neurons to nirvana


I saw a documentary at SIFF (Seattle International Film Festival) yesterday and came away a bit disappointed. I don’t mind too much. I had a free ticket. Here are few comments on Neurons to Nirvana: The Great Medicines.

I thought the film was going to focus on the results of using drugs like MDMA and LSD to treat disorders like anxiety and traumatic stress. It did talk about this, but mostly in generalities. Per the director, who was in attendance, the purpose of the movie is more to explore philosophy. He actually has a different film that’s targeted to practical usage and I might have enjoyed that one more.

Just before the movie, the director cautioned those of us sitting close to the front that we might want to move back because the film could be too intense. This was curious because the reason we were sitting up front is that there were no seats left in the back. We couldn’t have moved if we wanted to. It was also curious because neither my companion nor I experienced any sort of “intensity” from the film.

The movie mostly consisted of talking heads (psychiatrists, psychologists) along with various psychedelic special effects. Some of the effects were clever — very subtle changes in visuals and sound that would throw you off a bit. Others were not too unusual — rivers of streaming fractals and throbbing colors of the type you have probably seen before.

What I found frustrating was that some speakers tossed off what sounded like new-agey double talk but moved on before you could try to make sense of it. One person mentioned “energetic medicine,” for example, but failed to define it. The term just washed away with every else leaving us uninformed and unimpressed.

Another person, maybe two people, asserted that South American shamans take ayahausca and then while under its influence receive information from an unnamed source (botanical spirits?) about what plants to use for medicinal purposes . How do we know that shamans learn about medicinal plants this way, as opposed to through centuries of trial and error? We don’t. It was just proclaimed true.

I think an underlying message was that use of these drugs to cure neuroses was a mere side effect. The true glory is opening ourselves to greater reality. We are all one, the ego is an illusion, everything is totally awesome, love fills the universe, and so on. The film failed to make this a convincing and compelling point.

There was a Q & A with the director afterwards. One person asked something like this; “Do you think that these drugs enable us to make contact with other forms of intelligence?” He didn’t answer it directly, but did explain that he has an expanded definition of intelligence and he believed, for example, that water is more intelligent than any of us.

Personally, I think it would have been good to hear from PTSD patients who had received positive results from therapy with these drugs. From what I understand, some of the meds might be very effective for treating it. That would have been inspiring. What we got was nebulous, too long, and ocasionally interesting.

That’s the beauty and drawback of a great film festival (and SIFF is a great one). You take your chances and occasionally  hit a real gem. Sometimes not.


One thought on “neurons to nirvana

  1. It’s hard for me to understand why a film was made of this rather than a written article. What did film bring to the enterprise, other than to induce prejudice?

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