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It’s hard to say which is the best documentary on psychedelics as there are so many choices out there! Whether they’re available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, or Youtube, we’ve selected the 11 documentaries on mushrooms and psychedelics that we think are most useful for learning. Whether you’re a novice or an expert, our selection should contain some references that are likely to interest you.
Directed by Louie Schwartzberg, Streaming on Netflix
Narrated by Brie Larson
Did you know that mushrooms are both mysterious and magical? That their mere existence is intertwined with almost every animal or plant species? That’s what the documentary Fantastic Fungi seeks to demonstrate as it explores the world of mushrooms and their importance in the ecosystem. It is probably the best documentary on mushrooms ever made.
Mushrooms at the heart of life
Fungi are one of the oldest forms of life on the planet. Because of their unique properties, such as replication and regeneration, they have evolved and survived for millennia. Mushrooms have always been everywhere, as they are much better adapted to survival than most animal or plant species. Through different types of mushrooms, both edible and poisonous, the film delves into their capabilities, development, and anatomy.
For example, we discover the mycelium, an extraordinary network of filaments that connects mushrooms to each other and to trees. Thanks to mycelium, mushrooms can exchange information or nutrients over kilometers.
Their use by humans in various fields, including medicine, food, agriculture, and even psychology, further highlights their fantastic nature. This mushroom documentary shows how the use of psilocybin allowed a young American man to overcome his stuttering several decades ago… with just one dose!
Allies for the planet
While prized by humans, mushrooms must also be protected for their role in soil regeneration and pollution elimination. Facing climate change, mushrooms can break down fossil fuels or store CO2 captured by plants.
More than just a Netflix documentary on psychedelics, Fantastic Fungi is a great discovery of an almost unknown world. With its stunning imagery, it highlights the extraordinary diversity and importance of mushrooms in our world.
How To Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Directed by Lucy Walker, Streaming on Netflix
Based on Michael Pollan’s seminal book, How To Change Your Mind is a 4-episode documentary series on Netflix exploring current knowledge about the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances. Each episode of the series focuses on a different psychedelic: LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and mescaline.
Throughout the episodes, we follow Pollan in passionate conversations with researchers, therapists, psychedelic trip facilitators, and experienced users of these substances. Together, they exchange ideas to better understand the potential of psychedelics to treat problems such as anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and alcohol addiction. The film also features poignant testimonials from individuals whose psychedelic experiences have transformed their lives.
A vision tinged with fears and hopes
Michael Pollan particularly emphasizes the work of researcher Roland Griffiths. The Netflix documentary traces Griffiths’ studies on the therapeutic effects of psilocybin on the anxiety of terminally ill cancer patients. Griffiths’ encouraging findings in anxiety treatment provide Pollan with an opportunity to take a historical inventory of psychedelics: paradoxically, while their ancestral shamanic use for millennia is well known, the current era is much more rigid with these molecules.
Political and social obstacles are numerous, and the war on drugs allows no exceptions. These strict political positions limit scientific research by restricting both sources of supply and research authorizations. However, the emergence of a new movement to rehabilitate these substances is a promising path that leaves hope for future reforms and potential discoveries.
Directed by Kelly Noonan, streaming on Amazon Prime
What if changing the way we think could heal our bodies? That’s the question posed by Heal, a documentary that explores the power of the mind over the body through alternative and complementary healing methods. It delves into areas such as energy medicine, meditation, visualization, yoga, and dietary changes.
The film’s protagonists have decided to explore these alternative practices to improve their health because they all suffer from serious medical conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, or depression. Their journey is punctuated by several interviews with experts in these methods, including Deepak Chopra, Bruce Lipton, and Marianne Williamson, as well as scientists studying the relationship between the mind and body.
Together, they discuss the amazing results achieved by patients using these alternative practices: inexplicable healings or spectacular improvements in the quality of life. For example, Kelly Turner survived advanced-stage cancer using alternative healing methods such as nutrition, energy medicine, and meditation. She then interviewed hundreds of people who also used these methods successfully in a book titled Radical Remission.
Available on Amazon Prime, this documentary challenges our relationship with health, body, and mind. Without us knowing it, there may be complementary healing options that can be used in conjunction with conventional medicine. They are worth studying, in any case.
Directed by Danilo Parra, streaming on Amazon Prime & Hulu
Available on Amazon Prime and Hulu, Hamilton’s PharmaCopeia is a three-season documentary series that explores the world of psychedelics from all angles: historical, social, or medical.
As a scientific journalist, Hamilton Morris has created 30 episodes, each focusing on a particular substance, including the lesser-known ones. There’s a good chance that even a psychedelics enthusiast will discover one or two curiosities in this pharmacopoeia: Quaaludes, Salvia Divinorum, Peyotl, Ketamine, or San Pedro Cactus.
