BBC Three have recently released a two-part immersive documentary series titled Getting High For God? presented by actor Mawaan Rizwan. The consumption of hallucinogenic drugs in order to find God is not only explored in this documentary but is actually taken on by the presenter himself, making the programme insanely interesting for its viewership.
Part 1 – Trip to the Mountains
In the first episode, Rizwan finds himself in North America to visit the Oklevueha Native American Church based in Utah. Peyote is the particular drug of choice for this religious community and the hallucinogenic is of class A quality. Peyote (or Lophophora williamsii if you want to be fancy) is derived from seemingly harmless little cactus plants, which pack a punch as a result of their psychoactive properties.
Now you’re probably thinking, how the hell are they able to take a class A drug whilst sitting in a tepee in the woods; and I can’t even do MD whilst sitting in my tent at Reading? …Or perhaps you aren’t thinking that at all. Nevertheless, the strangeness of United States’ laws will almost always prevail – The American Indian Religions Freedoms Act Amendments of 1994 protects the harvest, possession, consumption and cultivation of peyote as part of “bona fide religious ceremonies”, so that’s exactly the law presenter Mawaan Rizwan decided to follow.
After paying a pricey membership fee of $200 Rizwan was officially a member of the church and ready to discover the true intentions of his fellow members. Presenter Rizwan quickly found that this was not all about “getting high in the mountains,” and it is rather about respecting age-old sacred religious ways and understanding how they can help in the quest for the answers to life’s many problems.
Throughout his two-day trip to the beautifully picturesque North American landscape, Rizwan often found that the motive behind many church members existence in the Oklevueha Native American Church came as a result of a yearning to overcome personal hardships. It’s Mawaan’s empathetic nature, his informal tone and colloquial interview style that make this episode worth the watch as it truly aids viewers to accept the aims of the church and it’s members.
Part 2 – Ayahuasca in Rio
In part 2 of Getting High for God? Mawaan travels to the ever-relevant Rio de Janeiro to find out why members of a Brazilian church use the hallucinogenic ayahuasca in their services.
Much like the previous investigated drug, peyote, ayuahuasca also falls under the class A category and is made into a drinkable pulp after the roots of a certain vine and leaf are smashed together. The drug has been used for centuries in the spiritual ceremonies of Amazonian people, but has recently found itself becoming more popular among modern religious movements.
Interestingly, although Brazil is renowned for its Roman Catholic culture; which is a given thanks to the large statue of Jesus situated in the ex-capital, a variety of different religious beliefs can be found in Rio, with each one intersecting the other. This can be clearly seen from Rizwan’s documentary, as the Rio de Janeiro area is one that heavily focuses on consumption of hallucinogenics, has come to embrace many beliefs in order to develop personal spirituality.
Throughout the documentary it was often very easy to hold the misconception that the people in these communities are just glorified druggies. However, by the end of the episode you find this is not the case at all, these drugs are not taken for recreational purposes and the ceremonies are taken extremely seriously. One man explains to Mawaan that if he wanted to take drugs for fun he could just go to a party, ayahuasca is not a party drug and the comparison is almost offensive for members of the religious community as it categorizes them into something they’re not.
For me, this is one of the most immersive documentaries I’ve seen, and it definitely makes for great viewing. However, the fact that Mawaan actually takes the drugs is not the only high point (unintentional pun there), a lot of delusions of the use of drugs within religion are crushed in this series and the extent of intensity that these hallucinogens play in these religious sub groups is truly learnt.
Words by Georgia Hinson