The Story of Ibogaine – report on the Staten Island project
By Dana Beal and Paul de Rienzo
CHAPTER VIII – NICO ADIAANS
At the beginning of Glick’s presentation, he threw in a slide he considered to be a gag: a headline from an article in the VILLAGE VOICE, entitled: MIRACLE CURE ? Advocates say Ibogaine Ends Craving for Dope. The article was Dana’s first big score in a new role: public point-man for Ibogaine. It had taken him thirteen months of prodding the VOICE to get it printed, since the day in late May 1989, when a hotshot freelancer named Max Cantor walked in at #9 Bleecker, aiming to do a big expose on the furious controversy in the annual pot parade between Dana’s people and a cabal of Lower East Side squatters who’d been in the news a lot sinceteplce riot in Tompkns Squa Par the Agust before. They claimed to speak in the higher interest of the Parade/Movement, but due to entanglement with a 12-step faction in the squat scene vehemently opposed to Ibogaine, and the fact that some of them now owed their apartments to the eviction of addicts, their opposition to making an issue of Ibogaine hardened. They would rather evict junkies than turn them into non-addicts. But they didn’t feel confident to pull off such a bald-faced coup without a figurehead–Michael Caesar, the self-styled « Pope of Pot. »
For ten years, the « Pope » had a simple but effective way of glomming all the column inches available for pot coverage in the New York papers: Open up a marijuana delivery service; offer all the younger anarchists jobs (without the political demands they’d be subjected to at #9, where they were forbidden to deal pot). Let them do hard drugs (Fred was the Pope’s lieutenant for years; all his earnings went into his arm.) Then go public in unfriendly media like the NEW YORK POST, get busted, and take all the delivery boys to jail with you.
So Dana said to Max: « Why write the same stupid article the NEW YORK POST has run four times already–when you can do a real scoop? Let me tell you about the real issue behind the split–Ibogaine. »
The roots of the split actually went back to 1987, when Dana was sitting in the D.C. NORML office talking to the new National Director, John Getman. « Can’t you do something about Charlie Rangel? » asked Getman, referring to the head of the House Select Sub-Committee on Narcotics. « We can’t budge him. »
« Well, » said Dana, « the only time we have enough people to do anything is the annual pot parade. It’s a schlep fromWashington Square Park, but we could take a rest in Central Park, and have ‘t end up at Rangel’s office on 125th Street. »
When the first Saturday in May rolled around, though, the bulk of the parade wouldn’t go past Strawberry Fields at 72nd and Central Park West. Legalizing pot wasn’t really a political goal for them. The parade was an annual occasion to party.
When the political vanguard of the parade did get to Rangel’s office at 125th, they were confronted by a fat white lady police community relations officer and about eight black activists she’d assembled, who were fuming over this invasion of their turf . In a twinkling Dana saw they wouldn’t be into a hemp rap. But except for the white lady cop, they were all very interested in an African rain forest cure for addiction.
The problem was that Dana was implementing a « paradigm shift » here before most of the movement even knew about Ibogaine. By the time he finished revising a book on environmental hemp in February ’88 (which started out in 1983 as Hans-Georg Behr’s VON HANF IST DIE REDE –« When the Subject is Hemp »--and metamorp hosed along the way into THE EMPEROR WEARS NO CLOTHES, by Jack Herer), he’d realized the purely environmental approach left out all the really good public health arguments. After all, there was now had the experience of twelve years of de-crim in Holland to go on. So he phoned George in Hamburg, who told him all drug reform during the next period was going to be driven by the AIDS crisis.
So Dana started going to ACT UP.
As far back as 1986 Beal and the grassroots caucus recommended to the Greens that they approach AIDS activists re medical marijuana, since Chinese medicine, which calls cannabis the Empress of Herbs, specifies it for treating immune disorders. For his trouble, Dana was denounced within the New York Greens in three letters in early ’87 sent to 200 people, including three City Councilpersons. [A few months later Dana was busted for pot. All the files of the Impeach Reagan/Bush Campaign were confiscated b y a joint federal-state task force, aborting protests outside Oliver North’s appearance at the Iran-Contral committee, leaving the field clear to pro- Ollie demonstrators.
To add insult to injury, Abbie then told Dana the environmentalists who’d sn itched Beal out wouldn’t let him talk to Dana anymore. Beal was placed on five years of probation on marijuana charges in August 1987. He never talked to Abbie again longer than to say « Hello. »]
Dana attended his first ACT UP meeting in early April ’88 as an unabashed « Safe Drugs » advocate of what the Dutch call « harm reduction, » i.e., « reducing the harms involved with drugs. Ever since the ’60′s, he’d backed legalizing pot as a means of market separation of pot and hard drugs. By 1988, though, he’d also come to see the Dutch model of separate hash cafes as more do-able than outright legalization. He came to ACT UP hoping to get some ACT UP participation in the annual May parade. But he was shocked to see how many people he knew in ACT UP from Studio 10 days. The whole Bruce Brown generation was starting to drop dead of AIDS. But to ACT UP cynics, all the well-reasoned « Safe Drugs » manifestos of market-separation (which decreased new hard drugs addiction in Holland 40 %) and clean needles (which kept AIDS among i.v. drug u sers there at 2%, versus 67 % in New York City and Newark) only confirmed Dana’s status as an outsider who just wanted to push pot.
In 1988, the ACT UP i.v.-drug user interest group wouldn’t even intervene to save NYC’s pilot needle exchange program. It was firmly under the control of twelve-step drug-free types led by Richard Elovitch. When Chuck Eaton of the pilot Koch program came to them begging for support against Dinkin’s order shutting him down, they told him they considered clean needles to be « enabling addiction. » After his experience in the Greens, Dana made a mental note: For two years he would furnish no pot to anyone he met through ACT UP; he advised them to grow their own.
Anyone can join ACT UP by coming to three general meetings. If you don’t cultivate the support of substantial portion of the floor, though, your proposals don’t go anywhere. Because a former roommate of Mitch Halberstadt named Steve Ault had vouched f or YIP’s service in the gay movement, Dana was befriended by ACT UP founder Marty Robinson. But the first time Dana brought up Ibogaine to the floor as a means of interrupting addiction and the spread of AIDS, Marty came to him and warned him he could get ejected if he did it again. Ibogaine was much more offensive to the twelve-step faction than methadone. Methadone had no credibility: it’s addictive, whereas with just one treatment Ibogaine offers a 40 %t chance of complete recovery without depen dency on a twelve-step group for the rest of your life. Just one treatment.
But Dana is stubborn. In 1989, in the aftermath of Abbie’s suicide (due to a combination of cocaine and prozac), he decided to bypass Central Park and go straight to Fifth Aveue to Rangel’s office. Pope Mickey, backed by anarchists who charged Dana had forsaken pot legalization in favor of mere de-crim, [allegedly because he owned stock in Ibogaine !?] diverted the first one-fourth and the last half of the parade to Sheep’s Meadow, a quiet zone where there couldn’t be any sound equipment anyway– no rally. But the Pope had promised a pound of good weed if they could divert the parade to Sheep’s Meadow, and he was only interested in passing out the dial-a-joint number.
Dana responded by getting more into ACT UP, publishing a pamphlet entitled, « What Is the Safe Drugs Movement? » (with Mitch Halberstadt and Father Frank Morales, the squatter priest) which introduced Ibogaine into the context of Dutch harm reduction. But Ibogaine detractors made him so controversial that people from the Parade and ACT UP both were afraid of being blackballed for working with him. So when, in December 1989, Dana and Marty Robinson co-sponsored a « Safe Drugs » Conference up at 137th St. at City College with Dr. John Morgan, nobody fr om ACT UP came, and only a few people attended from the marijuana movement. (There was also a cold snap that weekend, and power on IRT the subway went out.)
The conference did endorse a new plan: the May 1990 Parade would start at Rangel’s Spanish Harlem offices (at East 109th) and come down town, stopping at the Partnership for a Drug Free America (666 Third Avenue), and ending up at Washington Square P ark. But the confab had another, unanticipated benefit: Dr. Morgan was Chairman of the CCNY Pharmacology Dept. He gave the assignment of seeing if Ibogaine would in fact interrupt drug dependency to his workaholic colleague Pat Broderick, a crack rat scientist.
Now cocaine makes you high more by blocking out negative feedback (perhaps this is related to blocking dopamine re-uptake) than by sensitizing you to positive feedback as LSD does. This is a tremendous problem when you get into a syndrome like sex-for-crack, because crackheads become numb to useful negative feedback, say– like soreness in the mucous membranes of the genitals. As old hippies say, « Numb is dumb. »
With re-uptake blocked, your neurons can’t produce another squirt of dopamine; and soon a couple of other neurotransmitters, nor-epinephrin (which makes you irritable and paranoid) and serotonin (which makes you more awake–aware of how paranoid and ir ritable you are) come crashing back, just when you feel like your plug has been pulled because your synapses can’t get up a squirt of DA.
Presto: the cocaine crash. You can solve this, temporarily, with another hit of crack. But each time makes it worse. Women who trade sex for crack may do it with twenty different partners a night, and since their negative feedback loops are out, they’ re indifferent to the need for condoms. Anyway, a condom costs more than a hit of crack.
This is very bad for the AIDS crisis.
In a little more than a year, Dr. Broderick would come back with tantalizing news: in her lab rats, Ibogaine was restoring dopamine in cocaine-habituated rats to normal levels, without depressing them completely, which would cause anhedonia (no pleasu re at all) and paralysis.
Dana’s next move, just after Christmas ’89, was to fly to Hamburg. Dana had already spoken to Hans-Georg Behr about Ibogaine when George stayed at #9 in late 1983, trying to find a publisher for his hemp book. Now Beal told George it was time to move I bogaine to the top of the agenda in Germany.
George’s political party, the Green Alternative Liste, controlled the Hamburg state government in coalition with the socialists. In Germany, like Holland and Switzerland, doctors have the right to use experimental therapies without govern-ment approval . George agreed to get the Hamburg Health Ministry to sponsor clinical trials. But somehow with the fall of East Germany (where George discovered indications the communists did their own Ibogaine trials in humans from ’85-88) approval was held up on the federal level, perhaps under U.S. prodding in the context of the overall trade-off for the absorption of the Eastern states.
Back in the U.S., Dana kept trying to get the VOICE to publish Max Cantor’s article. As the months went by, Max had to write three major updates. One that was never used was devoted to an attempt to get the badboy of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Johnny Thunders, to take Ibogaine. Thunders had approached Dana about doing his new single one the homeless at the annual RAR concert. But Dana, who was in touch with the whole scene of junkie musicians through John Spacely, refused to barge in a change the schedule unless Johnny backed Ibogaine–say, by being treated.
Thunders said yes, at first. But at the initial meeting with Sisko and Howard, he balked–he thought Ibogaine would be too much like LSD, which he didn’t like. He and Stive Bators and Cheetah were allon mucho methadone. By exaggerating his heroin habit, Cheetah claimed to have talked a program into giving him enough to get a full opiate high.
Spacely, on the other hand, was totally off smack, doing grat on pot. HIs giant Cartoon likeness, smoking a cigarette, was on a wall on St. Mark’s place–an ad for Lech’s movie, Gringo, which had premiered in the mid-80′s. Spacely constantly encouraged John Holmstrom and other Punk magazine alumnae who now put out High Times to run more about Ibogaine.
But the Voice still wouldn’t print Max’s story. To ratchet up the pressure, Beal had his friend Charlie Kritsky get an Ibogaine story published by the competition–THE VILLAGE BEAT. And knowing another VOICE writer was pushing yet another story (the same tired story) on Pope Michael, and that the VOICE prefers to throw coverage to advertizers, Dana thoughtfully purchased a large ad for the Safe Drugs Parade May 5. He knew that Pope Mickey was only interested in freeadvertising for dial-a-joint. The ad specified the parade began with an Ibogaine rally at Rangel’s office.
Yet the breakthrough came from one of the synchronicities that crop up regularly when Ibogaine is involved. On the morning of May 5, 1990, a few hours before the Safe Drugs Parade (going downtown) passed the Marijuana Parade (going uptown) at 42nd Street, Bob Sisko did his most important treatment yet: the founder of the Dutch junkie liberation movement. And videotaped it.
One day some months earlier Nico Adriaans, a community field worker for the Addiction Research Center was talking to Charlie Kaplan, the head of the center, which is part of Erasmus University in Rotterdam. And Kaplan mentioned Ibogaine. A little later, Nico was putzing around Kaplan’s desk, and he came across A Summary of Nine Case Histories , by Bob Sisko. Nico was fascinated, because besides being a salaried government worker, he was also an addict, doing three-fourths of a gram of high-g rade Dutch heroin a day. In fact, Nico was the founder of the Dutch Junkiebond (union), with a role parallel to Dana’s as founder of the marijuana movement in the United States.
So he asked Kaplan, What about this Ibogaine? Can you get any? Do you have to go to the States? And one day at the end of April 1990, he had an appointment with Sisko, which he didn’t know about, but was made by Charlie. And he told Sisko how, after the Dutch had acheived civil rights for potheads in 1976, the mayors of the four big cities in Holland–Amsterdam, Rotterdam, the Hague and Utrich–in 1979 came up with a proposal for forced therapy for heroin addicts. When they had to back down because of the outcry from civil liberties advocates, the mayors amended their proposal to lock in the kids who were using.
Nico’s background was organizing the other kids when he was in an orphanage, so he was against that also. He and some other friends on the junkie street scene put out a leaflet and got almost 100 addicts together for the founding meeting of the Junkie Bond. At the meeting they wrote down ideas for a manifesto for junkie liberation, and a separate bill of rights. And they composed a telegram, which they sent to the mayors, telling them the plan for civil commitment of users was unacceptable.
They began to crash meetings and hearings, to pressure city councils and the Health Ministry. But the cops still harassed the junkies, because in those days the dominant idea was still, as in the United States today, that you have to hound the addict, so he can’t feel safe and secure. First you have to break them down so they’re on the street as prostitutes or thieves–so they will « bottom out » sooner, andthen they will accept your therapy (which is so lame to begin with that it’s the last thing they would choose to do voluntarily).
Yet unlike junkies in the United States, who have historically aligned themselves with wealth or power or at least a cop in order to make a separate deal for themselves, the Junkie Bond made an alliance with the squatters movement. The squatters were very knowledgeable about real estate, and they had found out certain members of the Dutch criminal underworld had made a lot of money on heroin, and decided to get out of « the business » and into real estate. To wash the money, white as snow, they employed the services of a certain Schlauffenberg’s Bank.
So the junkies and the squatters got together and xeroxed the brightly colored Dutch currency into black and white (black money), and made up little bags of salt and talcum powder, which looked just like bags of dope. After tipping off the media, about 100 people went to the headquarters of the Schlauffenberg’s Bank and went running through the lobby and the halls throwing the little bags and the black money up in the air.
A funny thing happened. A few days later there was a big police raid on the headquarters building of the Schlauffenberg’s Bank. The cops found all sorts of illegal things, double books, proof of money-laundering. The Bank officers were all busted, but of course, not one of them did a single day in jail. After that, however, someone told the police to lay off the street junkies, and life became somewhat more tolerable.
At a certain point there were about twenty-five Junkie Bond locals in Holland, and a few in Germany, in Frankfurt and so-on. The first needle-exchange was set up by these groups, in 1981, to fight the spread of hepatitis. The first AIDS education in th e world was done by these groups. They formed an organization of parents of users; and from all the clergy, lawyers and social do-gooders who became involved, the Broad Front for the Reform of Drug Policy.
The government even gave the Junkie Bond a subsidy of 25,000 guilders a year. But as Dutch government employees, they were of course expected to get off dope. Because of international pressure, Dutch authorities still sought to de-tox methadone clients instead of giving them as much as they wanted. One of the first things the Junkie Bond did was to write a Black Book of the experiences of thirty-fix methadonians, how they were forced to cut down, etc. The struggle of the ’80s was pretty much to get the freedom to use.
Why, in this most liberal of all societies, would Nico Adriaans be looking for a better way to quit?
Cold turkey is the junkie’s regular companion, just as junk sickness is a part of their mornings. When the monkey on your back turns into a 600-pound gorilla, you have to cold turkey just to be able to afford your habit. Nico had tried to quit many times, but he couldn’t take withdrawal for long: « First you go on a holiday; then you think, ‘Just five more minutes,’ then you say, ‘Shit, it’s for the fishes.’ »
By the time he saw Sisko’s Nine Case Studies he was simply tired–really tired –of dope. « It’s not the running, because I hardly run. It’s not the stealing; I didn’t steal. It’s not the dope, ’cause I liked the dope–I had good time with it, bad times–but I just don’t like it anymore. »
So that he would know what to expect, Sisko had him read BWITI: An Ethnography of the Religious Imagination in Africa , by James F. Fernandez, especially Chapter 18, on the normal experience of initiates who eat the raw root bark of the Ta bernanthe iboga bush in Gabon.
