DOSED: Overcoming an Opioid Addiction with Psychedelics on Film
After many years of prescription medications failed her, a suicidal woman turns to underground healers to try and overcome her depression, anxiety, and opioid addiction with illegal psychedelic medicine such as magic mushrooms and iboga. Adrianne’s first dose of psilocybin mushrooms catapulted her into an unexpected world of healing where plant medicines are redefining our understanding of mental health and addiction. DOSED is a powerful and timely documentary that challenges the conventional understanding of what addiction is and what an addict looks like. As a concept, the idea that psychedelics aren’t “bad,” but rather “medicinal” might be difficult for some to believe. Personally, I still remember D.A.R.E coming into my classroom vividly, thus we’ve all been educated to view psychedelics as dangerous.
The prohibitionist model that uses fear as a tactic, however, is more pernicious than any drug. It does not and has not worked. Addiction is a global crisis. In particular, the opioid crisis is largely ignored. This is why everyone should watch DOSED because statistically speaking, you probably know an addict, or to speak more broadly and accurately, someone who is suffering. At the onset of this inspiring story, filmmakers Tyler Chandler and Nicolas Meyers and their subject, Adrianne, knew next to nothing about psychedelics or psychedelic therapy. As the events unfold, they courageously venture deeper to investigate the roots of addiction with the help of experts such as Gabor Maté and underground psychedelic providers. Thus, they offer new and provocative perspectives on a topic that deserves our attention. If we move drugs out of the shadows of shame and stigma as well as our feelings, we could deal with our issues before they got out of control. In the words of comedian Mitch Hedberg, “Alcoholism is a disease, but it is the only one you can get yelled at for having.” It isn’t the only one.
The sentiment of that statement applies to substance abuse in general. And it is part of the problem. In 2017, Adrianne was 33 years old and had been abusing drugs and alcohol for 20 years. Having tried every treatment available to no avail, she reached out to Tyler on the verge of suicide. “She’d been on countless prescription medications, doctor-prescribed opioid replacement therapy programs like methadone,” Tyler told us. “She’d been to treatment centers, detox centers, recovery groups, and nothing had ever worked or stuck.” 48,344 people died by suicide in 2018 in the U.S., but that doesn’t reflect the scope of the problem. In 2017, 10.6 million American adults seriously contemplated suicide, 3.2 million made a plan, and 1.4 million attempted it, according to the CDC. Furthermore, “over fifty percent of all suicides are associated with alcohol and drug dependence.” Adrianne was one of many, in other words, which is why she wanted to film her process. As she was getting opiates on the street, the risk of dying from fentanyl was a legitimate concern. She had heard of a psilocybin clinical trial happening the following year, but she didn’t know if she would even live that long, so she decided to take a dose of psilocybin mushrooms at home while Tyler and Nick filmed it. “She was at risk of overdosing every day,” Nick said. “Fentanyl is no joke, you can die from it at any time. Why not try the only option available?” “Could we help Adrianne in any way?” Tyler continued. “Could this help more people if we filmed it and it worked out?” The filmmakers had no idea that this one dose of psilocybin would change Adrianne’s life, and their own. “We were very concerned that something would go wrong or that it wouldn’t be helpful,” Nick said. “So, to be sitting there, then, as she recounted this extremely profound and moving journey in which she feels self-love for the first time in many years was surreal. Something incredibly positive was happening.” For a phenomenon that is so rampant in the world, our understanding of addiction appears to be so narrow. Most popular health sites list “a chronic dysfunction of the brain system,” or something to that effect, as the dominant definition. However, the “brain” theory doesn’t quite add up, and the proof is in the problem. Mark Haden, Director of MAPS Canada, flat out said, “I don’t buy it.” “When I teach my course about addiction,” Haden continued. “I start by challenging that theory. I show public health maps of the epidemiology of the HIV explosion that happened over a five year period in New York (specifically, HIV transmitted through intravenous drug use). During this period, HIV rates went from small to huge. And it was tracked, perfectly. Low-income and less educated communities had an explosion of HIV. Wealthy communities didn’t. It was all the social determinants of health: poverty, education, connections between people, etc.” “Scientists like researching that piece, which is why that model (brain malfunction/dysfunction) has developed,” Haden continued. “Let’s say there’s an elephant in the room, and the scientists are all obsessed with the tail. You end up having a huge amount of knowledge about the tail of an elephant, but you don’t understand the elephant itself. If you look at the people who are addicted, they don’t have damaged brains.
