Magic Medicine review – making the case for mushrooms
An intriguing, inconclusive film about an intriguing, inconclusive drug trial. Monty Yates’s documentary shows the work of Dr Robin Carhart-Harris at Imperial College London: after years of bureaucratic wrangling, he got permission to conduct research into the possibility that psilocybin – the psychoactive ingredient of magic mushrooms – could be used to treat depression. Could it be that society’s taboo disapproval is needlessly holding back our understanding of this issue?
We see three long-term sufferers of depression, sensitively interviewed about their lives. They are each shown into a room that has been tricked out like an aromatherapy suite with low lighting and gentle music; they lie down on a couch, and doctors reassuringly hold their hand. They are given a low, introductory dose of shroom-essence at the first session, and at the second the amount is stepped up. The results are startling.
The drug does not induce a vague non-specific euphoria that washes away the sadness. Rather, it dislodges the logjam of emotions and repressed memories, sometimes very painfully, a bit like regular therapy. But then there is a remarkable sense of freedom. In most cases, the patients felt much better – but, agonisingly, these effects are not permanent.
So what on earth should we conclude from all that? That psilocybin should be freely available so that medical researchers can discover more and chronic sufferers can continue to take it? Fine. But what if it’s just another banal drug, like Temazepam, as flawed and addictive as all the other pills getting doled out?
The film is called Magic Medicine, and of course the adjective in the title is an ironic reference to magic mushrooms. But it could be that in ostensibly complaining about the “forbiddenness” of psilocybin, researchers are fetishising its power and importance. Well, Dr Carhart-Harris thinks we need to know more about psilocybin. He’s right.
Pushing the boundaries … Robin Carhart-Harris