be pushed by anger and by love and by chaos. All that stuff might have been the impetus. Also, it was the recklessness to get this medicine out to people. The care that we gave to people, I stand behind. I don’t think I put anyone at risk.
MT: When one of the users has a seizure due to Benzocaine withdrawal, you think he is choking on a grape. Later, cardiac arrest is also cited as a possibility. For someone watching, this scenario demonstrates the problem of your administration of Ibogaine treatments to people with potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. What do you believe qualifies you to administer these drugs from a medical standpoint?
Mugianis: What happened there was about screening. I think that what happens is that we try to medicalize absolutely everything from birth to death. I don’t have any right to do a medical procedure, but I don’t think Iboga is a medical procedure.
MT: Do you consider both Ibogaine and Iboga to be the sacrament?
Mugianis: I do. I think God is in the molecule.
MT: Is there anything else that you want people to understand or to take away from the film?
Mugianis: I hope that people understand that the medicine is in them.
Dangerous With Love premieres at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, at the Detroit Film Theatre, inside the Detroit Institute of Arts, 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7900.