It is time for psychedelics to come out of the shadows of subculture and into the mainstream.
Psychedelics are moving into mainstream medicine – and television.
Psychedelics are having a moment.
New research is exploring how psychedelics can treat an array of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, OCD and PTSD. But doctors and scientists aren’t the only ones responsible for psychedelics moving into the mainstream.
In his Hulu hit series Nine Perfect Strangers, director Jonathan Levine puts psychedelics front and centre. His aim is to make psychedelic-assisted therapy go mainstream, describing it as one of five options ‘for the salvation of humanity’.
Nine Perfect Strangers, based on the 2018 novel by Liane Moriarty, is an American drama with an all-star ensemble cast of Nicole Kidman, Melissa McCarthy, Bobby Canavale and Samara Weaving. The series follows nine strangers who descend upon wellness resort Tranquillum House for a ten day retreat led by the mysterious Masha (played by Kidman). Each guest is struggling with emotional baggage and trauma.
The series received mixed reviews. Some critics dismissed it as another failed book-to-screen adaptation. Others applauded the series for exploring the nuances of new-age wellness culture. But what caused the biggest stir was its progressive portrayal of psychedelics.
How psychedelics are explored in Nine Perfect Strangers
In an early episode, a guest accuses Masha of drugging them, which she confirms. Their initial shock wears off once they are assured that they have been microdosing with psychedelics, specifically psilocybin, in a safe and controlled environment. The remaining episodes follow the guests as they consensually experiment with hallucinogens and MDMA to come to terms with their pain. The guests are seen to confront their demons, reconnect with their loved ones and overcome negative thoughts.
The portrayal of psychedelics is far from perfect. Masha forgoes consent, lets the guests wander unattended and neglects strict protocols. However, cinematic ploys and plotline aside, the show communicates a message that psychedelics can be an effective treatment for mental health conditions.
A new era for psychedelics
Nine Perfect Strangers helps to normalise the use of psychedelics. As Hulu’s most watched original series it can be argued that this is one of the most viewed and talked about commercial exploration of psychedelics yet.
The guests who use psychedelics in Nine Perfect Strangers are not radical ‘hippies’, ‘delinquent’ youth or criminals. Most of them are conventionally successful and physically healthy people. From athletes to teachers to authors, the series shows that all sorts of people use drugs and live normal lives. This challenges the stereotype of psychedelics as one of hippies, tie-dye and visual distortions.
Nine Perfect Strangers also helps push back against a narrative that drug use is for the lazy or weak-willed and paves the way for new conversations about drugs – conversations that will take place in book clubs and pub chats and WhatsApp group chats.
It is time for psychedelics to come out of the shadows of subculture and into the mainstream. That way, they can be accepted and normalised as a tool for therapy, rather than a threat to society.
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