What I thought about: [Un]Well

Bee sting therapy? Ingesting essential oils? Drinking breast milk? Water-only fasting? Sorry, hold up a minute, BEE STING THERAPY?! Alternative medicine – if it can be called medicine – is a booming industry. This series takes a look at some of the weirdest practices and see if any of them actually work.

Listen carefully while I make up some nonsense about what these oils can cure, and neglect to recommend that you speak to a doctor first..

What’s it about?
Each episode focuses on a different type of alternative medicine: essential oils, tantric sex, breast milk, fasting, ayahuasca, and bee venom. So yeah, some of these are pretty weird.

We hear from a number of people in respect of each treatment: desperate people who are looking for a cure to their ailments, the manufacturers / sellers / practitioners of the therapies, scientists who are vehemently opposed to the notion that any of them can be effective, and some scientists or doctors who, with a dose of caution, suggest there could in fact be some benefits.

I’ll answer some of your questions in advance. Yes, the bee dies after you get stung. No, you should probably not ingest essential oils. 99% is the percentage of Forever Living associates, who sell essential oils in an MLM scheme, who make only one dollar in commission. No, I did not watch the tantric sex episode.

What do I like about it?
It seems pretty balanced. I’m very sceptical of alternative therapies – and can you really blame me when some of them are distributed by literal pyramid schemes, that enrich the founder? Or when they’re peddled by a man who claims ‘we’re just as real as anyone else’ but then, in the same scene, looks at the camera with an incredibly creepy face and says ‘we consider ourselves a for-profit ministry’. This is essential oils we are talking about here!

But each episode provides anecdotal evidence from people who claim the therapy worked for them, as well as the journey of someone who hopes it will work for them (a chronic Lyme-disease sufferer heard that bee stings can cure her, and is desperate for a solution). It also balances this with studies and the views of medical professionals, some of whom outright deny the treatment’s efficacy (and/or warn about its risks) and some who try to explain a possible way in which the treatment may produce some kind of effect. I like these parts – if something unconventional actually works, I want to know why, and they can offer a bit of that.

What do I not like about it?
Nothing really, each episode is well done.

Worth a watch?
As long as you don’t hold me responsible for trying any of these things (in fact I suggest you DO NOT try any of these) then go right ahead, it’s interesting!

By the way…

  • Of course most of the people discovered this medicine on Facebook groups. Please do yourself a favour and delete Facebook before it’s too late.


What I thought about: The Business of Drugs

Did you know one of the world’s largest producers of meth is Myanmar? Me neither. This docuseries, focused on the economics of drug dealing, shines a light on supply chains you never knew existed, and for that reason is a recommended watch.

Fox looks on at a display of force from a Myanmar militia – who might be funded by the drugs trade

What’s it about?
Amaryllis Fox is an ex-CIA analyst who used to work in counterterrorism. In other words, she’s been around. Fox takes us through a different type of drug in every episode, complete with a series of voice-overs, visits to drug trafficking hotspots, and interviews with experts (both the scientific kind and the… drug trafficking kind).

You’ll learn a lot about the economics of the drugs trade for Cocaine, Synthetics, Heroin, Meth, and Cannabis. There’s also a bonus episode on the opioid epidemic that the USA is still suffering the effects of. It’s not all numbers, though – you’ll be faced with the harsh reality of what pushes drug mules to risk their freedom – or even their lives – in pursuit of a slightly better pay packet. In other words, they’re also victims.

What do I like about it?
It’s a fresh take on the usual documentaries we see on drug abuse, although there’s enough of the ‘traditional’ drug documentary coverage to keep things interesting and well-aligned.

I particularly liked the Cannabis episode which explored why the legalisation of cannabis in California hasn’t managed to significantly reduce illegal sales of the drug – which still command 80% of the market. Although I’m generally an advocate of decriminalisation, it obviously has to ‘work’ to increase safety, reduce organised crime, and maybe benefit the public purse a bit. California is, it seems, an example of what not to do.

What do I not like about it?
The production values in this series are a teeny bit lacking. On-screen graphics appear somewhat inconsistently, and some of the filming seems a bit hap-hazard. Mind you, it’s not enough to distract you entirely.

Oh no, what’s far more distracting is the significant change in appearance between the version of Fox appearing in all the studio-lit interviews (a post-filming retelling that fills in some of the gaps and links between scenes) and the version of her in the rest of each episode where she’s interviewing someone or travelling to a particular area. It seems silly when you realise it, but it took me a hot minute to work out that they were the same person!

Worth a watch?
If you’re at all interesting in learning a little behind-the-scenes of the drug trade, there are some genuinely insightful pieces in this show. I’d recommend it.

By the way…

  • Fox joined the CIA when she was just in college. Her memoirs are available as a book, Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA
  • Wait, this also relates to the above… Fox’s memoirs are being turned into an Apple TV+ drama series. Get hyped!