The conversation about psychedelics is evolving at a rapid rate. An ever-growing cohort of research is investigating the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. Since the conversation is quickly changing and psychedelics are en route to being normalized, many recent documentaries seek to explain the background of psychedelics and explore the potential benefits of these potent compounds.
PEx’s picks for the 13 top psychedelics documentaries are:
- 1. Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychedelic Medicines
- 2. AYA: Awakenings
- 3. Dirty Pictures
- 4. Journeys to the Edge of Consciousness
- 5. Fantastic Fungi
- 6. DMT: The Spirit Molecule
- 7. A New Understanding: The Science of Psilocybin
- 8. The Sunshine Makers
- 9. Reconnect
- 10. Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey
- 11. The Substance: Albert Hofmann’s LSD
- 12. Dosed
- 13. Inside LSD
Read on to discover highlights and features of each documentary, as well as a brief synopsis of each listing.
1. Neurons to Nirvana: Understanding Psychedelic Medicines
This documentary explores the evidence supporting the therapeutic benefits of psychedelic substances. The documentary includes interviews with several individuals who are involved with psychedelic research as well as psychologists and award-winning authors on the subject. The film includes commentary on LSD, psilocybin, cannabis, ayahuasca, and MDMA, and works to look at these substances in the context of current knowledge and research.
2. AYA: Awakenings
AYA: Awakenings explores Amazonian shamanism, and is adapted from a book by Taz Razam titled Aya: A Shamanic Odyssey. The documentary explores the modern business of ayahuasca shamanism as it relates to “spiritual tourism” and how this industry clashes with the traditional view of shamanism. In this documentary, the narrator takes viewers on a discovery of the indigenous medicine of ayahuasca. He sets out with the intention of educating the world about shamanism, but in the process, he discovers western tourists heading to the same place to experience the journey. This documentary is available to view online here.
3. Dirty Pictures
Dirty Pictures investigates the life and work of Alexander Shulgin. Shulgin is a scientist who created over 200 psychotropic compounds, including MDMA. This documentary explores how and why people use drugs, both prescribed and recreational. The movie also covers some of the spiritual aspects of psychedelics as well as the psychotherapy aspects of MDMA and current ongoing research in the medical field. Shulgin passed away in 2014, but this documentary gives viewers a peek into his life, including his motivations for his life’s work.
4. Journeys to the Edge of Consciousness
This animated film, written, directed, and produced by Rob Harper, follows the stories of Timothy Leary, Alan Watts, and Aldous Huxley and their life-changing psychedelic experiences. The film frames these historically significant journeys within an ongoing conversation with twelve major thinkers in the psychedelic world, including Graham Hancock, Gabor Mate, and Dennis McKenna. The film focuses on what can be learned about the world, ourselves, and how we fit into the world around us. To buy or rent this film online, look here.
5. Fantastic Fungi
This documentary, produced and directed by Louie Schwartzberg, is a film that shows viewers what the fungi kingdom has to offer, in ecological terms. The documentary explores the importance of mushrooms when it comes to the balance of all life on earth, suggesting that fungi are part of the natural world’s method for healing itself. The film suggests psychedelic mushrooms are related to human evolution, and the properties possessed by psychedelic mushrooms can solve modern problems. To buy or rent the film, click here.
6. DMT: The Spirit Molecule
Dimethyltryptamine (DMT), also known as the “spirit molecule,” is a psychedelic tryptamine compound that can be made in a lab, but it occurs naturally in many plants. This classic documentary, based on the book of the same name, follows the story of Dr. Rick Strassman’s fascinating DMT research in humans, with its various highs and lows. The documentary digs deep into the scientific and spiritual effects of DMT and examines the fascinating experiences of the human subjects of Strassman’s trials.
7. A New Understanding: The Science of Psilocybin
Psilocybin mushrooms are psychedelic mushrooms that contain the compound psilocybin. Psilocybin is found in over 200 different types of mushrooms. This film explores new research and findings related to the benefits of psilocybin, including the vast medical and therapeutic potential of these magic mushrooms. The film also explores sensitive subjects, such as end-of-life anxieties, in those with terminal cancer as well as death therapy.
8. The Sunshine Makers
The Sunshine Makers tells the story of Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully during the counterculture of the 1960s. The two renegade chemists had a shared goal of using LSD to save the planet, and they created a tremendous amount of acid in the 1960s, all while dodging the cops and trying to save the world. The film is set in current times while reflecting the past, and chronicles key figures in the history of psychedelics.
This is a full-length documentary that explores the journey of Brian Rose as he travels to Costa Rica to be a part of ceremonies that include the psychedelic plant brew, ayahuasca. Brian sets out on his quest because he feels disconnected from his world and wishes to change that feeling. After three different ceremonies that have a transformational impact, Brian goes home to realize the life-changing and painful work that follows to integrate those experiences into a new view of self and the world.
10. Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey
In this film, Peter von Puttkamer reveals a plethora of interesting facts regarding psychedelics, including how peyote and similar substances have been used for spiritual and religious purposes in indigenous cultures for thousands of years. Puttkamer also notes how these compounds made their way into the drug counterculture with the help of the CIA and musical artists. This documentary sheds light on the history of psychedelics throughout human history.
11. The Substance: Albert Hofmann’s LSD
This documentary is the story of how Albert Hofmann discovered LSD. The story includes detailed accounts of Hofmann’s accidental discovery and how he first experimented with this drug on himself. From those experiences, many questions and possibilities were raised regarding the potential of psychedelics. A must-watch for anyone interested in the history of psychedelics and psychedelic culture.
This 2019 documentary, directed by Tyler Chandler, centers around the filmmaker’s friend, who is a drug addict seeking recovery by using psychedelics. This documentary follows a six-month journey in which the narrator begins using psilocybin mushrooms to relieve her substance addiction. She starts with a low dose before moving to a therapeutic dose for relief. Eventually, the narrator turns to a retreat where she tries iboga, an African psychoactive root. Through several days of grueling and transformative psychedelic experiences, she works through her addiction. Viewers can rent or buy this movie directly from the Dosed Movie website here.
13. Inside LSD
This film, from National Geographic, explores how renewed research in psychedelics is changing lives for patients in clinical trials, as well as researchers. The program interviews several professionals in the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) as well as a subject in one of the studies. A viewing of this film can be found here, at the National Geographic website.
As the science revolving around psychedelics continues to evolve, scientists and society are learning more about the profound impact psychedelics can bring to the world and the people who live in it. These documentaries illustrate how psychedelics increase the spiritual connection to the world for many users.