7 Nov 2016

From Zero: How Did We Get Here?

From FROM ZERO, 10:17 pm on 7 November 2016

In the first episode of a new seven-part RNZ podcast series about drugs, Russell Brown looks at the New Zealand drug story through the decades.

There are many surprising things about New Zealand's history with drugs – and the first is how it all began. Which is... From Zero.

Historians generally agree that pre-contact Māori 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 rongoā, or traditional medicines - not to get high.

An image of a small jar of heroin, available for commercial sale.

Heroin available for commercial sale. Photo: Creative Commons

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.

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. And let's not forget the 1950s, when proper society considered itself drug-free but amphetamines were in many bathroom cabinets and doctors could prescribe cannabis for your migraine.

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.

FROM ZERO – pass it around.

This story was produced by Russell Brown with additional audio from Nga Taonga Sound and Vision and the documentary High Times: The New Zealand Drug Experience by David Herkt.

You can subscribe or listen to every FROM ZERO episode at rnz.co.nz/series and on ITunes and Spotify.

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