I am always interested to see how ayahuasca and other sacred plants are portrayed in the popular media, from horror movies to reality television to psychedelic westerns. Here is another example.
The quirky television series Weeds was a surprise hit for Showtime. It was the channel's highest rated series in its first year, and its fourth season premier attracted 1.3 million viewers, Showtime's highest-ever viewership. Mary-Louise Parker, as the lead character Nancy Botwin, won a Golden Globe for her performance on the show.
Nancy is a normal suburban soccer mom until her husband Judah suddenly drops dead. To maintain her lifestyle, she begins selling marijuana to her local clientele — her accountant, her lawyer, and other soccer moms. Her entrepreneurial success in the highly competitive drug business complicates a life already made challenging by her strange family and backstabbing friends.
The title of the series is triply significant. It refers to widow's weeds, the traditional dark dress of a woman whose husband has died. It refers, of course, to marijuana. And it refers to the eruption of the unfamiliar and unwanted in the otherwise controlled and artificial environment of the suburban lawn.
In episode 10 of the fourth season, Nancy is faced with a moral dilemma — her discovery that a tunnel to Mexico that she thinks is being used to smuggle drugs is also being used to smuggle humans and weapons. The episode is notable for two things. First, Nancy drinks ayahuasca as a way to deal with her fears and cure a chronic headache. "Peyote magic?" she asks. "Like hallucinogenic magic?" And she is told: "Peyote is a bicycle. Ayahuasca is a rocket ship. Like thirty years of psychotherapy in one night." Despite that, the portrayal of the experience is surprisingly unromanticized:
The second interesting thing about the episode is the music in the background during the ayahuasca scene. If you were too enthralled by Mary-Louise Parker vomiting to listen, go back and pay attention to the music. It is, of course, cumbia amazónica. The song is Sonido Amazonico by the group Chicha Libre, a modern American Brooklyn-based neo-cumbia psychedelic surf music combo put together by Olivier Conan of Barbès Records. The song is derived from a recording by the same name originally performed by the classic cumbia amazónica group Los Mirlos. If you want to hear how guys named Burrows, Camp, Conan, Cudahy, Douglas, and Quigley can play jungle music with real verve and affection, here is the background song in its entirety: