DEA agents arrested Dimitri "Mobengo" Mugianis, a New York-based ibogaine therapy provider and two others yesterday in Seattle, Seattle Weekly has learned. Mugianis was recently the subject of a critically acclaimed documentary I'm Dangerous With Love, that details his work in the underground world of ibogaine, a potent -- and illegal -- hallucinogenic substance that is used to help drug users overcome their addictions.
Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the Western Washington U.S. Attorney's office, says Mugianis and his two associates do not currently face charges but, "the matter is under review to determine whether an administrative or criminal resolution is most appropriate."
Mugianis is a prominent figure in the ibogaine subculture. Ibogaine -- the subject of a recent Village Voice Media feature story -- has been used for decades by a handful of underground lay therapists as a means of treating drug addiction. Proponents of the illicit therapy say it eliminates opiate withdrawals and cravings almost overnight and jolts patients into changing their harmful behavior.
The substance is derived from the roots of an African shrub called Tabernathe iboga. Here's how it was described in our feature last November:
Taken in sufficient quantity, the substance triggers a psychedelic experience that users say is more intense than LSD or psilocybin mushrooms. Practitioners of the Bwiti religion in the West African nation of Gabon use iboga root bark as a sacrament to induce visions in tribal ceremonies, similar to the way natives of South and Central America use ayahuasca and peyote...I interviewed Mugianis over the phone several times for the story, and he explained that he used ibogaine to overcome a heroin addiction. He was so taken by the experience that he eventually traveled to Gabon, where he was initiated into the Bwiti religion by shamans. Since then, Mugianis told me, he had performed more than 400 ritualistic ibogaine ceremonies on addicts, mostly in hotel rooms around New York city.
...Ibogaine and iboga root bark are illegal in the United States but unregulated in many countries, including Canada and Mexico. [Clare] Wilkins, though, is hardly alone in her belief that iboga-based substances can be used as a legitimate treatment for drug addiction. Researchers at respected institutions have conducted experiments and ended up with hard evidence that the compound works -- as long as you don't mind the mindfuck.
"All drugs have side effects, but ibogaine is unique for the severity of its side effects," says Dorit Ron, a neurology professor at the University of California-San Francisco. "I think ibogaine is a nasty drug. But if you can disassociate the side effects from the good effects, there is a mechanism of action in ibogaine that reduces relapse in humans."
Mugianis transformation from junkie to shaman to underground drug therapist was chronicled by filmmaker Michel Negroponte, in his documentary "I'm Dangerous With Love." Here's a trailer for the film and an interview that Mugianis did with Seattle Weekly about his role in the project.
Reached by phone earlier this afternoon, Negroponte said he'd gotten wind of Mugianis' arrest but was unsure of what exactly happened and why. He believes Mugianis was working with another ibogaine therapy provider based in Seattle and possibly performing ibogaine treatment at a hotel somewhere in the city.
"The information I've gotten so far has been a little fractured," Negroponte said. "But I believe there is a woman [in Seattle] she's also a therapist, she was planning to get involved with Dimitri and others and open a clinic in Costa Rica. This was all in the works the last several months. I believe [DEA] went in and took her her files and her stuff and arrested her yesterday."
We've got a call out to Mugianis and we'll have more details on this story when they become available.