The night before his treatment, he did up his last shot, about 150 milligrams of 50 %-pure Dutch heroin. Then he didn’t eat anything in the morning, he just had a little tea. Soon after the allergy dose (10 mg.), Nico did the first half of his Ibogaine, and within ten minutes recognized (as an LSD veteran) the first little vibrations. After the second half of his dose, thirty minutes later, he became aware that he no longer had any junk sickness. He noticed the edges of objects beginning to oscillate. He w as just asking for a cup of coffee when he became slightly confused; then suddenly his mind cleared: he knew.
« Certain sounds would suddenly become like synthesized voices, » he said later, « and I felt sea legs. So I went to bed, behind the curtain, trying to meet my ancestors… And then at a certain moment I lost all control of time, and it really banged into my head. »
He experienced the sensation of cosmic impact (but not pain) that the Bwiti call « the splitting of the skull. » And the visualizations began: « On the surface of my eyes, the moisture, like the surface of a bubble, started running all over each other, becoming blue, yellow, becoming blue, yellow, depending on how thick the tears were. And I laid down on the bed–very easy–and the people around me were very encou raging, understanding. »
But the rush was the most overwhelming of his life: « There you are–O God, O God, O God, God, God. Oh, man! What an experience, Ibogaine! » Behind the curtain, the room was darkened. « On the walls I saw things that could remember me on the original tradition, as how I have read it: in the images I saw, [archetypes] like the woman in the tent, the Priest…and it’s hard to explain, because you don’t know [in the Gnostic sense] anything anymore [now that you’ve come down] but I am certain…I be introduced by, by–shit!–by the Bwiti… »
Just to Whom he had difficulty even articulating, until interviewed again, nine months later, in Feb ’91:
« At the end of the visions, I really had, the only way how I can describe it is I had a meeting with God, or the Supreme Being.
« There was clouds. And it was blue. And then, up there somewhere, some sort of a rectangle opened up. And there came a lot of light… And all the time increasing, increasing, increasing… And it felt like, you know, there’s something impressive ther e.
« And then a Voice came to me, and said to me, asked: ‘Do you KNOW , now?’
« And I only could say (lowering voice): ‘Yes, I know now.’
« And then the Voice said: ‘So you know !‘ in a way it would say, like, ‘So you know ; ACT like it!’ »
Then there came a long phase where the visualizations were less and less, but he still thought a lot about those things; and then a period of nausea, but not like cold turkey, « which feels like your stomach is being scratched out, » but more like the purgative effects of the Ibogaine.
Finally, when the trip was mostly over, he experienced a bit of withdrawal–hot and cold flashes, sweat–but no running nose, no diarrhea, intestinal contractions or muscle clamps. Said Nico: « You’re still not totally in control of your body, your legs don’t want to move; you have to turn around in your bed all the time; you want to be left alone, you still don’t want to talk. »
Most of all Nico is amazed, when Sisko interviews him on video, when he realizes two and a half days have gone by and he feels no need to go out and score dope.
He relishes the taste of a cup of coffee. He’s been up for forty-eight hours, and yawning, so he tries to steady himself with a cigarette. And after one drag, he tries to spit the taste out of his mouth and throws it out the window!
The tobacco tastes terrible. It’s sickening. Nicotine and heroin, remember, have exactly the same effect on dopamine receptors (increased rate of neuronal firing–Glick). With Nico’s tobacco « tolerance » stripped away, nicotine is sickening enough to overwhelm any pleasurable tobacco taste. His pattern of rolling a cigarette whenever he starts to fiddle with his hands is undisturbed. The nicotine lives up to his expectation that it will « focus’ him to finish the interview (indeed, with a single drag, much less than usual). But Nico has inadvertently kicked cigarettes, despite only intending to quit heroin.
Not only that, during his truncated withdrawal, his girlfriend came, and they made a date for him to slip out and do some dope. But at the appointed time he couldn’t summon up that familiar craving he’d been using to organize his daily existence for all of his adult life: « The Ibogaine let me stay in the bed…. I couldn’t want to go out. »
Four times he repeats parts of a poem, by Ginpo Zenzi, which exactly expresses the futility of fighting withdrawals with dope:
« It is a simple fact:
Whatever you resist, will persist.
