More and more films are being released that explore the complex and fascinating nature of psychedelics. Whether you want to learn more about shrooms or the elusive ayahuasca brew, you’ve come to the right place. Here are the top 10 documentaries about psychedelics.
Psychedelics are no longer as taboo as they once were. Not only are they used recreationally, as they have been since the ‘70s, but they’re also very valuable therapeutically. They’ve also been used for centuries by many different cultures to reach a new level of spiritual awakening. In our modern world that’s plagued with instant gratification and constant hustle, it’s possible that psychedelics can help reconnect us to the divine within ourselves that we’ve been out of touch with for so long. If you’re interested in learning more about these mind-bending substances, check out our list of the top 10 psychedelic documentaries.
The Sunshine Makers follows the lives of Nicholas Sand and Tim Scully, two prominent LSD manufactures who produced millions of hits/tabs during 1960s counterculture. According to Sand, during one of his very first acid trips he heard a voice say to him, “Your job on this planet is to make psychedelics and turn on the world”. Sand went on to do just that by teaming up with Scully and creating a brand of LSD called “Orange Sunshine”, which turned out to be one of the most pure and potent forms of LSD manufactured to this day.
Dirty Pictures takes an in-depth look at the life of Alexander Shulgin, the prolific chemist and Navy veteran who first introduced 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) to psychotherapists in the 1970s. Overall, Shulgin synthesised over 200 different psychedelic compounds during his years as a chemist, all of which he tested on himself, his wife Ann, and some of their close friends. He also co-authored the books PiHKAL: A Chemical Love Story and TiHKAL: The Continuation, and is said to be one of the most important psychedelic chemists of all time. Shulgin passed away in 2014 at the age of 88 years old.
A New Understanding takes a closer look at the use of psilocybin—AKA magic mushrooms—to treat anxiety in patients suffering from terminal cancer. This film focusses not only on the scientific research, but also the spiritual aspect of incorporating hallucinogens into the end-of-life process. The goal is to help patients have what’s referred to as a “good death”. A way to view death as not just the end of one’s life, but the beginning of a new, sacred journey. Studies reviewed in this documentary date back to the 1970s.
Entheogen is a full-length documentary that examines the traditional methods of reaching a divine and spiritual awakening in the modern world. This film explores a refined form of shamanism made to fit in our postmodern world. The central questions this documentary aims to answer are how can entheogens fit into our modern civilisation, and can they solve our ecological woes? For reference, an entheogen is any psychedelic substance that can be used for spiritual development. A term frequently used alongside entheogen is “generating the divine within”.
This documentary focusses primarily on the healing power of native shaman and the plants they use. The practice of using therapeutic psychedelics dates back more than 4,000 years. This film shows how shaman used these substances and how they tied into the tribes’ overall belief systems and cultures. Each shaman speaks independently in this film and discusses information from their own personal life experiences. This film also covers some of the dangers associated with shamanism, such as misinterpreting visions or feelings.
Manifesting the Mind takes a look at psychedelics in general and doesn’t focus on one in particular like many other films on the list. This documentary examines what exactly psychedelics are and where they come from, as well as why they are so ostracised in Western cultures. This film includes testimony from many experts including Dennis McKenna, Alex Grey, Daniel Pinchbeck, and many others.
Set to a Grateful Dead soundtrack, Ethnobotanist Richard Evans Schultes travels the globe and explores the use of various hallucinogenic plants. Schultes was one of the first Americans to get an up close and personal look at psychedelics actually being used in ceremonies by native tribes. In this documentary, Schultes and his team discuss the discovery of magic mushrooms, peyote, ayahuasca, and more.
This film is adapted from the book Aya Awakenings: A Shamanic Odyssey, written by Rak Razam. Both the book and film follow Razam deep into the Amazon jungle as he discovers the ancient secrets of ayahuasca, a potent, plant-based psychedelic frequently used by shaman for various rituals. While searching for information about Amazonian shaman and their modern day use of ayahuasca, Razam inadvertently runs into an influx of Western tourists eager to try the substance for themselves.
Neurons to Nirvana delves into the newfound revival of psychedelic research, which has been swept under the rug for decades. For years, if a medical professional expressed interested in psychedelics, they were treated as if they were crazy. In recent years, an increasing number of researchers are focussing on the many ways psychedelics can be used as medicine. Neurons to Nirvana features interviews from some of the world’s most notable writers, researchers, psychologists, and therapists, in which they discuss the benefits of 5 popular substances: cannabis, LSD, psilocybin, MDMA, and ayahuasca.
The top film on our list is DMT: The Spirit Molecule, a documentary based on a book of the same name written by Rick Strassman. This movie explores the complexities of dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a mysterious molecule that exists in nearly every living organism on earth. Aside from its strong psychedelic properties, very little is known about what it does and why it exists. This has led many to believe that the molecule’s main (and possibly only) function is to reconnect us with our spiritual side. The movie includes interviews with people of widely varying backgrounds who discuss their experiences with DMT.