When it comes to the promising field of psychedelics, documentaries are one of the keys to unlocking global acceptance. Through visual cinematography, rare interviews, and rigorous journalism, we can discover compelling and complex stories which reveal psychedelics at the heart of self-discovery, transformation and healing.In recent years, there’s been a welcome rise in new documentary movies about psychedelics through the resurgence of scientific research, growing funding in this space, and a wave of legal change.
Psychedelic journeys have been integral to many indigenous and spiritual communities for millenia. Because there is a noticeable pattern in documentaries that tell a recent story of psychedelics that centres on scientific developments in the West since the 1940s, we would love to see more documentaries about the ancient wisdom traditions which have harnessed these healing compounds for thousands of years.
The Synthesis team has collectively curated a selection of films that illuminate the transformational nature of psychedelics, so here’s our list of twelve mind-expanding documentaries about psychedelics.
1. Fantastic Fungi (2019)
Fantastic Fungi is a visually breathtaking film directed by Louie Schwartzberg that celebrates the wonders of the fungi kingdom and its power to heal, sustain and contribute to the regeneration of life on Earth. Through the eyes of leading mycologists like Paul Stamets, writers like Michael Pollan and Eugenia Bone and many other scientists and practitioners, we discover how psychedelics can offer solutions for some of today’s most pressing challenges, from treating illness to healing the environment.
→ Watch Fantastic Fungi if you’re fascinated by mycology.
2. The Way of the Psychonaut: Stanislav Grof’s Journey of Consciousness (2020)
The Way of the Psychonaut dives into the life and work of Stanislav Grof, the renowned Czech-born psychiatrist and pioneer of transpersonal psychology. Commencing with the film director Susan Hess Logeais’s personal existential crisis, the film shares how Stan’s insights around non-ordinary states of consciousness have profoundly changed the lives of many. Stan’s techniques and discoveries range from breathwork to spiritual exploration as a way to liberate people from their shadows, conflicts and traumas.
→ Watch The Way of the Psychonaut if you’re interested in transpersonal psychology.
3. The Mind, Explained: Psychedelics (2019)
Narrated by actor Emma Stone and illustrated with playful animations, this is a bite size 20-minute Netflix episode. It dives into how psychedelic experiences can reduce health-related anxiety for cancer patients, help people quit smoking and give people relief from treatment-resistant depression.
→ Watch The Mind Explained, Psychedelics if you’re looking for an easy introduction.
4. Magic Medicine (2018)
“Psychedelics are, for me, easily the best tool that exists to study both the mind and the brain. I think it has the potential to revolutionise depression treatment, if not psychiatry.” - Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris
Addressing the question, ‘Can magic mushrooms cure depression?’, filmmaker Monty Wates was given exclusive access to Imperial College London’s Centre for Psychedelic Research clinical trials led by Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris, a Synthesis advisor, and Synthesis’ own clinical director Dr. Rosalind Watts. This remarkable film gives an absorbing portrait of the human suffering of clinical depression and features deeply moving footage of the patients’ psychedelic journeys and the inspirational scientists contributing to groundbreaking psychedelic research.
→ Watch Magic Medicine if you’re researching how psychedelics can help with depression.
Access the film at a film screening or on YouTube
5. Psychedelia (2020)
Psychedelia is an engaging film directed by Pat Murphy that chronicles scientific research studies showcasing promising medical breakthroughs. With first-person accounts from patients with end-of-life anxiety, this work explores the profound and life-altering insights psychedelics induce in participants, and the potential impact psychedelics hold for humanity. Synthesis recently screened the film followed by an expert panel discussion so we encourage you to watch the panel recording here.
→ Watch Psychedelia for an introduction to psychedelic scientific research.
You can watch this film at a film screening
6. María Sabina, mujer espíritu (1979) [In Spanish]
The Mexican documentary María Sabina, mujer espíritu was directed by Nicolás Echevarría, and is a cinematic portrait of one of the most famous Mazatec curandera’s María Sabina and her rituals performed with mushrooms containing psilocybin. This film is in Spanish and takes a poetic approach to telling the story of the Mexican medicine woman who is known for bringing psychedelics to the West.
→ Watch María Sabina, mujer espíritu to listen to this extraordinary curandera.
Watch the film on YouTube where you can switch on English subtitles
7. Dosed (2019)
Dosed offers a hard-hitting perspective on addiction when Adrienne turns to psychedelic healers after years of a prescription medicine opioid addiction and suicidal thoughts. Directed by Tyler Chandler, the film has an expansive potential as a force for good, and will certainly resonate with those who have experienced addiction.
→ Watch Dosed if you’re researching how psychedelics can help with addiction.
8. From Shock to Awe (2018)
From Shock to Awe by Luc Côté and Janine Sagart is a documentary that tells the personal stories of two combat veterans suffering from severe trauma. Following their transformational journeys, they seek relief through psychedelics and abandon pharmaceuticals, revealing how these substances can be used to heal PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) for individuals and their families. Beyond the personal stories, this film also raises fundamental questions about the pharmaceutical industry, the US legal system and war.
→ Watch From Shock to Awe if you’re researching how psychedelics can help with PTSD.
9. Tawai: A Voice from the Forest (2017)
From Borneo’s ancient rainforest to the remote Isle of Skye, the film Tawai is a quest for reconnection to explore the different ways that humans relate to nature and how this influences the way we form our societies. English documentarian, indigenous rights advocate and explorer Bruce Parry (BBC's Tribe, Amazon & Arctic) embarks on an immersive odyssey that gives a voice to the heart of the forest itself.
→ Watch Tawai if you’re interested in how indigenous tribes relate to nature.
10. Neurons to Nirvana: The Great Medicines (2013)
Neurons to Nirvana explores the history and clinical potential of five powerful psychedelic substances, with interviews with leading researchers, writers and psychologists such as Dr. Gabor Maté and Dr. Julie Holland. Directed by Oliver Hockenhull and Mikki Willis, the film addresses psychedelic drugs as technologies of consciousness and as tools to use with psychotherapy.
→ Watch Neurons to Nirvana if you’re interested in an introduction to different psychedelics.
11. A New Understanding: Science of Psilocybin (2015)
At the confluence of science and spirituality, A New Understanding explores how psychedelic experiences in a controlled setting can help with the treatment of end-of-life anxiety, depression and physical pain in terminally ill cancer patients. This film shows the power of compounds like psilocybin for helping patients and their families come to terms with dying through the skillful treatment of the whole human being.
→ Watch A New Understanding if you’re researching how psychedelics can help with palliative care and end-of-life anxiety.
12. Ram Dass, Going Home (2017)
“Death does not have to be treated as an enemy for you to delight in life.” - Ram Dass
Ram Dass, Going Home is a short documentary that follows the American spiritual teacher, psychologist and author Baba Ram Dass in his later years as he shares his insights around life, death, suffering and spiritual awakening. While not specifically about psychedelics, Ram Dass was a well-loved psychedelic pioneer known for bringing Eastern philosophy to the West.
→ Watch Ram Dass, Going Home for a gentle insight into the mindset of a wise leader at the end of his life.
We hope you enjoy these documentaries and if you’d like to keep watching, take a look at this documentary featuring Synthesis as a model for the future of psychedelic retreats.
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