If you are resisting suffering, you suffer more.
If you are trying to deny your confusion, you remain confused.
If you are striving for peace ,you find yourself constatly disturbed.
If you are seeking after clarity, you are in a muddle.
If you do not want to be angry, you are going to walk around angry.
If you do not mind being angry, you will never be bothered by anger.
Because you will constantly be pushing it away.
Having no options, For or Against,
Just being open to whatever comes,
You are free. »
He cautioned that Ibogaine is an ordeal; but as to whether it should be developed as a cure for addiction, Nico said: « Yes. »
« I think that drug use…is a part of humanity. Throughout the history of mankind, over the whole globe, all continents, every people, every nation–has, have had–and is developing new drugs, or mind-altering states. And so I think it is very important, what you have done now here in my case, to write a good report, about how you recruited, who you met, what the problems were. »
Nico was a convert. He took to wearing dashikis and studying Jung. And Sisko left him with a small supply of Ibogaine. After treating Josien Harms, his girlfriend, the two of them decided to put Ibogaine to the hardest test. What would happen if they gave Ibogaine to worst-case junkies in Amsterdam’s Central Railroad Station, with no Bwiti information, no orientation beyond « Take this, it will stop withdrawal. »?
They gave it to a methadonian couple who were doing heroin also. The man was doing 180 milligrams of methadone a day (three times the normal U.S. dose). The woman believed she was possessed by devils, and was on anti-psychotic medication for that. At f irst Howard was disappointed when he heard the man was still on 30 milligrams of methadone after Ibogaine.
« Au contraire, » said Nico.
« The people running the methadone program had never seen anyone go from 180 to 30 milligrams in one jump. It would be fatal. Best of all, the woman discontinued thorazine. She no longer believes she is possessed by devils. »
Nico and Josien went on to spread the gospel of Ibogaine throughout the junkie liberation scene of Europe, although they found 70 % of the movement considered it to be a diversion from the basic goal of legalizing heroin. But back in the Unite d States, the videotape of Nico’s treatment, which Dana spent months laboriously re-editing, turned out to be the key that unlocked support among both AIDS activists and the legalization movement. Dana sent hundreds of copies of it all over the world.
One of the first to see it, raw and unedited in Sisko’s living room, was the VOICE writer Max Cantor. Now he really started hassling his editors, and the combination of that pressure and the purchase of a VOICE ad for the May 5th Safe Drugs de mo, led on June 4, 1990, to the production of MIRACLE CURE.. It was Dana’s first big media score for Ibogaine, and he scarcely cared that Max, for « balance, » repeated the anarchist canard that he owned « hundreds of thousands of dollars in Ibogain e stock. »[Hundreds of thousands of stock in a company with a capitalization at the time of $600,000 would leave nothing for the twenty-six actual investors! In truth, Dana realized in 1988 that stock ownership would undermine his effectiveness as a public heal th advocate, just as taking Ibogaine would open him up to charges he was a Timothy Leary who wanted to legalize his favorite drug. He could be faulted for having a political agenda, but not a hidden one. He made no secret of his belief that Ibogaine cou ld plug the gaping hole in AIDS prevention efforts caused by the deficit of treatment for addicts.]
Two weeks later Nelson Mandela landed at Kennedy Airport. At the last minute a stop–the first speaking engagement on his U.S. tour–had been added at Brooklyn Boys and Girls High School. Because ROCK AGAINST RACISM was the only one with the equipment to do it on such short notice, the T.K. Forcade rock and roll assault sound stage was pressed into service, and Dana ended up being one of the roadies.
When Mandela was done with his speech, Dana tapped him on the back with a copy of the VILLAGE BEAT article (he’d given away all the VOICE reprints). As Mandela turned to see what it was, the security on stage in front of the two of them parted. The mom ent was captured on television all over the city: Dana Beal handing Nelson Mandela the Ibogaine information. They shook hands. And then, gesturing to the piece of paper but encompassing the stage, ROCK AGAINST RACISM, the Staten Island Project, the entire organization he’d spent his life building since 1965, Dana said: « We worked for twenty-five years on this. »