Some drugs have been known to produce altered sensory experiences in the body. We call these drugs hallucinogens, and the psychoactive ingredients in these drugs produce powerful hallucinations which, in some cases, are difficult to discern from objects in reality. Constant exposure to hallucinogens can lead to hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (HPPD), which is a condition wherein the images seen when high are permanent.
The effects of hallucinogen use are visibly and creatively shown in the 1980 movie Altered States, where Edward Jessup, played by William Hurt, studies schizophrenia by inducing a state of consciousness similar to the disease through the aid of a “mushroom cocktail” from Mexico. The experiment goes awry as he undergoes uncontrollable physical and psychological transformations, all of which are brought about by his complete immersion in his sensory deprivation research.
With that brief background in mind, the movie is quite visual, and it is well-known for its interpretation of the things drug users see, and how they react to these situations. By extension, it also displays the dynamic between the user and the people around him, as shown in the relationship between the main character, his wife, and his colleagues at the university. The images are colorful, albeit a bit aged at this point in time, but the message they try to convey about hallucinogen use is clear.
So, is Altered States a must-see? Definitely. Although the movie is 30 years old and the special effects superficial at this point, it still has a charm about it that makes you want to see it anyway. Also, if you want to know more about the effects of hallucinogens on the body and social relationships, this is probably as close as you can get.