Unprescribed focuses on the potential positives of medical marijuana. (Photo credit: Steve Ellmore)

This film is publicized by Bunker 15 Films (www.bunker15films.com) . Bunker 15 helps connect indie films to entertainment journalists and critics in order to provide said films with press, something that can be hard to receive when you are a small film crew

Directed by: Steve Ellmore

Starring: Boone Cutler, Joshua James Frey, Janine Lutz, Suzanne Sisley, Hope Wiseman, Scheril Murray Powell, Fabian Henry, Joey Gilbert

Synopsis (Bunker 15 Films):

For many, the battles continue even out of uniform, as they recover from war-related trauma through a multitude of prescription medicines. Unprescribed reveals a history of prohibition steeped in racism and political motivation.

In his first feature-length motion picture, producer, director, and military veteran Steve Ellmore presents us with stories from fellow veterans, spouses, and family members on coping with war-related injuries and the loss of loved ones due to suicide. We quickly discover that all the stories are the same. After returning from combat they’ve all been prescribed what many refer to as the ‘combat cocktail’ or ‘zombie dope,’ leading many to believe that suicide is a possible solution to their pain.

Additional info (Bunker 15 Films): 

** Prior to Covid-19 shutting down large showings, this film was slated to be screened for the U.S. Congress in their 450 seat theater on Capitol Hill. While that showing has been delayed, the newly minted Urbanflix (a Streaming service that hightlights diversity and alternative voices), which launched in May 2020 included Unprescribed in their July film debuts. 

Amid the opioid epidemic and the loss of nearly 22 veterans a day to suicide, an increasing number of veterans are turning to marijuana as a safer, more effective alternative to the dangerous mix of pharmaceuticals prescribed to them.

Since it was first prohibited nearly 100 years ago, we have been taught that marijuana is bad, it’s dangerous, it is a gateway drug that leads to more dangerous substances. Now we are learning that we have been systematically lied to through government controlled propaganda.

Unprescribed turns to experts like Dr. Sisley, the only FDA approved researcher studying marijuana for PTSD to answer the age-old question, ‘is marijuana safe?

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Let’s Do This! Award for Documentary Short and Feature Film at the 2020 Colorado Intl. Cannabis & Hemp Film Festival

Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Film at the Los Angeles Motion Picture Festival

Best Feature Documentary at the 2019 Cannabis Culture Film Festival

Be The Change Winner at the Colorado International Activism Film Festival.

Joshua James Frey pictured with former President George W. Bush. Frey served in Iraq and was awarded two Purple Hearts before coming back home. Afterwards, he fell into depression and anxiety until he quit his medications and took marijuana. (Photo credit: Steve Ellmore)
Joshua James Frey pictured with former President George W. Bush. Frey served in Iraq and was awarded two Purple Hearts before coming back home. Afterwards, he fell into depression and anxiety until he quit his medications and took marijuana. (Photo credit: Steve Ellmore)

Monique’s review:

Discussions about medical marijuana have become more prevalent as versions of marijuana gain legal status. With more research discovering the benefits or detriments of the substance, Unprescribed aims to convince viewers that medical marijuana should not only be legalized, but used in abundance by patients who have PTSD, cancer, and other ailments. 

Much of the documentary focuses on veterans, marijuana activist Joshua James Frey, in particular. His testimony of regaining his life after switching from hospital-prescribed opioids to marijuana takes the issue from theory to personal. His wife’s experience with Frey’s changes is particularly poignant. She recounts how her husband used to be a shell of a person after coming back from Iraq and after taking medication given to him from the Veterans Affairs hospital. However, once he started taking marijuana, he regained his vitality, with many of his anxiety and depression symptoms ceasing or becoming more manageable. 

Unprescribed focuses primarily on veterans' experiences with marijuana. (Photo credit: Steve Ellmore)
Unprescribed focuses primarily on veterans’ experiences with marijuana. (Photo credit: Steve Ellmore)

Another activist and veteran, Boone Cutler, is scary, to be quite honest. He admits he enlisted in the army purely to fight. Since he’s radically honest about his reasons for joining the armed forces, it makes his testimony about the effects of marijuana even more believable. If even this man, who lives for battle, can find the benefits of something as calming as marijuana, maybe the planet should be given even more study by doctors and scientists. 

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With each personal story, the documentary drives home the fact that marijuana could cure many patients’ ailments. The film also points out that the media was the main driver of marijuana’s bad reputation. In the 1950s and ’60s, PSAs painted marijuana as the drug of choice for “troublemakers” against the status quo. Those stereotypes have only intensified as the medical community’s ties to the lucrative pharmaceutical industry strengthened. To top it off, the medicines created by the industry can produce side-effects as harmful as the cures they’re supposed to provide, if not worse. 

Unprescribed is excellent at making a persuasive, emotional argument. But what I would have liked is if the documentary also tackled the potential negatives marijuana could have on the human body. Verywell Mind, for example, states that there could be adverse effects on the heart, lungs, and brain. One study found that some smokers had reduced bone density, leading to a higher risk of bone fractures. Another found that smokers’ risk of heart attack became four to five times higher than usual during the first hour of smoking marijuana. 

Hope Wiseman is one of the experts interviewed for Unprescribed. (Photo credit: Steve Ellmore)
Hope Wiseman is one of the experts interviewed for Unprescribed. (Photo credit: Steve Ellmore)

Also, even though Unprescribed preaches about the positive effects marijuana can have on cancer, Verywell Mind cites a study that found that smokers were three times more likely to develop cancer in the neck or head than non-smokers. While the results of that study couldn’t be confirmed by further testing, I would have loved it if the film explained its opinions about this and the findings mentioned above and why we should still see marijuana as a viable option for patients. 

However, as the film stands, Unprescribed gives viewers a different perspective on a substance they might have preconceived notions about. Even though it doesn’t provide an unbiased view of medical marijuana, it does give viewers a chance to think about how the medical community should probably expand and consider marijuana’s benefits. The world of medicine has been open to innovation before; it might be time to be available to the potential innovations marijuana offers. 

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By Monique