Dimitri Mugianis Uses Shamanic Ceremony to Bring Healing to Drug Addicts

Dimitiri Mugianis, 50, from Detroit, is a former addict. Clean for ten years, Mr. Mugianis helps treat drug addicts in New York with Bwiti, a folk religion that has practices including painting faces, purifying bodies with sage smoke, drumming, songs, chants and dancing.

“My job in the Bwiti is to dance with heroin addicts,” he said with a laugh.

An essential practice of Bwiti is the consumption of a hallucinogenic plant called iboga. Banned in the United States, its advocates call ibogaine, a derivative of the iboga root, which is claimed to help with heroin addiction. Mr. Mugianis himself used the drug in Amsterdam in 2003. And until his arrest in 2011, he was using it to treat other addicts in New York. Now he continues to treat with Bwiti methods but not with ibogaine. Mr. Mugianis says his method has rid 500 heroin users of their addiction.

Mugianis’ Thursday group, led with social worker Brian Murphy, is called We Are the Medicine, because the healing is communal. Other groups travel to nearby forested areas to connect with their natural surroundings.

Does shamanic intervention help with drug addiction? If it’s a spiritual practice you can get behind and with other efforts such as psychotherapy, yes, it certainly can help. We applaud all efforts to meet people where they are and promote spiritual pluralism.

“No matter what,” Mr. Mugianis said, “the Bwiti spirit is all around us, even helping ex-addicts avoid stiff federal prison sentences. They took away my magic powder, so I thought they were my enemy, but now I realize we were dancing together,” he said. “Even the arrest was part of my initiation — it was a blessing.”

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