Disclaimer: This article contains discussions about suicide, PTSD, and other health conditions.
It also contains spoilers.
Public perception of drugs is changing rapidly. Oregon has approved the medical use of psilocybin – the active compound in psychedelic mushrooms – and psychedelic clinics are expected to open in 2023, the first of their kind. In addition, several US cities have decriminalized hallucinogens, including Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz, Detroit, Ann Arbor, and more.
However, the recent momentum surrounding Dope wasn’t always the case. Perhaps surprisingly to many, there was a wealth of clinical research on the drug (LSD in particular) in the 1950s and 1960s in America. Hundreds of studies have shown tremendous potential in treating alcoholism, depression, and end-of-life anxiety, among other conditions, with LSD.
But in the late 1960s, the hippie counterculture movement took hold of narcotics, linking them to anti-establishment. The conservative government resisted, banning LSD and many other psychedelic drugs in 1970, despite their enormous potential to treat a variety of mental health ailments.
This is how the drugged story begins in a new Netflix documentary series by Michael Pollan, How do you change your mindwhich continues from its extreme popularity 2018 book with the same name. The series charts the history of four psychedelics, LSD, mushrooms, MDMA, and mescaline, and reveals the history of each powerful substance, how it was decriminalized, and where current research and legalization is headed.
The series comes at a pivotal time when the psychedelic movement is gaining momentum, and questions about how these substances are used, respected and regulated are not fully answered. The series successfully draws on history, insight, and some of the most fascinating minds in research to attempt to answer these questions, helping to push the conversation about the drug and its benefits into the mainstream.
A consistent theme throughout the series focuses on how a file works war on drugs (Initiated by President Nixon and conservative America) The drug was banned for political reasons. A veteran with PTSD talks about how he grew up during the DARE era in the ’80s and ’90s with “good” drugs and “bad” drugs.
“Well, ‘good’ drugs led to the proliferation of opioids, and ‘bad’ drugs cure PTSD, so I think our definitions of those substances need to change,” the sergeant said. Jonathan Lubecki, a participant in the MDMA trial.
A former police officer continues the same chain of thoughts, saying, “We’ve come to the point in this country where you can’t explicitly criminalize a certain person…but you can criminalize a substance that this particular group of people uses and has a back door to, said Sarko Jarjarian, a police lieutenant and trainee therapist. In MAPS for MDMA, referring to the mass incarceration of black and brown people in this country.
It is easy to make a comparison between the prohibition of these substances and cannabis. Both weed and drugs have been used for thousands of years and have shown incredible medicinal potential. Both are banned in the United States due to fear of other races and cultures.
In fact, the legalization of first medical marijuana and then recreational cannabis serves as a framework for legalizing the drug.
From this framework, the conversation about psychedelic drugs today focuses on the medicinal potential of these substances. MDMA and its ability to treat PTSD are at the forefront — the substance has passed three rounds of clinical trials, all with great success, and is expected to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration within the next few years.
The healing power of anesthetic
Some of the most powerful scenes in How do you change your mind Are interviews with patients whose lives have changed after drug treatment. According to Professor Robin Carhart-Harris on the show, 1 in 4 people suffer from some mental illness, and drugs can help. Seeing and hearing these patients’ words is powerful and has the power to change perceptions.
In the MDMA episode, an Iraq War veteran with PTSD talks about constant paranoia, nightmares every night, and not being able to trust anyone. He said that MDMA saved his life by preventing him from committing suicide due to his experiences during the war.
A woman with PTSD vividly describes the past events of discovering a murder, which is one of the reasons for her shock. After trying several antidepressants and treatments, MDMA helped her manage PTSD and stay present in her life, even three years later.
In Switzerland, a man contemplates suicide due to cluster headaches that he suffers from several times a day. He describes the headache as a burning piece of ice stuck in the back of his eyes. LSD has at least given him a few pain-free days and gives him hope for the future.
A man with OCD describes his condition as having someone follow him with a constant radio sound in his ear. One session of psilocybin apparently cured his condition and helped him get his life back.
In all of these cases, the pain these people experienced was profound for the viewer, and their recovery subsided. Just watching these patients talk about their experiences before and after anesthetic treatment is healing for the viewer and paints a much clearer picture of how useful these substances are.
How to create a narcotic drug industry
One of the most common questions facing proponents of psychedelic drugs is how to respect the indigenous cultures who use these substances for spiritual practice and healing, who have been for thousands of years. Will wealthy and white Americans take advantage of these materials and make huge profits, not respecting indigenous cultures in the process?
The series enters into the politics of this question in the last episode on mescaline. The material is largely derived from the peyote cactus, which only grows in a narrow strip around the Rio Grande River between Mexico and Texas. There is a real concern that the legalization of peyote or mescaline will cause these cottage gardens to disappear for drugged tourists or money-hungry capitalists.
In the series, many Native Americans talk about the collective trauma of their people, after their ancestors were forced from their lands and placed on reservations by the United States government. They prescribe peyote as medicine to help heal their collective trauma.
The Native American Church was established in the 1880s in the Oklahoma Territory, after the use of peyote among Native Americans spread north into the Great Plains, in part as a way for Native American communities to use peyote to heal the trauma of their experience. Today, it is one of the largest indigenous religions among the Native Americans in the United States.
Many of the people interviewed say homes should be respected and not washed out or taken over by white America, much like their culture already is.
Thinking ahead, Pollan talks about how peyote is a great example of how medicine can benefit society as a whole and can be used in a socially constructive way to solve society’s problems. “Medications are very much contextualized, and the meanings we put on them, the uses we put on them, that really matter; they are not inherently good and they are not inherently evil, they are tools,” he said.
But there are still many open questions about how to create an industry to support drug-assisted therapy. Pollan wonders how the current paradigm of the pharmaceutical industry is to invent and patent a drug for people to take every day or all the time, whereas with drug-assisted therapy, a person only needs to take the drug once or a few times, in conjunction with the treatment.
How does the company make this drug profitable? How much can you charge for it? Can you get a patent for a plant? Currently, there is no model for creating an industry to support psychedelic therapy, and logistically, there is still a lot to learn.
However, as a new industry may arise, the public perception of drugs and their therapeutic capabilities is rapidly changing. Noting a radical change in current thinking, Sgt. Lubicki talks about his experience attending a conference for police chiefs after participating in an MDMA trial, saying, “When you have the people who literally ran the drug war, now turning around and saying ‘we were wrong, this can help’, that’s a major thing.”