Rally with a Buzz

by Eve Doster

Detroit Times

Detroit Times — (4/28/2004)

Grand Circus Park in Detroit will be abuzz with a war protest this Saturday. No, there will not be a demonstration against American military involvement in Iraq. This particular call to arms will fall under the “war on drugs” rubric.

Rally organizer Jay Statzer says the gathering is intended “to further dramatize our worldwide demands to the drug problem and end the war on cannabis …”

His organization, Cures Not Wars, is calling for the legalization of medical marijuana and the controversial anti-addiction drug ibogaine.

Cures Not Wars’ official solidarity event, known as both the Million Marijuana March and Liberation Day, is scheduled to take place in various cities around the world. Last year, it included five cities in Michigan, 105 cities in the United States and 256 cities worldwide. The 2004 Detroit hub will be at the corner of Woodward and Adams.

Many folks are familiar with the debate over medical marijuana. Detroit voters will act on a medical marijuana initiative in November. But few have ever heard of the drug ibogaine.

Here’s the skinny: Based on anecdotal reports and more than 40 years of scientific research, ibogaine is a naturally occurring agent with therapeutic effects that is said to help cure drug addiction. It’s derived from the root of the African plant, Tabernanthe iboga.

Proponents claim it is a miracle drug.

Just ask Dimitri Mugianis. From his apartment in the Woodbridge neighborhood of Detroit, Mugianis, 41, claims that two years ago he was in serious trouble. Addicted to heroin, methadone and cocaine, Mugianis explains, “I really felt like I was at the end of my life.” A drug abuser since the age of 12, Mugianis’ addiction haunted him for his entire adult life; by the time he was introduced to ibogaine as a potential cure for his longstanding habit, he was at the end of his rope.

Because ibogaine is illegal in America, Mugianis went to Holland for treatments.

“Ironically, I had to go to Amsterdam to kick drugs,” he says.

The treatment, which involved a two-day-long ibogaine-induced dreamlike state was, as he described, “cathartic and spiritual, but not easy.”

“I know it sounds like snake oil,” he admits. “That is one of the problems.”

Today he adheres to a 12-step program to maintain sobriety.

So convinced is he of ibogaine’s effectiveness, Mugianis has dedicated his life to getting the word out.

Howard Lotsof, founder of the nonprofit Dora Weiner Foundation (dedicated to promoting ibogaine), hesitates to refer to ibogaine as a cure. He does, however, call it “the best start you can imagine.”

“Withdrawal is the primary barrier in recovery,” Lotsof explains. Because it is said to attack physiological and psychological dependencies without the drawbacks of withdrawal symptoms, Lotsof considers ibogaine to be a “virtually painless and humanistic” approach to ending the cycle of drug abuse.

Lotsof, who says he has personally benefited from ibogaine, explains that scientists have yet to discern exactly why ibogaine targets the psychological factors that lead to drug addiction. “It is one of the secondary mysteries of the drug,” he admits.

Researchers report that ibogaine interacts with neuroreceptors and neurotransporters.

In Mugianis’ case, doctors told him that recovery without the throes of withdrawal was medically impossible. He insists that, except for some nausea, he felt none of the typical symptoms of withdrawal from an addiction to powerful opiates.

Dr. Frank Vocci of the National Institute on Drug Abuse has a somewhat different view. NIDA did participate in ibogaine trials with Lotsof in the early ’90s. After pre-clinicals and surveillance, a panel of NIDA officials voted 9-4 against further testing of ibogaine.

“It is hard to develop a drug that has so many issues,” Vocci explains. “Of the 60 to 100 known exposures to the drug, there were two deaths.”

Though one of the deaths was later attributed to a previously undiagnosed heart condition, Vocci says that, in the world of drug research, ibogaine is considered an extremely risky treatment. Different patients can have different reactions, he says, and it does not address behavioral issues attributed to drug addiction.

Say Statzer of the rally: “The purpose is primarily outreach … the idea is simply to grow the movement.”

The Cures Not Wars rally will be held at Grand Circus Park (at the corner of Woodward Avenue and Adams, Detroit) on Saturday, May 1, noon-7 p.m. A march down Woodward is scheduled at 4:20 p.m. Visit www.cures-not-wars.org for further information.

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