A documentary about three white, middle-aged men finding themselves at the crossroads of life and feeling bored, lost and looking for answers might seem like the last thing you would want to watch. But when that story involves those three men seeking out the powerful psychedelic 5MeO-DMT, it’s worth putting aside that first impression and sitting down and taking a look.
That’s exactly what I was able to do this week when the makers of the documentary 5MeO put the film on YouTube for free. And after watching it, I can happily recommend that you do the same too (you’ll have to be quick, it’s only up free until the 29th!).
At a crossroads in their lives, three friends hear of the notorious Sonoran Desert toad, whose venom is said to induce life-changing states of mind. Their story begins as a quest to explore something intriguing, to try something different, to find excitement, but culminates in what could be the most profoundly shocking experience of their lives.
The documentary begins by introducing the three friends, film-makers Boris, Frank and Charles: the trivialities of their lives, their motivations, but perhaps most importantly that they are currently in a bit of a rut and looking to find out how to be alive. “I’m absolutely certain about nothing… I just don’t believe what anybody else says, but I don’t have a clue myself., ” says Frank, while Charles observes “I’m a bit bored with the person I’ve become, to be honest.”
At some point, the three hatched a plan to try and shake up their lives, and their worldviews, by taking 5-MeO-DMT, considered to be one of the most potent psychedelics known. It is found in a wide variety of plant types and at least one toad species, the Sonoran Desert Toad – the toad secretes a venom which, when smoked, induces profound mystical states of consciousness.
Frank has done other psychedelics – mushrooms, LSD and ayahuasca – but Boris and Charles are psychedelic ‘virgins’. As such, and because Frank has not yet even ever met Charles in real life, part one of the film (after introducing the three men) is about a separate psychedelic: magic mushrooms. The three take a trip together to make sure they feel they are ‘up’ to the more powerful 5-MeO-DMT.
This section adds to the introduction in helping us better understand the three adventurers. Frank is a seeker, though quite a neurotic one who is constantly seeking answers and looking for what he can learn from new experiences. Boris – who perhaps has the most difficult of the mushroom trips – has a lot of baggage beneath the surface, and struggles a bit with the loss of control under the influence of psilocybin. And Charles, who outwardly is the most cynical of the three about the experience – “I do believe in science, and I certainly don’t believe in magic and gods and all that. I like evidence on my toast”, he notes at one point – ends up being the most open to the experience (perhaps as a result of overcoming prostate cancer a decade previously).
After this experience, the trio move on to organising a 5-MeO-DMT experience. In the lead-up to this, anxiety and stress are evident – they have all read about the experience, how it obliterates the self, and the ontological shock it often causes due to the shifting of reality.
Psychedelics researcher Dr David Luke helpfully explains some aspects of the 5MeO trip at this point:
The terror inherent within a 5-MeO experience or DMT experience is the ontological shock. You’re very quickly ripped from this general consensus reality, which we take as ‘the’ reality, into another world which seems as real, if not more real, than this one…yet is decidedly very, very different from this world.
It does seem to command the respect that it probably deserves, it’s not used in a classic recreational context. People aren’t going down to the pub having a few pints and taking, and that would be extremely ill-advised as well.
You feel you’re having a complete loss or shift of identity, you can very quickly forget who or what you are. It very quickly takes you into some categories and realms that you can only phrase in a mystical context.
You can have a 10 minute experience, which can completely change your worldview.
The three men then join up with their facilitator, Olli, who provides them with synthetic 5-MeO-DMT (though Olli has toads, he no longer wishes to exploit them – as Charles says, “we could see that we could have the same thing without squeezing the juice out of a living animal”). They each walk through their experience – their thoughts leading up to it, and then what they experienced during the intense 10 minutes under the influence (as best they can – as they stress, there is no way of explaining such an ineffable experience).
I’ll let you watch the film to let them describe it in their own words, but two reactions are worth noting. ‘Materialist atheist’ Charles observes that “it’s terribly difficult to talk about because it feels so cheesy, but it was profound. I remember saying out loud that ‘this is bliss’ and ‘this is enough to make you believe in an afterlife’.” And when Frank is asked to provide his thoughts as to whether he took anything from the experience, he takes a good minute to answer – the silence itself is striking. Eventually, he notes “it’s amazing to not take anything out of it, when I’ve always taken stuff out of something. I’ve always taken shit out of things, or ‘what can I get out of this’. That’s amazing.”
But it’s worth noting too, that they each offer their own warning about taking the psychedelic experience too lightly, or thinking that you can understand what it is from other people’s descriptions, which always fall short of what happens in that moment.
Overall, the film provides an excellent ‘real’ look at people’s introduction and reaction to psychedelics. Instead of New Age hype, or governmental demonisation, we get honest assessments from the three about their experience, what they got out of it, and why – or even whether – they would recommend it to others.
If you enjoy the documentary – or miss seeing it while free on YouTube – you can do the right thing and support the film-makers by purchasing your own copy from Vimeo or via Amazon Prime.