The Psychedelic 12 Step: Will It Work For You?
Sometimes a last resort is really a last resort. An all or nothing proposition that either saves you or allows you to be broken. That’s what the Psychedelic 12 Step was for Dmitri M. Then again, when you spend 20 years addicted to heroin and you’ve just lost your significant other, a last resort is pretty much all you’re looking for — and all you need.
The Ibogaine Experience
Dmitri had had it. Twenty years of heroin. Longtime partner gone. No opportunities. Even less hope. He “was ready to finally let the drugs carry him away, like an undertow,” writes Rolling Stone‘s Jonathan Reiss. “He planned to take a trip to Greece as a last goodbye to his ancestral homeland.”
Then he recalled learning about a certain addiction-busting psychedelic. So, figuring he also owed himself one last resort, Dmitri “scheduled a brief detour in the Netherlands to be treated with this so-called miracle drug.” That drug was Ibogaine. The alkaloid extract has long been ceremonially used by Gabon’s Bwiti people, and Westerners have been using it to kick opioid addiction for decades. But the drug was almost impossible to find in the United States. It was illegal.
Ibogaine worked. In fact, it worked wonders. Oh, Dmitri still “found himself tossing and turning, sweating and vomiting.” That’s to be expected when you’re “processing 40 years of trauma and guilt.” But true hardcore opiate withdrawal? Not so much. Not so much at all. When Dmitri came out of the Ibogaine haze, he was clean.
Dmitri still went on to Greece though. To the North Aegean island of Icaria, if you’d like to know. But he didn’t go to end it all. He went to celebrate his brand new lease on life.
The Psychedelic 12 Step Advocate
From that time on Dmitri was a bona fide convert. In fact, so fully did Dmitri believe in the Ibogaine Experience that he began administering it himself. That’s right. Dmitri started treating addicts in hotel rooms all across New York City. The treatment came with a warning though. Ibogaine will get you clean. But you’re going to need AA or NA if you want to stay clean.
Hardcore Twelve-Steppers weren’t very amused by this new Psychedelic 12 Step. Not that they had issues with the addicts themselves, mind you. Not really. But AA and NA were Big A Abstinence Only. And that meant members abstained from all drugs. Even psychedelics.
Authorities weren’t too keen on Dmitri’s doings either. Not once they found out anyway. That of course took a rat. An addicted rat on the DEA payroll at that. Dmitri had been referred to the man by a doctor and treatment provider out of Bellingham, Washington. He needed Dmitri’s help. Ironically, the treatment provider said she only referred folks “when all else fails.” In other words, as a last resort. Furthermore, she allegedly insisted that without this treatment “the informant would have died.”
That’s how investigative Northwesterner Levi Pulkkinen reported it in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer back in 2011. By this time though Dmitri had taken on the role of a shaman. And between the illegality, the illicitness and the just plain strange (to authorities anyway), the Feds weren’t having it. So they set up a sting, lured Dimitri across the country and arrested him. The Feds apparently didn’t know what to incarcerate anybody with though, so they let him go. Three years later Dmitri pleaded out on a simple misdemeanor.
What neither the Feds — nor the rat — took into consideration was the rigor in which Dmitri administered Ibogaine to his charges. Not only does Dmitri attend to the proceedings with a Bwiti believer’s spiritual seriousness, but he spends days holed up with his wards, “comforting, cleaning, encouraging people, holding their hand if they get afraid, or [even] singing them songs.”
“I don’t know that I had much business doing this,” Dmitri told Reiss, “but I’m not sure I had any less business than anyone doing this at Johns Hopkins or NYU or any of the training programs around the country. I would say as a dope fiend and as someone with holistic experience, maybe I could relate to folks in a way that they couldn’t.”
Indeed. Dimitri also identifies with what’s called a “wounded healer.” The term, originally coined by Carl Jung, is used for someone who has overcome a malady and in turn helps others overcome it as well. In other words, a whole lot like a 12 Step Sponsor.
Following Bill’s Footsteps
If naysayers would take a considered look at the Psychedelic 12 Step they’d see it has very much in common with Bill W.’s core beliefs, as well as AA’s agenda. As Reiss so keenly reminds us, the whole “wounded healer” archetype is in many ways the underlying ethos of the 12 Step phenomenon. At AA though, the guide is simply called a “sponsor.” But their duties remain the same. Especially their 12th Step duties. Because “having had a spiritual awakening,” it’s imperative they carry the message to other alcoholics.