They have trauma history. In mainstream dialogues around drugs, that’s what is missing.” Adrianne didn’t seem to have a big trauma that usually underlines addiction. “Usually when people heal from psychedelics, the trauma is very clear,” Haden said. “With Adrianne, it wasn’t, which was unusual.” But is it unusual? “Adrianne’s lifelong battle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, and addiction is shared by lots of people,” Nick and Tyler said. “Traumatic events can occur throughout people’s lives and don’t have to be tied to one major event for someone to struggle with mental health or addiction.” Mark Howard, the Iboga provider in DOSED, pivots the question in another direction. “Dr. Gabor Maté has expressed, ‘The question is not why the addiction, but why the pain?’ “As iboga providers,” Howard continued, “our responsibility is to create a safe place for our guests to feel comfortable enough to begin to let their protective walls down. When we (provider + iboga) are able to help someone heal their relationship with themselves, acknowledge where their pain comes from, and thus release the attachment to it, then the road to sobriety is already confirmed. Once you know who you really are (and you’ll love the true you!), the probability of relapse tends towards zero.” Given that we do not value, thus educate, Emotional Intelligence as much as the intellect, the brain dysfunction theory is even an example, it appears that psychedelics are therapeutic tools that enable people to reconnect with themselves, get to know who they truly are, and even learn to love the person that they are. That’s a valuable insight if we consider why psychedelic medicine is showing such success in treating these types of problems. Nevertheless, Adrianne, Tyler, and Nick seemed to be on the right track. After the profound experience she had on mushrooms, it propelled them to continue their journey into the realm of psychedelic therapy, even if it was “underground.” As Tyler said, “The problem with this being illegal is that there’s no access, right?” Along the way, a group of underground psychedelic providers, as well as addiction experts such as Gabor Maté and Mark Haden, came to support the project. “All the healers were very confident that this could be successful,” Nick said. “They saw in Adrianne a willingness to work on herself, which is integral because psychedelics aren’t a magic bullet.” “There are a lot of people out there who believe that you take a psychedelic, your brain gets rewired, and you’re fixed,” Haden said. “That was clearly not true for Adrianne. It was a turbulent process.
There were times she got better and times she got worse, so the complexity of psychedelic healing was captured quite well.” Instead of shying away from the tough stuff, the film bravely yet respectfully shows a human being in the process of dealing with their depression, anxiety, PTSD, and opioid addiction. Furthermore, the case of Adrianne shows how interconnected these issues are, and how through personal commitment one can overcome them. About 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. In 2015, an estimated 2.4 million people in the United States suffered from opioid use disorder (1.8 million of those were prescription pain relievers).
The overdose deaths involving legal prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999 and so have the sales for these drugs. In the film, we watch Adrianne go to the pharmacy every day as part of her doctor-prescribed opioid replacement therapy program. “The theory behind it is that these people won’t need to get street drugs, which might be more dangerous because they may have something else in it like fentanyl,” Nick said. “These people don’t have any freedom, and the pharmacies get a subsidy from the government of $6,000 every year per person on this program. It’s huge money.
