5 Films that are Valid Substitutes for Psychotropic Substances


Drugs are a tricky thing. Somehow they managed to get themselves made illegal while remaining one of society’s most mainstream obsessions. You don’t do drugs (wink wink), I don’t do drugs (hear that, N.S.A?) but somehow drugs have wheedled their way into prominence in the media and in life. That’s mainly because scriptwriters aren’t imaginative enough to come up with something better for their criminals to be doing (I, for one, could see Michael Corleone running an illegal dildo promotional campaign in Texas).

I’m not here to list movies about drugs, though. No, then I’d be here all day. Fortunately, creative minds foster addictive personalities, and there are therefore a smattering of films made by key creatives who were high on psychotropic substances during the production. Actually, probably more than a smattering. Regardless, that leaves us with a bunch of films with an aesthetic that simulates getting high.

And that is how I am going to get around my legal and moral responsibilities. Instead of advising you to take drugs (my lawyer is telling me to say that I would never do that) I will advise you to watch films that will make you feel like you’re taking drugs. For the optimum impact, go to a dark room, set up a projector with the focus slightly off and project it to fill up as much of the wall as possible. For the full effect, try sticking a syringe into your eyeball! Though that’s not recommended.

5. Easy Rider

Substitute for: Marijuana

Easy Rider

Easy Rider is the very definition of a drug movie. A movie about drugs, made on drugs, that leaves your brain so stoned you won’t even realize the credits are playing until they’re over.

Representing 1960s counterculture, everything in Easy Rider is exactly what you would find in a smoking room in Amsterdam – from the hippies discussing Marxist theories to the Harley-Davidson. Well, maybe not the Harley. Everything has a slightly disconnected, episodic feel to it as you pop from one experience to the next. Plus, with Jack Nicholson’s ridiculous, slow drawl it even feel like you’re talking with a stoner.

Most of all, though, Easy Rider offers a sense of freedom that, I am reliably informed, is one of the attractions of smoking pot. Here are two men running from society, from the government, from everything, and truly experiencing life! Well, the parts of life that don’t involve responsibility or reality, but life! The drug-fuelled orgy at the film’s climax is a broken, psychotic sequence of bodies and structures pieced into a frenzied pastiche where anything goes, even the shackles of time have been broken.

And then our heroes are randomly shot to death by a redneck truck driver. So… I guess drugs are bad. Or rednecks are bad? I don’t really know where this was going. Man, I’ve got the munchies.

4. The Holy Mountain

Substitute for: LSD

the holy mountain

This was a difficult one for me to include. Not because it’s not like doing acid, but because I could really have selected any film by master of psychedelia Alejandro Jodorowsky and gotten away with it. His best-known film, El Topo, became an underground sensation with a very popular midnight screening, and we all know what happens at midnight in underground circles (drugs, in case you actually didn’t know).

The Holy Mountain was Jodorowsky’s next film, and it’s crazier. Basically, a guy who looks a bit like Jesus climbs a tower for some reason (maybe something to do his likeness being used for a mass-produced tourist souvenir of Jesus on the cross) and is invited to experience enlightenment alongside representatives from each of the planets, all of whom are successful businesspeople with politically controversial businesses.

I once watched an advert for LSD where a girl realized her hotdog was alive while on the drug (actually, it might have been an anti-drug advert… hmm). This trip was, for her, a very real experience, which is why a film like The Holy Mountain, where the trippy moments come from a very physically realistic environment, is more appropriate for simulating an acid trip than the flashing lights and colorful swirls of the more common psychedelic films.

And who hasn’t gone to Jupiter to mass-produce prints of various buttocks for art galleries while on an acid trip? I certainly haven’t, just in case any of you N.S.A agents were wondering.

3. Enter the Void

Substitute for: Ecstasy

Enter the Void

Sometimes it isn’t so much about the actual effects of the drugs so much as the environment they are taken in. Ecstasy is a party drug, and while I wouldn’t go so far as calling Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void a party film, if you can get through the thumping opening credits without getting your groove on there’s something wrong with you. For example, you may have epilepsy, in which case you will be too busy having a fit to get any kind of groove.

The film is shot completely from the perspective of the main character, Oscar, who actually ends up getting shot and killed about a third of the way through. From there it’s an insane out-of-body experience as Oscar’s life flashes before his – and your – eyes, before his soul hangs out to watch over his sister. Sure, the narrative is kind of new-age, which isn’t a word you’d expect to be associated with ecstasy, but it’s the look and feel that is more appropriate to that drug.

The film is a hyperreal sensory experience, throwing pumping, blaring noises, flashing neon and electric grunge out of the screen. It offers a veil of heightened senses in a sensory world.

2. Naked Lunch

Substitute for: Amphetamines

naked lunch

Naked Lunch is the first film in this list that not only feels like using psychotropic substances but is actually about an addiction to them. You know you’re heading for a head trip when you hear that it is based on a novel long thought unfilmable, and then you’re doubly sure of that when you hear the novel was written by Beat Generation novelist William S. Burroughs. Add the fact that it was directed by David Cronenberg, a man obsessed with perfecting the art of making people vomit (I assume that was his goal in the 80s) and you start to suspect there is no drug strong enough to simulate the experience of watching such a movie.

