One from the vault: Testing Salvia Divinorum for science

 

Back in 1998, I was part of a team of academics, medics, journalists and psychonauts who created a TV documentary series called Sacred Weeds.

 

 

Over the years, the series has since become something of a cult item. First shown on Channel 4 in the UK and syndicated around the world, Sacred Weeds examined a different psychoactive plant or fungus – Blue Lily, Henbane, Fly Agaric, Salvia Divinorum – in each of its four hour-long programmes.

 

The premise was simple. Each of the ‘weeds’ is used in shamanic rituals somewhere in the world. Our job was to investigate their properties using research, anecdote, laboratory testing, and finally self-administration.

 

Everything was carefully regulated. There were psychiatrists; risk assessments; special import licences; an American ethnobotanist called Daniel Siebert; and a resident cultural archaeologist, Dr Andrew Sherratt. We hired out Hammerwood Park, a near-derelict old stately home near East Grinstead that had once been Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page’s retreat. We stayed there, slowly working our way through the weeds: their histories, their mythologies, their effects.

 

I was chronicling the production, as well as participating. I remember everything about my own turn as guinea-pig very clearly. But I only discovered the programme on YouTube recently. I present ‘my’ episode – in which I took my turn to be lab-rat for the Salvia Divinorum test – in its entirety at the top of this post. And if you just want to know what a brush with Salvinorin A looks like (how it feels is an entirely different ballgame) the crucial point in the test is below.

 

 

In posting this, I hope I can steer a few people towards the Sacred Weeds DVD. Its on-sceeen graphics are of their time, and for those of us who were there, it feels like there was so much more explored than made the edit.

 

Still, there’s also an almost Open University seriousness to it that feels oddly fresh all these years later. There are no celebrities undertaking personal journeys. It’s not in a challenge format. People speak, and finish what they say, before the camera moves on. And for me, it’s that – and not the on-screen taking of psychotropic drugs – that feels most edgy today.

 

 

 

Premiere: Official preview clip from ‘The Notorious Mr Bout’

 

There’s a great documentary feature film on arms smuggler Viktor Bout at Sundance 2014 this week.

 

I’m part of it, but don’t let that put you off – it’s by the team who made the award-winning Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer last year. There’s more detail below, but in the meantime, here’s the official trailer for The Notorious Mr Bout.

 

 

I’m available for comment or press purposes around the release of the film. Contact me through the comments here, or on Twitter where I’m @MattPotter. For film or TV work, contact Rebecca Watson at Valerie Hoskins Associates.

 

Film: Feature documentary ‘The Notorious Mr Bout’ to premiere at Sundance

[Update to this story 12/1/14: The Notorious Mr Bout has just been added to the BBC’s Storyville season for 2015/16.]

 

The Notorious Mr Bout, a feature-length documentary film on ‘Merchant of Death’ Viktor Bout – in which I appear and on which I consulted – is to premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

 

Matt Potter features in Maxim Pozdorovkin and Tony Gerber's Merchant of Death film about Viktor Bout

The Merchant of Death, behind bars in Thailand (Used by kind permission, from the film ‘The Notorious Mr Bout’)

 

 

The 90-minute documentary is produced and directed by Maxim Pozdorovkin and Tony Gerber, whose latest film on Pussy Riot won international acclaim and was banned in Russia. Its screening at Robert Redford’s Sundance Festival in Utah this January comes in advance of its international release and tour of European and American festivals.

 

The film follows the rise and fall of Viktor Bout – family man, polyglot, raconteur, and the world’s most notorious smuggler of illicit arms, currently serving time in a US jail – from Soviet military days to Africa, Afghanistan, through his arrest in Thailand for offering to supply arms to Colombia’s FARC rebels, to his conviction in a New York courtroom and beyond.

 

It’s exciting news here, and if you’re interested in organised crime, arms trafficking, the violent chaos of the Soviet breakup, modern terror tactics or the shadow world uncovered in Outlaws Inc, my guess is you’ll love it.

 

It promises to be a great film, and I’m making myself available for interview and comment both around the Sundance schedule and through the year’s releases. Just contact me via the comments, or on Twitter, where I’m @MattPotter.