The pharmacy will actually try to get people to come to their pharmacy for that reason.” In 2017, doctors issued 191,218,272 opioid prescriptions. That is big money, However, so is the cost of addiction to society in the United States, which adds up to 740 billion dollars annually. Thus, do the treatments available like methadone work, even if it didn’t work for Adrianne, if we’re spending so much money on them? “It has been estimated that about 25% of patients eventually become abstinent, 25% continue to take the drug, and 50% go on and off methadone repeatedly,” according to Harvard Medical School. Though doctor prescribed methadone can be an important step in recovery, it is still an opioid. Regardless of its legality, it is detrimental to one’s health, and the objective is to help people towards a life free from all opioids. “Meanwhile,” Nick started, the three friends discovered Ibogaine. Ibogaine is considered one of, if not the most, powerful psychedelic substances that exist. As a psychedelic tryptamine, it has a long history of use in Central and West Africa. In recent years, it has become an underground sensation, in some ways, for treating some of the most treatment-resistant illnesses, such as PTSD and addiction. Basically, it rewires the brain, including the addiction pathways. Though Ibogaine is not a magic bullet, ultimately, it helped Adrianne recover from a 20-year addiction. “It’s not cheap,” Nick said, “but it’s so much cheaper than somebody being hooked on methadone, morphine, or street drugs for the rest of their lives. It is also many times more successful as a solution than treatment centers.
The rate at which people going back to drugs after treatment centers is like 97% or something like that.
The rate of people going back to drugs after Iboga is significantly lower.” We asked Mark Haden, who had worked in addiction services for Vancouver Clinical Health for 28 years. He subsequently left to become the director of MAPS Canada, because he had met a woman who was running an Ibogaine clinic in the Vancouver area. “She had an 80% success rate.
The program that I ran, we had maybe 1-2% success rate.” Considering all the money that goes into addiction, it is perhaps shame that costs the most without any visible gain. Mitchell Gomez, the Director of Dance Safe, runs an organization that tests drugs at live events to ensure their purity. According to him, opioid users never come to the booth to test their heroin. “I really never had anyone ask me if I could test their heroin, but if you look at data from events, opioids get dropped off all the time. We need to remove that stigma around substance use.” DOSED is important as a documentary film because Adrianne had the courage to show what it’s really like to be an opioid user who isn’t on the streets.
The stigma behind drugs paints an inaccurate picture of what a drug user looks like. “In society, if you’re not in the alleys or on the streets, you’re not seen as an addict,” Tyler said. “What we learned is that the vast majority of people who are struggling are functioning addicts, so you wouldn’t know,” Tyler continued. “So, one thing that we hope, and we’ve been seeing this happen, is that DOSED opens a dialogue, even if you don’t have access to psychedelics. That could mean that a teenager is now open to talking to their parents or counselor about the issues that they’re struggling with.” The issue with Western logic, in general, is that you wait until the person gets on the street in order to see the problem. In a less extreme example, typically, we wait until we get sick in order to rest and stay home. Logically speaking, when you start to get sick, that’s the moment when you should stop, before you get really sick. In terms of drug use, the same attitude applies. If we didn’t deny our feelings, we could address some of these issues before they got out of control. “One thing that I learned,” Nick continued, “is that drugs of abuse are used by people to escape their feelings, traumas, or numb out. You hear it all the time, even from people that might characterize themselves as being, generally, emotionally well. ‘Oh, I just need to get drunk because I’m having a bad day.’ Or, something like that. It is a tool to hide from what you’re feeling.” Conversely, “Psychedelics are a tool to go inward towards your traumas, or whatever it is that you don’t want to face,” Tyler said. “If you’re willing to do the therapeutic work in conjunction with psychedelics, which includes integration, connecting with the community, a healthy diet, etc., then you can overcome whatever issues that you’re facing.” Adrianne just celebrated her two year anniversary of sobriety. From this present moment in time, she reflected back on the person she was at the start of the documentary. Though Nick and Tyler began this journey knowing little about psychedelics or psychedelic-assisted therapy, they were themselves moved to have been a part of a project with a powerful message to share, that could “shed some light on another option for addiction that isn’t available,” Tyler said. “Accidentally, we became advocates for something that we didn’t even know anything about just a couple of years ago,” he said. “There are so many people struggling with mental health and addiction issues in the world. When psychedelics are legal and safely accessible to more people as treatment options, they will help a lot of people.” Though they began making this film relatively new to the psychedelic field, Nick and Tyler became advocates for their therapeutic application. This inspiring and thoughtful film humanizes addiction, reveals areas within mainstream society in need of reform, and shows us that the way out of addiction is inside. .
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