It’s often said that culture doesn’t change without first changing the conversation.
But what starts the conversation? More often than not, it’s the media we consume: The code that writes the operating systems of our minds.
At Trends w/ Benefits, we're committed to exploring conversations around psychedelics. And no, we’re not over here just shouting from the rooftops that if we all knock back a McKenna-esque heroic dose, the world’s problems will be solved. The new psychedelic conversation underscores preparation and integration—as much as the trip itself—and we're just over here taking notes.
Psychedelics, when used responsibly, have an unrivaled potential to transform us. We’ve seen it in mud team members, we’ve seen it in our communities and, more recently, we’ve seen the mainstream media sit up and take note (thanks in part to celebs like Demi Lovato, Mike Tyson and Miley Cyrus going public about their own psychedelic experiences). Of course, the scientific community is cautiously optimistic about the healing potential of MDMA, psilocybin and other psychedelic compounds, but if we’re honest, it’s the media that is driving the narrative forward. For better or worse, it always is.
So with that in mind, we offer up a dose of worthwhile media that can help you to carry the conversation forward in your own life. The films below all offer well-sourced starting points to open up—and even change—the conversation around psychedelics in your community.
Get watching. Start talking.
Fantastic Fungi (2019)
Does nature have an intelligence of its own? That’s the question “Fantastic Fungi” sets out to answer. Roughly split into two sections—the first looking at the intelligence of the global mycelial network, the second diving deeper into the history and nature of psychedelic mushrooms—”Fantastic Fungi” heavily leans on mycologist Paul Stamets’ expertise and guidance in its storytelling. If you haven’t yet heard him tell the story of how a mushroom trip in the middle of a chaotic electrical storm helped him overcome his crippling childhood stutter, it’s worth a watch for that alone.
Watch it: "Fantastic" Fungi is available to stream on Netflix.
Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s hard to escape North America’s opioid epidemic in Canada’s West Coast jewel, especially in the four-block section known as the Downtown Eastside.
Following one woman’s journey to recovery from heroin addiction, “DOSED” shows how current healthcare systems are failing our most vulnerable in an epic fashion, and how taking the underground route is a last-ditch effort for many to escape their demons.
Want more? Golden Teacher Films is working on two follow-up films to build out a trilogy. The first, “DOSED 2,” is set to examine how the recently-approved legal use of psilocybin to treat palliative care patients is helping those facing imminent death come to terms with existential dread.
Watch it: Available to rent now on Amazon Prime, Apple TV and other platforms. Check out the film’s website for links.
Magic Medicine (2018)
With unprecedented access, “Magic Medicine” sees filmmaker Monty Wates go behind the curtain on the first ever medical trials using psilocybin to treat patients with clinical depression. Joining Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris and his team at Imperial College London, Wates’ film focuses on three trial participants that have offered themselves up as guinea pigs, documenting their experiences along the way.
As Dr. Carhart-Harris says in support of the film, “Psilocybin therapy is a particularly complex treatment model, however it’s not just a matter of giving people some magic mushrooms and hoping for a miracle. I felt it was important for people to see the treatment’s complexity for themselves, so its subtleties could be appreciated.”
Watch it: Rent it now on Vimeo. Even better, organize a screening on your block.
The Last Shaman (2016)
Directed by Raz Degan, “The Last Shaman” is the story of James Freeman, a man suffering, like many, from incurable depression and the constant thought of suicide. Following his journey to the Amazon basin in search of ayahuasca, Freeman’s journey isn’t neatly tied up in a bow at the end … but it does show a transformation that allows for a deeper understanding of self.
“The Last Shaman” dropped right when ayahuasca fever was taking over the West, but it somehow got lost in the conversation along the way. It’s a difficult watch and for its protagonist, all is not cured, but Freeman’s experience is illuminating nonetheless.
Watch it: Available for streaming on Netflix.
Offering a comprehensive look at the wild history of psychedelics in Western society—covering everything from Albert Hofmann’s LSD bicycle trip, right through the war on drugs and up to the present day—”Psychedelia …” is a great place to start for the absolutely clueless. Leaning heavily into the mystical aspect of the psychedelic experience, it features commentary from MAPS Founder Rick Doblin and a who’s-who of researchers and psychiatrists working in the field.
Watch it: Currently screening as part of nationwide grassroots campaign. Find out how to host your own screening.
Currently on its final crowdfunding round, “The Psychedelic Renaissance” is set to take a wider look at the reemergence of psychedelics in culture, not just its therapeutic use. However its scientific chops are not to be discredited. Featuring Dr Rosalind Watts, clinical lead at the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London, Amanda Feilding, founder of The Beckley Foundation and more, “The Psychedelic Renaissance” looks set to be a big conversation starter in the year ahead.
Watch it: Help the producers get the film over the line—head to their donation page and throw them a dollar or two.
And for balance, here’s one that’s more of a cautionary tale …
Shane Mauss is a comedian. He’s also what many would consider an experienced psychonaut … and that’s putting it lightly.
In his feature-length 2018 documentary, Mauss set out on a mission to show and describe the effects of different types of psychedelics permeating through our culture—everything from psilocybin mushrooms to DMT and ayahuasca.
The problem is, when you’re setting out to make a film where you’re tripping on camera, it’s probably best to spread the filming out a bit. Else you might just find yourself (spoiler alert) ending up in a psychiatric ward. Mauss has spoken openly since the film’s release about how it isn’t what he set out to make and documented the after-story on multiple podcasts, but “Psychonautics …” still has its place in the conversation, if only to offer an argument for safe protocols and repeatable methodologies when working with psychedelics.
Watch it: “Psychonautics …” is available on YouTube, Amazon Prime and Vimeo (depending on where you live).
Read more: Talking to Kids about Psychedelics
Read more: Healing with Psilocybin
Read more: Rethinking the Road to Recovery
Andy Ritchie is MUD\WTR and Trends w/ Benefits' Assistant Editor. Header image by Gaspar Uhas via Unsplash.