A Q&A With Dimitri "Mobengo" Mugianis, Subject of Ibogaine Documentary I'm Dangerous With Love"/>
Last November we published "Shock the Junkie," a story about the hallucinogenic drug ibogaine, which some say has the power to cure everything from heroin addiction to compulsive shopping. One of the people featured in the story is Dimitri "Mobengo" Mugianis. Once a junkie in New York, Mugianis kicked his habit using ibogaine. He spent the next decade lobbying for ibogaine legalization and administering the drug to recovering addicts in clandestine sessions in hotel rooms around New York. For the past several years, Mugianis has allowed director Michel Negroponte to film his work. The resulting documentary, I'm Dangerous With Love, premiered earlier this week in New York.
The film has received mostly positive reviews thus far, including a brief but enthusiastic write-up from The New York Times' Neil Genzlinger.
We caught up with Mugianis and asked him about the project and audiences' reactions thus far.
SW: Why'd you agree to be the focus of a documentary about ibogaine?
Mugianis: Because I thought it would be a good way to give voice to ibogaine. Initially [the treatments] were an act of civil disobedience. I saw Michel's previous work, and was impressed [with] his movie Methadonia. I thought he was an excellent filmmaker and was excited to work with him.
What was the most challenging part about the project?
The project itself wasn't challenging. He just followed me around and filmed. He was really unobtrusive. The thing about the way he works, he's just a another person in the room. I was really impressed--the first guy we shot, I left the room, and when I came back the guy was throwing up. Michel had put his camera down and was cleaning up. There were no real challenges. The challenge was doing the work itself. He was very much a part of the treatments.
The NYT just suggested the film could have benefited from more "dispassionate discussion" of the effects of ibogaine by academics. Do you agree? Why do you think that got left out?
It's kind of amazing a film critic would suggest there needs to be talking heads to make it a better film. I didn't understand that. It just wasn't about ibogaine. It was a portrait of my work and what I went through. Some people really want this to be [an] advertisement for ibogaine, but that's simply not what it is.
One of the most memorable portions of the film is the Bwiti ceremony in Gabon where the witch doctor gives you the iboga root bark. It was very trippy and looked like a very sacred ritual. Were there any reservations by the natives about having that recorded?
It depended on the individuals who were involved. For the most part they were very open and welcoming. There are some tribes that are hostile. And you can't blame them. When white people show up with cameras, with anything really, there's trepidation. For the most part they were welcoming, but there were times they didn't want to be filmed and I respect that.
At one point you talk about "the rich people" who want to take ibogaine for spiritual reasons, and how you had mixed feelings about giving it to them instead of hardcore drug addicts. Can you talk about the varied uses of ibogaine and why people who aren't hardcore addicts would want to take it?
That was scene was shot maybe three years ago. At this point I see [spirituality] as an equally valid reason. People have taken iboga for thousands of years for many reasons--to be initiated into Bwiti, to dispel sickness with witchcraft. A lot of it now is post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, drinking . . . It would be incredible to have a program to give this to vets returning home from combat. And also, just as a deeper understanding of yourself and your relationship to others and something bigger. I think it's an amazing tool.
There is a lot of on-screen vomiting in the film [ibogaine causes severe nausea], and it's really intense watching people go through these experiences. Are you a believer in the low-dose ibogaine treatment programs that some people are now experimenting with that don't cause nausea?
We've been giving small doses of iboga. That's been used for thousands of years. But you're not going to get what you get from ibogaine, or iboga--you'll never get the full effect with small doses. That's a maintenance dose. Addicts have been doing it for a long time in terms of keeping a balance that the iboga provides, but instead of [a large dose], I don't think it's very effective.
How important is the psychedelic experience to overcoming addiction, in your opinion?
I think it's huge. There are many, many detoxes for opiates. What is the difference with iboga? You go through the detox and you get something else. You get that piece of divinity, that piece of a bigger picture, of a bigger self--a piece of yourself. This idea of spending all that time and effort to take out the sacred--this is what we do as a culture. This is what the bioindustrial complex does to a culture. It takes out the sacred.
How have audiences reacted so far?
I think that I'm kind of surprised by a lot of the reactions. Mostly I'm pleased by it . . . Folks are seeing a bit of themselves, their family, their community when they watch the film. I hope they understand they're connected to other communities. That's what I'm seeing.
Here's the trailer: