What a long, strange trip

At the outset, the new Canadian documentary Dosed was something of a leap in the dark.

A few years ago, director Tyler Chandler heard that psilocybin, the active ingredient in "magic mushrooms", was being trialled as a treatment for addiction and depression in a study conducted near his Vancouver home.

Meanwhile, one of his friends – a young woman identified in the film only as Adrianne – was struggling with depression and addictions to heroin and fentanyl.

Adrianne’s rollercoaster of emotions can be difficult to watch.

"She had tried many prescription medications, treatment methods, rehab facilities and those weren't working for her," Chandler says over the phone. "She was ready to try any option that was available."

It seemed like fate – and a natural subject for a film. But there was a hitch: the trials weren't for several months and Adrianne needed help sooner rather than later.

So Chandler, Adrianne and producer Nicholas Meyers set out on their own, armed with a batch of mushrooms obtained from unofficial sources.

"It was scary to start off with," Meyers says. "You hear scary stories about psychedelics and there's a stigmatisation about how they can make someone jump out a window, or whatever. But the research that we had done had indicated that psychedelics were very effective in treating mental illness and addiction."

In retrospect, he concedes this research wasn't as thorough as it might have been. "We didn't understand at the time that mushrooms aren't so effective for treating, specifically, opiate addiction."

Still, this initial trip was the beginning of a journey for all concerned, which saw the filmmakers coming into closer contact with Vancouver's underground "psychedelic community" and Adrianne ultimately on the road to recovery.

Much of the film consists of candid footage of Adrianne's emotional ups and downs, which can be difficult to watch.

What's the priority here? Is it making a film or is it is helping our friend?

But given her circumstances at the time, she says, concern about exposing herself on camera was the last thing on her mind. "I didn't even know that it was going to go this far. At that moment I was really desperate for an out."

Chandler admits the ethical issues weren't always straightforward. "Things got a little challenging, and we had to put the cameras away at times and have conversations about, what's the priority here? Is it making a film or is it is helping our friend? And it was always helping our friend."

While Adrianne quotes the adage that "there's no such thing as a bad trip", she acknowledges that her experiences have been anything but an easy ride. "If you take psychedelics and you have difficult memories, trauma, it's definitely going to come out."

Although research is still in very early stages, the possibility that psilocybin and other psychedelic drugs could be of value in treating mental illness is being taken more seriously than for many years.

A second documentary on the subject, Magic Medicine, screened recently in Australia at this year's Transitions Film Festival. This chronicled another clinical trial of psilocybin as a treatment for depression, at Imperial College London.

While the sample size was small and results necessarily inconclusive, it appears that at least some participants experienced significant benefits in the short term.

Looking back at Dosed, Adrianne, Chandler and Meyers all seem to feel that the risks they took paid off. But the point of the film, as its makers insist, isn't that psychedelic medicine is a cure-all, but that no possible source of help for people like Adrianne should be taken off the table.

"There are serious problems which are facing pretty much every corner of the globe," Myers says. "Whatever works for people should be available for people."

Dosed screens on March 10 at Dendy Newtown.

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