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7 Sensational Drug Documentaries

Drug docs (much like addiction memoirs) have become a cottage industry in recent years. But the best ones are not to be missed.

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The Wet House (clip)




While The Union examined the drug war with a serious, almost scholarly tone, Kevin Booth tackles the subject with the anger and bluster of Michael Moore on crack. An unapologetic slice of rabble-rousing propaganda, Booth’s documentary skewers the American approach to the war on drugs with the help of talking heads like  Jello BiafraRalph NadarGary Johnsonand the ever-busy Tommy Chong—who seems to have been working non-stop to get weed legalized ever since the Bush administration  turned him into a political prisoner. On the other side of the aisle, prohibitionists like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and Drug Free America’s Calvina Fay are given just enough rope to hang themselves. Yes, some people have criticized this film for being too strident, and others wonder why the opinion of an ex-crack dealer like  Freeway Ricky Ross matters. But taken for the full-blooded piece of pamphleteering that it is,  American Drug War remains compelling.

American Drug War: The Last White Hope (trailer)


This gritty and relentless film packs a huge wallop into only 40 minutes. Following the daily routine of 29-year old Junior Rios as he tries to sustain his $200 dollar-a-day dope habit against the post-apocalyptic backdrop of the early-'80s South Bronx, director Jon Alpert records the degradation and downward spiral of New York's most neglected borough just as much as he meditates on Rios’s unhappy life. We follow him from the roofs of abandoned buildings, where he rips away antennas to sell for scrap, to his tiny tenement apartment, where his children beg him not to use heroin any more. Winding up in a state-run rehab, he is yelled at by counselors, ordered to clean toilets, and finally runs away. Rios is a compelling anti-hero—charismatic and deadpan as he lays his sad life bare for Alpert’s camera. Beautifully shot, Junkie Junior will hold you spellbound all the way to its chilling denouement.

The Life of Junkie Junior (trailer)




This fascinating journey into a field of addiction research that's far from the mainstream focuses on a hallucinogenic substance derived from the root of the African Tabernanthe iboga plant and highly revered in shamanistic circles. Since the '60s, Ibogaine advocates have claimed that ingesting it can cure addiction. Dutch filmmaker Benjamin De Leonen became interested in the Ibogaine story as a university student, after reading an article in a magazine. Fascinated by the spiritual and cultural background of the plant—and also by Big Pharma's resistance to it—he dedicated himself to producing this documentary. Undoubtedly the fullest exploration of Ibogaine treatment ever screened, the result is in-depth in some areas, but scant in others. Unfortunately Deleonon couldn't convince any representatives of the pharmaceutical companies that have stonewalled on Ibogaine research to talk on camera—they preferred to issue terse “no comments” instead. But the compelling testimony of ex-addicts who say Ibogaine helped them, a rare peek into an Ibogaine treatment, and footage of a traditional Bwiti ritual are major compensation for the lack of a scientific component. You're left with some provocative questions: is pharma companies' resistance to Ibogaine rooted in the fact that it's a psychoactive substance? Or do they have a financial imperative to stop the proliferation of a natural substance that offers a cure, as opposed to the profitable and never-ending addiction treatments that they've developed?

Ibogaine—Rite of Passage (trailer)



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