An encyclopedia of psychedelics
Throughout the series’ episodes, Morris meets with experts, users, and producers. Each interview is an opportunity to present the substance from the perspective of its history, culture, or therapeutic potential. For example, in the episode “The Psychedelic Toad,” Morris travels to Mexico to discover the shamanic tradition of using the venom of the Bufo alvarius toad, which induces psychedelic experiences. To draw a parallel between science and tradition, he meets both shamans who have been practicing this tradition for centuries and scientists studying the effects of the substance on the brain.
Similarly, in another episode titled “The Ketamine Highway,” Morris discusses the use of ketamine as a treatment for depression with patients who have benefited from it and scientists.
Although Morris is fascinated by psychedelics, the documentary series also highlights the therapeutic potential of some drugs, while also pointing out the risks and potential dangers of their use.
The Way of the Psychonaut: Stanislav Grof’s Journey of Consciousness
Directed by Susan Hess, Streaming on Amazon Prime
The Way of the Psychonaut: Stanislav Grof’s Journey of Consciousness is a psychedelic and biographical documentary about the life and work of Stanislav Grof. A psychiatrist and psychologist, Grof is known for his pioneering work in the field of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.
Available on Amazon Prime, the film follows Grof’s life and career from his youth in Czechoslovakia to his exile in the United States and his collaboration with Timothy Leary in the 1960s. It was during this time that Grof began studying the therapeutic use of psychedelics. He used LSD within his practice to help patients with psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Altered states of consciousness and psychedelics were at the heart of his research, which even extended to the study of near-death experiences.
Psychedelics and Altered Consciousness
Like the book that inspired it, the documentary also focuses on Grof’s contributions to the study of birth and death. Through holotropic breathing, the researcher explains how he has helped patients explore their experiences of birth and near-death.
For those unfamiliar with Grof, The Way of the Psychonaut: Stanislav Grof’s Journey of Consciousness provides an opportunity to discover a maverick thinker who dedicated his life to exploring the therapeutic potential of scientific experimentation and marginal subjects.
The Mind, Explained: Psychedelics
Directed by Ora Dekornfeld, Streaming on Netflix
Narrated by Emma Stone
The Mind, Explained: Psychedelics is an episode of the Netflix documentary series “The Mind Explained,” which traces the history and science of psychedelic drugs, primarily LSD, psilocybin, and MDMA.
For decades, these drugs have been used for scientific research and therapy, as well as their potential to help those with mental health issues. Paradoxically, it was their use in the counterculture movements of the 1960s and their subsequent prohibition by the U.S. government that both brought them to public attention and made them difficult for scientists to study.
The documentary presents recent scientific experiments on psychedelic drugs and their potential to treat a variety of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and addiction. However, it also addresses divergent opinions, such as concerns about the risks to mental and physical health.
A Pedagogical and Accessible Documentary
With its innovative visual presentation and engaging narration, this popular documentary series makes it easy to understand complex scientific concepts. The animations illustrating the effects of psychedelics on the brain are widely accessible and provide a fun and enjoyable approach. In fact, actress Emma Stone, known for her roles in “La La Land” and “Cruella,” lends her voice to the episode’s commentary.
Scientific concepts are complemented by the stories of people who have used psychedelic drugs for therapeutic purposes, particularly to treat mood and anxiety disorders. Their emotional and detailed stories demonstrate how these substances can contribute to better managing deep emotional wounds.
Directed by Monty Wates, available on Netflix
Magic Medicine is a groundbreaking Netflix documentary about psilocybin, which follows the experiences of Robert Carhart-Harris at Imperial College London.
In this gripping film, the audience is invited to follow a small group of three patients with severe treatment-resistant depression who turn to psychedelics to find relief from their symptoms. These three men have not found a satisfactory answer in traditional medicine, and so Robert Carhart-Harris’s experimental protocol is a source of great hope for them.
The experience that changed everything
The publication of these experiments in 2018 sparked many discussions in the scientific community and put psilocybin back in the spotlight.
The documentary alternates between precise testimonies, touching scenes of daily life, and the scientific protocol itself. We see the patients before, during, and after the experience, as well as the reconnections between family members, the significant realizations, and the disappointments. The ingestion of psilocybin has very different effects from one person to another, as each approaches the experience in a different way.
Magic Medicine emphasizes the importance of a safe therapeutic setting and conscientious personal preparation to achieve positive results with psychedelics in a therapeutic context. Through each of the protagonists, the film shows that the connection between the psilocybin consumer and the guide plays a role throughout the process to minimize risks and maximize therapeutic benefits.
Directed by Tyler Chandler, available on Apple TV+
Adrianne is a former drug addict devastated by suffering and depression due to post-traumatic stress disorder. The intimate and moving documentary Dosed follows Adrianne as she explores the therapeutic effects of psilocybin to try to counter her demons.