But first, that all-important spiritual awakening. It’s sobriety’s key ingredient. Bill W. knew that. So did Carl Jung. That’s why the genius Swiss psychologist counseled Rowland Hazard to head out and have himself a “vital spiritual experience” when he sought help kicking alcohol. And that’s why Hazard joined the gentleman charismatists known as The Oxford Group. It’s why Bill W. joined the group too. And as all AA acolytes well know, Alcoholics Anonymous is a whole lot like The Oxford Group, albeit with severely loosened their Bible belts.
AA acolytes also know that a heaping, hurting helping of depression stood between Bill W. and his own spiritual experience. That’s why AA’s main man dropped acid back in 1956. Bill being Bill though, he did it under the guidance of author/philosopher Gerald Heard and LSD researcher Dr. Sidney Cohen. This was long before America’s War on Drugs, of course, so LSD was still legal. The drug was also still in a position to be helpful. Extremely helpful. To the too few who could get to it anyway. It certainly helped Bill W.
But naysayers say “Nay,” whether they’ve real reason to or not. And hardcore abstinents said “Nay, Nay, Nay.” When LSD was eventually linked to hippies and outlawed, they also said “I told you so.” And until Ibogaine started sneaking out of the African forests a couple decades ago, the Psychedelic 12 Step was basically dead.
But no matter how hard the naysayers tried, they couldn’t completely obliterate Bill W.’s footsteps. How could they? Legions upon legions follow in those 12 footsteps each and every day. So it only makes sense that someone would also elect to follow one of his side steps too.
A New Day Dawns
Let’s let Reiss pick it up from here:
By 2016, Dimitri was administering Iboga outside of the U.S. as well as psychedelics like MDMA for behavioral issues other than addiction. Psychedelic conferences began hiring him as a speaker. Soon enough, he found himself interacting with more and more people who were sober and active in 12 Step programs, but who also regularly took psychedelics to engage with their spirituality. Much like Bill W., they didn’t view it as taking a drug or as a breach of abstinence, but rather as medicine. Along with a few like-minded people in recovery he formed Psychedelics in Recovery — or PIR — the first 12 Step group to emphasize psychedelics as a tool for recovery from addiction.
Talk about following in Bill W.’s footsteps! For some reason though, PIR never really took off. Then Covid came, and meetings got shut down altogether. Oddly enough, it was the best thing that could happen to PIR — and to the Psychedelic 12 Step. With time on their hands, like minds were free to find each other. They also had time for robust and meaningful exchanges. There they all learned that this was no half-assed 12 Step program like, say, “California Sober.” No, this was honest to goodness enlightened recovery. If anything, Psychedelic 12 Steppers were even more watchful in where and how they Stepped. Perhaps they wanted to prove something — to themselves, as well as to others. Or maybe, just maybe, they’d finally found a way that works.
Dimitri told Rolling Stone that the insight psychedelics provide into personal growth has been a saving grace for many who had otherwise plateaued in AA/NA. “There are so many people in 12-step groups whose lives have been saved by [AA],” he says. “But for those who come in 15 years later — deeply depressed, suicidal, or unable to make the next move — there’s an opportunity to find a deeper recovery. A richer recovery.”
That in itself is cause for true celebration. Add the fact that studies claim Ibogaine efficacy rates are as high as 40% and the reason is further compounded. Dmitri urges caution though. Numbers can be deceiving. And rushing off ill-informed won’t get us anywhere. Yes, that’s right, the ultimate advocate is also a staunch realist. Or, more to the point, he’s someone who clearly relies on cold hard truth. Then again, why wouldn’t he be? Dmitri is stone cold sober.
Healing Properties salutes Dmitri on his efforts, as well as his tenacity. The Psychedelic 12 Step will one day legally hit the States; with his help that one day may come sooner than we can even hope. We also thank Dmitri for so selflessly devoting himself to sobriety — his and others.’
Speaking of Thanks… mad gratitude must also go to Jonathan Reiss and Rolling Stone for providing such an enlightening spur. If you care at all about addiction and recovery, head on over and read Reiss’s entire piece. You shan’t be disappointed.
And if by chance you could use some help yourself, please pick up the phone and give us a ring. There are all kinds of treatment options, and if we can’t provide something suitable we’d be glad to point you in the right direction. In fact, we’d be honored. Really.