Every time a new mental-health therapy arrives, it’s propelled by the ideology — and the testimonials — of a religion. Sigmund Freud’s descriptions of psychoanalysis all point to the miracle-cure mythology of the moment when a patient, at long last, touches the nerve of his or her suppressed trauma and is liberated from it. In the ’70s, primal-scream therapy, built around the notion that your body (and not just your mind) was clutching tight to the pain of the past, claimed to be the only therapy cathartic enough to wrench you away from that pain. A decade later, the Prozac revolution sold serotonin reuptake inhibitors as mood stabilizers that could slice through depression like a laser.
And as the glowing promise of what psychotropic drugs can do has gradually grown dimmer, other remedies have stepped in. One of the most intriguing — it’s been around for decades but is still legally and culturally underground — is the belief, proffered by a handful of prominent psychiatrists, that for some people psychedelic drugs can unlock the shackles of depression, or the patterns of addiction, in ways that therapy cannot.
In “Dosed,” a personal documentary built around one anecdotal case of a drug addict who plunged into psychedelics to save herself, Rosiland Watts, a clinical psychologist at the Imperial College of London, claims that the psychedelic experience can smash rigid thought patterns of negativity and apathy that are part of the prison of depression. She says that some patients experience more benefit from a handful of trips than they do from 10 years of conventional therapy. Paul Stamets, billed as a “renowned mycologist,” says “magic mushrooms allow you to change your mind, literally.” In a funny way, they’re both saying what Kenny Rogers, who died today, did in his iconic cover version of the 1967 LSD-inspired pop song “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In),” when he sang: “I saw so much I broke my mind.”
This is a subject that deserves a rigorous documentary exploration, like Alison Klayman’s must-see psychotropic exposé “Take Your Pills.” But “Dosed” isn’t that kind of movie.
It was made by director Tyler Chandler about his friend, Adrianne (her last name is never given), a Vancouver resident in her mid-30s who is one of those extreme but functional middle-class addicts who’s basically turned the pursuit of drugs into a career. She started drinking and using on a daily basis when she was 15, and she’s the first to say that she had good parents, and that there’s no outward “reason” for her addiction. Pert and milky-skinned, like an officious Minnie Driver, she’s been hooked on everything from heroin to fentanyl and describes herself as “a garbage-can addict. I will do anything.” You could also say that she’s an addict of disruption, hooked on the hidden gratification she gets from dragging down the people around her. But Adrianne, in “Dosed,” claims that she’s sick of her life. Nothing has worked (treatment centers, shrinks), so she decides to seek the psychedelic cure.
“Dosed” is the six-month diary of her journey, and there are moments when it’s an illuminating film. But only moments. Adrianne is the kind of person who lies to everyone, including the filmmaker (which makes her, at key points, an unreliable narrator), and she’s been on prescribed methadone for so long that a major chunk of the 84-minute film revolves around whether she can kick that (palliative) addiction, which has been sanctioned as a “cure” by the pharmaceutical companies. The film has some interesting observations to make about how difficult it is to get off methadone, and whether Big Pharma even wants you to (since it is, of course, a profit-driver). But “Dosed” gets so mired in the details of Adrianne’s addiction that it often seems to be a generic detox narrative that dances around what should be its real subject: what the psychedelic experience is like for the user, and how it can heal you.
Adrianne starts off with magic mushrooms, which are administered in four doses, labeled micro, full, therapeutic, and heroic. (The doses range from 0.2 grams to 6.0 grams.) There’s talk about how the initial supervised trip reduces her to a “baby” state — but the only evidence of this is seeing her scarf ice cream as if she were starving, which may literally be the case. Because psychedelics are illegal, the therapy treatment centers that administer them have a come-as-you-are counterculture vibe. Adrianne relapses, and it’s decided she must go hardcore and do what the film presents as the ultimate in “plant” therapy: tripping out on the African psychoactive root iboga. (Why does “Dosed” advocate for organic psilocybin but make no mention of laboratory LSD? The distinction is never discussed, as if LSD were too un-woke to even be mentioned.)
Adrianne heads off to a grunge New Age retreat in Squamish, British Columbia, called IbogaSoul, where makeshift fire rituals are overseen by a counselor named Mark Howard, whose demeanor hovers somewhere between woo-woo and sketchy. There, over a period of a dozen days, she takes repeated doses of iboga, which are supposed to “scrub” her of her addiction by unlocking the trauma beneath it. (Happy) spoiler alert: She gets better.
The promise of psychedelic therapy may seem like it runs counter to the classic Freudian model of how the mind and soul work. Yet the irony is that in its doors-of-perception way, psychedelic therapy is quite old-fashioned. You dream and hallucinate, you unlock those doors, and the things you’ve been suppressing come rushing out.
Given that, it’s astonishing what an un-psychological movie “Dosed” is. With the filmmaker fixated on his friend’s recovery, the documentary is all about selling plant-based psychedelics as a transcendently effective tool. It sold me on the possibility just enough to think that if I knew someone who was battling a chronic addiction, I might recommend that they watch this movie. But what I really wish I could recommend was a documentary that explores the depths of how psychedelics work, and that relies on more than one person’s fluky experience to make the case for their therapeutic power.