The new documentary Dosed, which comes to the Santa Cruz Film Festival on Oct. 13, is an intense and personal take on the rapidly expanding phenomenon of therapeutic psychedelics, which many people here are already aware of thanks to the pioneering work of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (M.A.P.S.)
Indeed, M.A.P.S. plays a key role in the film, when filmmakers Tyler Chandler and Nicholas Meyers stumble onto the Canadian branch of the organization while attempting to help their friend Adrianne, who is attempting to break free of a long struggle with heroin addiction.
But it’s what happens before the trio is introduced to M.A.P.S. that provides a wild introduction to Adrianne’s journey early in the film. After she confides to Chandler that the soul-deadening cycle of addiction, rehab and relapse has left her with suicidal thoughts, Chandler mentions that he’s heard something about the success of psychedelic drugs in treating addiction. She wants to try it, and because clinical access to such therapy seems out of reach, they attempt a DIY version—with Adrianne taking psilocybin while Chandler and Meyers film the experience. Chandler, who directed and co-produced the film, explains now that it was really an act of desperation; he had always thought that if someone came to him with a problem like Adrianne’s, he would recommend something traditional, like a suicide hotline or professional medical help. Except that in this case, he already knew that hadn’t worked.
“Adrianne had been through all of that and then some, with doctors prescribing her various medications,” Chandler says. “So I had just heard about [psychedelic treatment], and it was sort of offhand, like ‘Have you ever tried this?’ And that kind of opened up Pandora’s Box.”
Watching them jerry-rig this experiment based on guessing a dose—and without any expert guidance for Adrianne—is a bit harrowing. But that was kind of the point of including it, says co-producer Meyers, who also worked on everything from cinematography to editing for the documentary.
“It’s sad that that’s the process that people have to undertake when they’re curious about this medicine. They need to take matters into their own hands, because there’s not opportunities to get it in a safe setting,” Meyers says. “So what you see in the film is kind of a very gritty and real version of what a lot of people go through—and will go through until this is institutionalized, and there are opportunities for people to get the proper health care that they need through psychedelic healing.”
At the time, though, the filmmakers knew hardly anything about these issues, and though they did a lot of research and prep for Adrianne’s experience, didn’t know if it would do any good at all. They certainly didn’t know they were on their way to making a film about the healing power of psychedelics.
“It didn’t seem mainstream enough or in the news enough to give me and Nick confidence that it would work. We didn’t know that it can and will work,” says Chandler. “We thought, ‘Well, we might just film, and it won’t make any difference, and then we’ll just stop and try to help Adrienne in some other way.’ But it turned out that first dose of mushrooms she took really helped her with her suicidal thoughts and depression.”
Adrianne does later connect with M.A.P.S. Canada and other groups, and begin supervised treatment with not only psilocybin, but also other psychedelics like ibogaine. The Dosed filmmakers shot hundreds of hours of footage, including interviews with experts like M.A.P.S. Founder and Executive Director Rick Doblin.
“He’s a cool, cool guy, super chill,” says Chandler. “And he’s very, very busy. We feel fortunate that we got him in the film.”
Like most stories of addiction, Adrianne’s path in Dosed is not a straight line from addiction to recovery—far from it. The filmmakers found it tricky sometimes to navigate when to film and when not to, especially during a nearly catastrophic development that comes well into the documentary.
“By the time we got to that, we thought there was a light at the end of the tunnel. And then there’s this huge snag, and obviously we were concerned for her, and we offered to stop filming, if that was necessary,” says Chandler. “We actually offered that several times.”
“And there were times we got taken up on that offer,” says Meyers.
“Yeah,” says Chandler. “Because filming people in this particular situation is actually not helpful at all for someone’s healing and recovery. We balanced it the best we could. Mark [Howard of Ibogasoul] and the whole team at Ibogasoul were very accommodating, but there were some days that they were like, ‘Guys, we need to spend some time with her. No filming today.’”
But the end result is a documentary that approaches the question of psychedelic healing from an angle unlike that of any previous film. At the SCFF screening of Dosed on Sunday, Oct. 13, there will be a Q&A with the filmmakers and representatives from M.A.P.S. Dosed has been at five festivals so far, and won two awards. And Chandler and Meyers have heard from many people who saw the film—or even just the trailer for the film—and thanked them for giving them their first introduction to psychedelic healing. For the filmmakers, too, making Dosed has been a revelation.
“We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” says Chandler. “We didn’t know that this whole world of plant medicine and using psychedelics in a therapeutic context existed. It exists quite strongly all around the world. You see it in a different light, you shake off the stigma of the failed war on drugs, and all of that. And looking back, everything that was set in motion saved Adrianne from certain doom. Because there’s no other way off of these opioids, really. Doctors are trying to prescribe more methadone, and that’s causing many bad side effects. In most cases, people are using on top, and that’s what Adrianne was doing—she was really playing a dangerous game with fentanyl and sketchy street drugs.”
“The frustrating thing about the medical system is that there are many different options that are available in the world to help people who are suffering from mental illness or addiction,” says Meyers. “And currently only some of them are being offered. If somebody is suffering from depression, does it make sense to right off the bat start them on something that is known to be difficult to get off of? Or should safe access to psychedelics—which are non-addictive—be part of the first options for mental health and addiction?”
Screening at the Santa Cruz Film Festival on Sunday, Oct. 13, at 4:45pm at DNA’s Comedy Lab. santacruzfilmfestival.org. More info about the film is at dosedmovie.com.