This podcast first appeared on rnz.co.nz and is republished with permission. It is the first in a series of seven episodes.
There are many surprising things about New Zealand’s history with drugs – and the first is how it all began. Which is…
Historians generally agree that pre-contact Maori were one of the few societies with no use for intoxicants. Which isn’t to say there were none handy.
But plants such as the New Zealand liverwort (one of the few plants apart from cannabis to contain cannabinoids) were used as rongoa, or traditional medicines – not to get high.
The colonists, on the other hand, had all the drugs – and often in the same bottle. Patent medicines containing opium, morphine, cannabis and cocaine were widely available into the 20th century.
They set New Zealand on the way to the present day, when our use of some illicit drugs is amongst the highest in the world.
In this first episode of the seven-part RNZ podcast series From Zero, Russell Brown looks at the New Zealand drug story through the decades. Including the 1950s, when proper society considered itself drug-free but amphetamines were in many bathroom cabinets and doctors could prescribe cannabis for your migraine.
Historian Redmer Yska and documentarian David Herkt talk Russell through New Zealand’s first celebrity drug scandal, in the 1930s, and the profound loss of innocence that came with the huge Mr Asia drug syndicate in the 1970s.
Future episodes of From Zero will look more closely at cannabis, methamphetamine and other drugs. But for now, sit back and enjoy Aotearoa’s hidden history of getting high.