A fierce struggle against trauma
In her quest for healing, she undergoes therapy assisted by psilocybin and iboga, already used in research to treat a variety of mental health problems. Over time and through experiences with psilocybin and iboga, Adrianne makes remarkable progress. Under the influence of the substances, she seems to learn how to confront her fears and free herself from her past traumas.
The testimony is the strength of Dosed, both in the pain and in the hopes that punctuate Adrianne’s journey. She describes how her addiction started after she was the victim of a traumatic event, and how she used drugs to cope with her emotional pain. To try to break free from her addiction, she began a quest to find a way to heal from her traumas. In her desire to undergo psilocybin and iboga-based treatment, Adrianne faced numerous administrative, financial, and regulatory obstacles. These limitations make access to therapy very complex for many patients.
Dosed connects difficult subjects within a single documentary. From the struggle against addiction to depression, the film shows how psilocybin and iboga can offer a glimmer of hope for people who are seeking to free themselves from their emotional pain and find a path to healing.
From Shock to Awe
Directed by Luc Côté and Janine Sagert, available on Amazon Prime & Vimeo, this documentary is a modern classic on the subject of psychedelics. From Shock to Awe explores the dark side of our society through the lens of war and its effects on those involved. The film follows the stories of two former US Army soldiers, Matt Kahl and Mike Cooley, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Deeply affected by their experiences, the veterans struggle daily with their inner demons to regain a normal life. They tried all the traditional treatments to combat anger, fear, and depression, but nothing worked. After exhausting all conventional options, they finally turned to an Ayahuasca ceremony and MDMA-assisted therapy, an illegal drug often used recreationally but currently being studied for its therapeutic potential, as in Australia.
The documentary follows the journey of these two veterans as they participate in an Ayahuasca ceremony and an MDMA-assisted therapy session. Over time, their progress becomes increasingly impressive. Matt, previously restless and anxious, learns to feel more relaxed and calm. Mike, who was disturbed by recurring nightmares, regains the ability to sleep through the night without anxiety. Watching the film, one cannot remain indifferent to this touching and inspiring journey and everything it says about our tendency to ignore the human consequences of our political decisions.
In addition to the poignant testimonies of the two veterans, From Shock to Awe also features insights from doctors, researchers, and mental health experts who are working on the potential benefits of MDMA-assisted therapy.
While the results are promising, there is still much work to be done on the political and scientific fronts before this therapy can be offered to those in need.
A New Understanding: Science of Psilocybin
Directed by Robert Barnhart
Available on Amazon Prime
A New Understanding: Science of Psilocybin is a documentary that explores the potential therapeutic effects of psilocybin mushrooms, commonly known as “magic mushrooms.” It serves as an excellent introduction to the world of psilocybin for viewers who are new to the subject.
Through several interviews, experts in psychiatry, neuroscience, and pharmacology explain how psilocybin can help treat mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
Moreover, the documentary gives ample space to emotional stories from patients who have tried psilocybin-assisted therapy. For example, a woman with advanced cancer describes how a single dose of psilocybin helped her overcome her fear of death and find inner peace.
In another segment, a war veteran with PTSD describes how a simple dose of psilocybin helped him confront his traumatic memories and reconnect with his family.
The Neurochemical Effect of Magic Mushrooms
From an anatomical standpoint, the film also explains how psilocybin works in the human brain. Its substance is what is called a serotonin receptor agonist: it activates the same receptors as serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood and anxiety. This action, similar to that of antidepressants, may explain why psilocybin could help treat mental health problems. However, research is still in its infancy, and the mechanisms of psilocybin are not yet well understood.
With its numerous testimonies and a highly educational approach, A New Understanding: Science of Psilocybin emphasizes the importance of continuing research to better understand how psilocybin can help improve mental health and heal trauma.
The Last Shaman
Directed by Raz Degan
The Last Shaman isn’t your typical psychedelic documentary. It tells a particular story about a young American man searching for spiritual healing and connection with nature. James Freeman has been suffering from depression and suicidal thoughts for several years. After trying various forms of treatment without success, he decides to venture into the Amazon to find a traditional healer called a “shaman.”
In his Amazonian quest, James meets several different shamans, each offering their own wisdom and vision of the world. They use hallucinogenic plants, like ayahuasca, to connect with the spiritual world and address mental and emotional illnesses.
A profound realization
James forms a particular bond with a shaman named Kestenbetsa, who helps him understand the complexities of the spiritual world and healing. Under the influence of ayahuasca, James feels more connected to nature and his own mind. Deeply moved, he becomes aware of his connection to the community and nature.
However, these rituals are not without risk as the plants can also be toxic. The documentary shows another participant falling ill after taking too much of the plant.
The journey takes a darker turn when Kestenbetsa is diagnosed with terminal cancer and has to leave for medical treatment in the city. Shaken by the news, James must choose between staying in the Amazon and continuing his spiritual quest or returning home to his family.