Documentaries combine the power of a story with the realism of life. They can be a potent examination and statement on any topic, including addiction and recovery.
There have been a number of powerful documentaries made on the tragic consequences of dependency and the difficult yet inspiring moments of rehabilitation. Michael Cain and Matt Radecki's 2006 'TV Junkie', chronicling 'Inside Edition' reporter Rick Kirkham's addiction to crack cocaine, is one of the grittier and tragic ones that springs to mind.
As 'Trainspotting' probably taught you, the hardest part of quitting heroin is getting through the withdrawals. That's why doctors prescribe methadone to users - the idea is to placate's the body's intense physiological need for heroin. Of course, methadone is an opiate itself, so it doesn't actually nullify the cravings. It simply takes the body much longer to metabolise than heroin so users can enjoy a functioning life between hits. There is, however, a drug that has been shown to kill both cravings and withdrawals and isn't an opiate. It's just that the drug is a highly controversial, illegal, and psychotropic plant.
'Dosed', from filmmakers Tyler Chandler and Nicholas Meyers, follows the attempts of the two men to help their friend Adrianne (the spitting image of actress Zosia Mamet), a self-described "garbage can" addict who is attempting to break free of a long struggle with various substances, mostly heroin and methadone.
The young woman does not fit the media stereotype of long-term addiction: she's attractive, has friends, and used to work at a law firm. She isn't living rough on the streets of a fast-paced city - 'Dosed' is set in Vancouver, Canada, and Chandler's camera focuses on serene lakes and towering mountain tops. But even amongst this beatific natural scenery, societal rot has spread. This is accompanied by an assemblage of uncomfortably intimate footage which is utterly compelling and memorable.
Adrianne has exhausted her reserves of strength after years of the same ineffective - and costly - conventional treatments in her journey to sobriety. When she confides to Chandler that the endless M.C. Escher staircase of addiction, rehab and relapse has left her with suicidal thoughts, her friend mentions that he's heard something about the success of psychedelic drugs in treating addiction. She wants to try them and, because clinical access to such therapy seems out of reach, they attempt an improvised version - with Adrianne taking psilocybin while Chandler and Meyers film the experience. Watching them guessing a dosage, while Adrianne frets that the mushrooms might have an adverse impact on her fragile mental state, initially makes you question the intentions of the documentary and whether the two men aren't completely out of their depth.
As someone who knows nothing about psychedelics, this was an eye-opener. Psilocybin is the psychoactive compound in some 200 species of mushroom that cause humans to hallucinate and explore an altered consciousness. It has the potential to help people manage and even eliminate addictions to more dangerous drugs, primarily opioids like heroin and fentanyl.
Adrianne later connects with M.A.P.S. Canada and an underground community of healthcare professionals who offer psychedelics as a treatment for psychological ailments at low-key locations throughout Metro Vancouver. The 'Dosed' filmmakers shot hundreds of hours of footage, including interviews with experts like M.A.P.S. Founder and Executive Director Rick Doblin.
Like most stories of addiction, Adrianne's path in 'Dosed' is not a straight line from addiction to recovery - far from it. She finds herself pushed and pulled between conventional medicine and "plant" medicine. We watch Adrianne vomit morphine tablets onto a footpath and then carefully wrap them in a hanky for later use. We see her at her lowest, manipulative and angry. "At the end of the day you have not lived addiction," Adrianne tearfully states during a heated exchange with the filmmakers.
We watch Adrianne vomit morphine tablets onto a footpath and then carefully wrap them in a hanky for later use. We see her at her lowest, manipulative and angry. "At the end of the day you have not lived addiction," Adrianne tearfully states.
She begins supervised treatment with not only psilocybin, but also other psychedelics. They find that while psilocybin has helped Adrianne with anxiety and depression, she's still struggling with her physical dependence on heroin. Garyth Moxey, founder of Inner Realms Center and a graduate of the Orenda Institute's psychedelic-psychotherapy fundamentals program, and Mark Howard, co-founder of IbogaSoul Shamanic Healing, take the lead on Adrianne's treatment. Howard recommends she transition from psilocybin to a more powerful psychedelic: iboga, a central African shrub that contains the psychoactive compound ibogaine.
Ibogaine's exact effects are still poorly understood, save for the fact that it drastically reduces heroin cravings while sending users on a dissociative trip that lasts up to 72 hours. This last aspect is why ibogaine has gained a new-age following much as peyote has. Often confused with a hallucinogen, people in ethno-chemistry circles refer to ibogaine as an oneirogenic, a substance that causes lucid dreams. The experience is reputed to be extremely intense and forces long, often painful, periods of self-reflection. In Australia, ibogaine is classified as a "schedule 4" drug, meaning it can't be imported or administered without a license granted by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
If there is one overwhelming impression you get from 'Dosed', it's the honesty and sincerity of everyone involved. Adrianne allows the filmmakers full access to her life, the underground clinicians practising psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy go on-camera to publicly share their participation in illegal activities, and the film spares no punches in its scathing assessment of a "big-pharma" medical system that profits handsomely from addiction.
If there is any fault to be found in 'Dosed', it's that its rhetoric is unchallenged and one-sided in its attempt to encourage the adoption of psychedelic drugs, including magic mushrooms and iboga, in the rehabilitation process. There have been reported deaths during ibogaine therapy - the ibogaine trip is so intense that it places your body under the same stress as nearly dying. But in the face of opioid epidemics and the scourge of addiction worldwide, the fact that the documentary throws out a possible lifeline, if only for viewers to ponder over, is to be applauded.
Harrowing, engrossing, brave and profoundly personal, 'Dosed' approaches the question of psychedelic healing from a compassionate and hopeful perspective.