It is not the initial euphoric sensation of amphetamine use that Naked Lunch simulates, though. Rather, it is the aftereffects, particularly the psychotic paranoia. The main character, William Lee, is an exterminator who becomes addicted to his own bug powder. It causes powerful hallucinations of a giant bug that orders Lee to kill his wife.

To cut a long story short, Lee eventually ends up killing his wife by accident and fleeing to the bugs’ world, Interzone, where he writes reports for a handler that exists only in his drug-addled mind. Oh, and his typewriter turns into a bug’s head. While nothing makes sense after approximately the fifth minute, there is an overwhelming sense of some great power manipulating Lee and things just beyond our understanding. Although this may just be a result of the movie not really making much sense (or trying to, for that matter), it certainly gets you looking over your shoulder for the Interzone bugs.

1. Eraserhead

Substitute for: Bath Salts


Bryan Saunders is an artist that does self-portraits after taking various drugs. According to him, taking bath salts “was like a cloud of doom settling on [his] shoulders.” He went on to mention a feeling of his brain being clogged, anger and an unsettled emotional state. Clearly not all drugs stimulate euphoria.

If that kind of feeling seems up your alley, you may want to consider watching David Lynch’s first film, Eraserhead, instead. Plus, watching Eraserhead is less likely to make you eat someone’s face off. That’s a bonus, I guess.

Eraserhead exists in an other-wordly, industrial universe and stars a fuzzy-haired young man who somehow ends up with a squelching, mutated fetus-baby. Yes, the entire film is an analogy for David Lynch’s fear of sex. In all its squishy glory.

A perpetual drone plays in the background, wriggling into your mind like some kind of bath-salt-induced imaginary maggot. The stark black and white cinematography only serves to compound the unsettling atmosphere.

As an added bonus, some of the scenes, particularly the baby, vaguely resemble the kind of squishy, fleshy experience of eating off a man’s face. In case that’s something you’ve wanted to try out.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. Great article! Naked Lunch sounds like an interesting film to watch.

    And then after watching these movies, check out Trainspotting so you can look at the horrific nature of heroin addiction. 😀

  2. Hilarious article! Makes me want to watch these films (while completely sober, of course). Glad to see David Lynch making the number one spot; his stuff always makes me feel like something is going horribly wrong with my head.

  3. Vic Millar

    Enter the Void is such a trip, I love it. It really feels like an out of body experience. Spring Breakers is another movie I could see fitting in on a list like this. Cool article, haven’t read anything like it!

    • Andrew Couzens

      I missed Spring Breakers when it came around (by the time I realised it wasn’t just another gross-out comedy and actually worth seeing it was only on at one cinema in my town, but it’s the most expensive, pretentious cinema around so I gave it a miss) but would really like to give it a shot when it comes out on DVD. I’m kind of excited to hear that it’s a bit of a trip.

  4. Nick Santoro

    Very cool article, smartly written and hysterical! I haven’t seen a few of these and will definitely check them out now. I coulda sworn Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was going to be in here though. Hunter S. Thompson is one of my favorite authors.

    • Andrew Couzens

      I originally had Fear and Loathing down as a substitute for a ‘narcotics cocktail’, but unfortunately I ended up deciding that it was a little too obvious, what with it actually being about drug use. That movie is awesome and mental though.

  5. I laughed. And I don’t laugh when reading so I’ll give you that. Thanks!

  6. Ged Crefin

    Great article, put a big smile on my face! You have a great writing style, cheeky, funny, smart and knowledgeable. I thought all these films were substitutes for magic mushrooms though – just me I guess?!

  7. I need to tell you… a lot of lists about movies have slide my plate, but this is the most creative one. You came up with it when consuming the mushrooms? Did ya?! 😉

  8. Taylor Ramsey

    Hey who hasn’t wanted to eat someones face off? We all get munchie at times!
    Very fun, and funny articel!

  9. Kelsey Clark

    Bath salts!!? Really!!?? Ha ha. Awesome article.

  10. In Enter the Void he smoked DMT, he didn’t take ecstasy.

  11. Claire Macallister

    Although I’ve never seen any of these films (unfortunately), I love your style of writing. Witty, articulate and insightful writing.

  12. Enter the Void is about DMT, not ecstacy. You do not have out-of-body experiences on Molly.

  13. Jonny Brown

    Great article. The only one I’ve seen is Eraserhead so there’s four more films to stick on my list, thanks for enlightening me!

  14. Kahlia Sankey

    Eraserhead – bathsalt analogy made me laugh, thanks for that!

  15. Ken Syme

    Love the article – absolutely hysterical! I think that there are a lot of 60s films that would definitely fit nicely into the list (a few Beatles films come to mind) and I think that Across the Universe might work too. I also want to say that I thought Eraserhead was a great and hilarious way to end the article!

  16. Camille Brouard

    I was really hoping Eraserhead would be on this list… and yep, there it is! I just knew bath salts wouldn’t be my thing, here’s the proof I need haha. I felt like my head was going to turn inside out and fall off during that film. A friend and I found a youtube clip of the dancing miniature chickens on youtube and thought ‘we need to watch this’, watched it once and I reckon I might give it a miss from now on (though I own it on DVD!) I have also read Naked Lunch, what a pleasant novel it was. Full of bodily fluids and gratuitous mutilation I seem to recall. Anywho, really enjoyed reading this article, I had a really good laugh from some of your observations!

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