Never have celebrities felt so relatable to me, as when recounting their escapades with psychedelics. In the new Netflix documentary, Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics, we hear from Sarah Silverman, A$AP Rocky, Sting, Anthony Bourdain, Carrie Fisher, and more, who relay stories of their good trips, bad trips, first trips, and reasons for tripping. Sprinkled throughout these anecdotes, Nick Offerman plays a mad scientist, giving advice on what to do and not do on psychedelics (such as looking in the mirror). In a conversation with filmmaker Donick Cary—who previously worked on The Simpsons, Silicon Valley, Parks and Recreation, and Late Night with David Letterman—we learn what his motivations were for making the film, how it functions as an educational piece of service journalism, and its role in mainstreaming the conversation on psychedelics.
What inspired you to make this documentary?
It’s a good question with no obvious answer. I hate the saying “think out of the box,” but thinking out of the box has always been part of my understanding of the world, always a way to look at something differently. Psychedelics are a way to do that. Now, in divided times and a global existential crisis, psychedelics are a way to remind ourselves that we are all connected and made of the same stuff, and that if we treat the planet better, we’ll live better.
Are psychedelics part of your background?
I grew up with parents who were more beatniks than hippies—theater people, Whole Earth catalogue people. I grew up with organic gardening, yoga, and basket weaving. I think they saw the world through the eyes of the late Sixties revolution, and music was a big part of my life, like the Grateful Dead. My parents weren’t encouraging drugs, but they encouraged information. They were good at going like, “You know, you should read about the Merry Pranksters, or if you’re interested in cosmic thinking, read Carlos Castaneda.” So I was finding out about psychedelics through Grateful Dead concerts and music in general, studying what people had done in the Sixties, reading Timothy Leary, and asking a lot of questions.
How did you choose which celebrities to feature? Did you know already who had experience with psychedelics, and who wanted to be public about it?
I started this 11 years ago. The initial idea came from an encounter I had with Ben Stiller and his story. This is such a fun area for storytelling, and leads to a lot of funny stuff that doesn’t happen in a normal story. You can have dragons and space travel, plus it can be scary, funny, life-transformative, terrifying, et cetera. I’ve been a writer-produce for years; you’re always looking for fertile story ideas. And the way we got the celebrities—I knew I had Ben, and there were some obvious people you’d go to like members of the Grateful Dead. Now celebrities are hard to book, so part of the schedule of this thing was getting the word out: Who would say yes, and who was interested in talking about it? Some of the obvious candidates said no, they didn’t want to share these experiences for various reasons, such as having a deal with Disney or having kids. And some people who I thought would never want to talk about it said they had amazing stuff to share. It was real interesting, what would pop up in my inbox like, “Oh, Deepak Chopra wants to meet you.”
With all the news about psychedelics—the research, the decriminalization campaigns, plus people’s personal anecdotes—how did you decide what storyline to focus on?
The space has been changing quickly. We were making this movie, learning a lot of stuff as a new report or a new study would come out. At one point, I thought we were making [something like] Michael Pollan’s book with celebrities, but then his book came out, so I thought, “We don’t have to do that now.” In a documentary, you can only cover so much. At a certain point, we had to look at what we had and asked, “What is something that’s not in the conversation right now?” To me, that was real people, who you mostly know, who are sharing real stories and the reality of what psychedelics can do.
Historically, it’s covering this period where psychedelics were stigmatized until now; when no one was talking about it, and yet everyone and their uncle was doing some version of it. There was a lot of exploration still happening in the closet. I grew up in the era of “Just Say No,” and now we’re starting to have rational conversations. People like Charles Grob are doing amazing work. I met the team at MAPS and NYU, and they all have those incredible stories. They would often share with me a link to a profile that had been done on them, or a little bit of a doc that’s been done. [But we decided], let’s focus on the idea of reinforcing the destigmatization of it. A lot of people have done psychedelics and are fine and found them to be a tool for powerful stuff. But we also push the idea that it’s not for everybody.
I think one thing that I’ve learned, coming from a comedy background and working on The Simpsons and shows like that, is that people are more open to talking about big issues that they’re afraid of if they get them through something funny and have a smile on their face when they’re hearing about it. The diversity of people allows you to access it through a variety of different points of view. You might want a scientist’s take, a musician’s take; you might love Sting or Sarah Silverman. If that’s one way for you to come into the conversation, then you’re joining the conversation.
A few of the celebrities in the film talked about tripping in New York. How do you think the City affects the psychedelic experience?
It’s really interesting, when you ask anyone anything there are 20 different opinions. Sarah Silverman loves New York, [while] you might hate New York. Cities are great, everyone’s connected, but also on top of each other. It’s really a personal thing, what might be right for you might not be right for someone else. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong, it’s just not your thing. For me, nature is a big piece of the puzzle. In his wrap-up statement, Charles Grob talked about treatment centers with licensed therapists who know the dosage and work to help the patient see what they need and how to integrate it. And he says [it would be] “in nature.” It’s this reminder that it’s nice to connect with organic material because it’s what we’re made of. There’s something fundamental to that.
Do you think the documentary will inspire people to come out of the psychedelic closet or change the mainstream conversation about psychedelics?
The goal, at first, was to find funny, entertaining stories. When I did the interviews, I realized there’s a lot more here. Then, this new psychedelic revolution was happening, too. I thought, “Oh good, there’s a rational conversation to be had.” The goal was never to be an advocate for anything. I think personally, I am an advocate for people making informed decisions that are good for them, and hopefully this [documentary] shares a lot of practical information that comes from real experiences, rather than DARE or something whose goal is to make you stop thinking about it.
The doc feels like a piece of service journalism. Did you intend for it to also function as harm reduction?
We are 100 percent harm reduction advocates. When you’re shaping a documentary, what storyline do you want to follow? We thought it would be fun to follow the path of an acid trip, but we were realizing that was a 12-hour movie. We talked about different versions, such as what if this were a 21st century user’s guide? We thought, let’s use these stories as illustrations of how things can go wrong, like what happens if you get dosed? When we were framing that way, it seemed like we were advocating that everyone should take this, and it really isn’t that. Read about it, do the research. Find licensed therapists who can help you integrate it into your life. People have described psychedelics as six months of therapy in one afternoon.