Documentary Maker may Film His Own Death
By Liam McDougall
Sunday Herald — (July 13, 2003)
AN ACCLAIMED documentary maker has admitted that he is prepared to die while filming himself taking a powerful hallucinogenic drug that has been hailed as a cure for addiction but linked to a number of deaths around the world.
David Graham Scott, who is based in Glasgow, said that he will take the controversial drug, ibogaine, in a film that will form the final part of his trilogy on Scotland’s drugs culture. In the documentary, provisionally titled The Quick Fix, Scott intends to overcome his own methadone addiction, which he says has plagued him since he stopped using street heroin and prescribed drugs 15 years ago.
Under the supervision of colleagues who are working to set up an ibogaine clinic in London, and a recording team, Scott will be filmed next month undergoing an intense 36-hour hallucinogenic ‘trip’, from which he hopes to emerge free from his addiction. Although the substance is legal in the UK, where it is classed as an unlicensed, experimental drug, there are wider concerns over its safety. The drug has been banned in the US, Belgium and Switzerland and experts also say that in recent years ibogaine is known to have contributed to at least four deaths in Europe.
Last year, a 35-year-old woman died after taking 500mg of the drug during an informal ibogaine session in Germany. In 2001, an inquest in London into the case of JW, a 40-year-old heroin addict, ruled that the man had died principally from a fatal reaction to the drug.
But with advocates of the substance claiming it is a ‘magic bullet’ for addicts, the Bafta-nominated film-maker says he now plans to put the claims to the test and undergo the treatment as an experiment to get himself clean.
He said: ‘There is always a chance that there could be some permanent damage or that it could kill you. But I think the positive factors outweigh the negative aspects. I have found methadone impossible to come off. I am doing this because I can’t stand being an addict anymore. This will be my personal story about taking ibogaine.’
The Quick Fix comes after two films in which Scott examined the issue of drugs and his own reasons for becoming embroiled in Britain’s drug culture in the 1980s. In Little Criminals, Scott spent 1999 filming a group of heroin addicts in and around Glasgow. The film, distributed internationally at film festivals by Scottish Screen, also won him a Bafta new talent nomination last year. Beyond The Highlands, screened by STV in 2002, attempted to answer the question of why Scott, originally from Caithness, turned his back on his rural upbringing and embraced Edinburgh’s underground heroin culture.
‘This will be a film that shows how the daily routines that an addict has to face demeans them. I also want this to open up the debate about how society treats addicts and to ask questions about alternatives to the methadone programme,’ explained Scott.
‘There is ample evidence that ibogaine treatment works and that should be explored further. If I make this film and find that it does work there are serious questions that the government is required to answer about its current drug policy. If anything goes wrong, it will be my sole responsibility.’
Scott, now 41, said he first began researching the effects of ibogaine in the mid-1990s. However, with the only legitimate detox programmes available in a limited number of countries, including Panama, Costa Rica and Italy, and costing thousands of pounds, it was not a feasible option. His unofficial ibogaine detox will cost him just under £500.
Once under the effects of the drug, extracted from the root bark of a west African plant and used in spiritual rituals in parts of Gabon, Scott hopes to re-evaluate his life experiences. Less than one gram of ibogaine is said to produce stimulant and aphrodisiac effects. Up to three grams produces a mellow euphoric trip during which the user may experience various hallucinations. Up to six grams, the maximum safe dosage, produces powerful near-death experiences.
Those taking the highest doses of ibogaine report that they first enter a dream-like phase that lasts several hours and consists of vivid visions of past memories. The second consists of high levels of analytical mental activity to comprehend the reasons why they drifted into drug-using.
However, Deborah Mash, a professor of neurology at the University of Miami, a world authority on ibogaine, warned of the dangers of taking the drug without a strictly regulated environment.
‘It should only be taken in the presence of trained medical staff who can administer drugs or revive someone if they get into difficulty.’