One of the most effective ways to educate people about psychedelics and dispel lingering stigmas is through high quality and insightful media. The new documentary series Healing Powers of Weed, Psychedelics, & Other Mindful Practices by documentarian Mareesa Stertz (available on Snoop Dogg’s media platform Merry Jane) is exactly that, taking viewers on informative, bite-sized journeys that elucidate just how powerfully healing these substances can be when used appropriately. We were delighted to speak with Mareesa recently about the project, how it came about, and why we need to make self healing cool in order to evolve as a culture.
Hi Mareesa! Thanks so much for speaking with us. Can you share a little bit about your personal story with psychedelics and what lead you to putting together this documentary series?
I was raised pretty hardcore Born Again Christian. It was quite intense, and I never felt connected to it. People at my church would go into fits of tongues and worship a lot, and I never felt anything. So after I put God on the spot and said “Can you give me a sign?” and never got one, I gave up on it. But I was still pretty young, and I was still searching for something to connect to. I felt very without direction.
That all changed when I took LSD at 18 years old, and had this really powerful experience. I went to that rave feeling awkward and strange and that life was just hard, and came out of it really understanding that we’re all one, we’re all connected, and love is behind it all. Learning that was pretty profound in the sense that it gave me an internal compass. It made me feel like the universe was a safe place, and I understood on some deep level that I belonged. That was the first part of my psychedelic puzzle.
I still had a lot of social anxiety, and when I was 27 I did ayahuasca for the first time. I didn’t have a mystical experience, but people in the morning said “Yeah, just look back at your life 6 months from now and see how things change.” And they were right! Six months from then, I realized I was no longer struggling with that social anxiety that had plagued me my entire life.
Then about four years ago, I started working with people who were using these medicines shamanically. I had been making films for a while but nothing had taken off; I was just a struggling artist with a lot of cool, weird music videos that hadn’t gone anywhere. I started doing documentaries after a few profound experiences- two profound journeys in particular- and I realized that these two things needed to go together: my documentary films and my journey work. I wanted to share it with the world.
I ended up going to Peru and having some powerful experiences. When I first sat in ceremony, the aya didn’t work and I had to drink it six different times. Then, after doing a couple of dietas, the spirit of ayahuasca finally let me experience it. It asked me “Do you want to create life?” And I was in such a blissed out state- I was like “Do you mean immaculate conception?” [laughs] I almost said no, and then I was like no, fuck it, if ayahuasca decides to get me pregnant, why the hell not?” So I said yes, and within 9 months I was shooting stuff around these plant medicines, and money came my way and finally financed this project.
It’s funny, because for a lot of my life there’s been a lot of struggle and feeling like nothing really made sense, and now I can look back in hindsight and realize that all those struggles set me up to tell these stories. I think we have to suffer and experience pain in order to empathize and connect with others, so I feel like without a lot of these struggles I wouldn’t be able to tell these stories. I’m sort of in awe of how it’s all come together.
Yeah totally- I feel like ayahuasca or the universe gave life to the idea and sort of fueled it in a way. The plant medicines, the collective, they enlivened something that was just an idea in my head that wasn’t quite happening. I was actually [already] shooting my own journeys, but didn’t have a platform… Kinda crazy, huh?
[Laughs] Actually quite the opposite… among the people I talk to, this is a familiar kind of story.
The first person who comes to my mind is Rachel Harris, who wrote Listening to Ayahuasca. She too felt this calling, that the medicine was presenting her with an opportunity to say yes or say no. That seems to be a particularly common theme, especially with ayahuasca compared to other psychedelics: an actual life mission is presented and can be adopted.
That’s so cool- I just met her at the LAPSS conference; she’s great!
Have you had any surprises while shooting Healing Powers that you didn’t expect, or fascinating subjects that arose?
There have been episodes that came out of nowhere, like when I met Dr. Z who is a drug designer. We were in Holland shooting an episode on the psychedelic renaissance, and visiting different psychedelic society meetings happening around Europe. So we were shooting and he was a guest speaker- I’d never heard of him before, and that turned into an episode on its own and a really weird, wild adventure with a drug that he had designed called “Dreamtime.”
When I create projects, I try to not have much of a locked down idea to begin with. I do my best to let the story figure itself out, to see where it goes and infuse it with the magic it needs to come up the best way possible. I’m happy with how they turned out, considering the short format. A longer-term goal would be to have 25-60 minute episodes where we share people’s stories before, during, and after they work with medicine. Right now, they’re almost like trailers in a way.
I feel like they are very thorough too… at the end of each episode, I almost feel like I watched a 20-minute thing but with all the fat trimmed.
Oh cool, thank you!
You described Healing Powers as a “rock-n-roll version of a self-help book.” I thought that was pretty epic, and to me it hints that self improvement and personal transformation are gaining more mainstream acceptance these days, that there’s space for something like that.
Amen! Finally, right?
It’s funny- I’ve been giving a lot of talks about this show at conferences, and I like to open with the fact that we have systems for personal hygiene and physical education, and somehow we as a human race have evolved this far, and we can figure out how to make fighter jets and plastic surgery, but somehow we never came up with a system to take care of our own emotional wellbeing. How the fuck did we get this far? It blows me away.
For me, embarking on this journey has been probably the most exciting thing I’ve done. I’ve been to Peru, I’ve learned kundalini yoga, I‘ve hung out with shamans, I’ve interviewed fascinating people, and it’s sent me to a lot of interesting places. It’s not always easy, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I want to share how awesome it is to do this sort of thing, and how much my relationships with others and with myself have improved. My quality of life across the board has improved. I think it’s cool to do self work, and I want to help others realize it’s cool- to make it normal.
Yeah, amen to that!
Science is finally showing more and more the mind-body connection and how the limbic system works, and it’s supporting the idea that emotional experiences are stored within our bodies on physical and energetic levels. If we don’t do the work to process these experiences, then we get super blocked up and into much more of a survival mode, as opposed to allowing ourselves to be present and live in the moment. It’s a direct reflection of the state the world is in- it’s like we are emotionally constipated on a global level, and this is how our environment and our politics have gotten into the states they are in, including the dysfunctional relationship between the masculine and the feminine. All of these things are due to not knowing how to process our emotional experiences. It’s not only a matter of healing being cool, but also a matter of it being kind of essential if we want to survive, basically. Survival is cool, right?
[Laughs] Yeah, it seems better than the alternative.
Yeah! “Healing Powers: Making Survival Cool” [laughs] There are just tons of amazing stories coming out, and the world needs to know so we can get the goddamn legislation passed so that people can have access to these tools.
We are very grateful to Mareesa for creating these great documentary shorts and speaking with us about her journey. Check out these awesome Healing Powers of Weed, Psychedelics, & Other Mindful Practices episodes here: