Medical marijuana in colonial New Zealand

There was a time when New Zealanders could buy marijuana over the counter for ailments ranging from asthma to corn removal. In the 1880s cannabis or hemp, as it was known then, only cost a shilling an ounce. Mother Aubert used cannabis as a tea for nun’s menstrual cramps at her mission in Jerusalem on the Whanganui River. Brett’s Colonists’ Guide endorsed Indian hemp as a treatment for painful menstruation, too - in a concoction including camphor and opium.

The substance was widely advertised as the “latest and most successful local anaesthetic” for painless teeth extractions, and used in creams to relieve chilblains. Asthma cigarettes containing cannabis were available everywhere, and hashish was present in imported tins of Turkish delight.

The popular Dr J. Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne syrup included cannabis extract, morphine and chloroform, and was prescribed for dysentery, rheumatism and consumption. Chlorodyne cough lozenges were sold in sweetshops for children, and New Zealand’s pharmacy journal Sharland’s recommended cannabis to suppress convulsions caused by chorea in children. Cannabis was an important ingredient in liquid corn cures - a “Health Hints” article in the Auckland Star advised painting a mixture of salicylic acid, collodion and cannabis indica on corns.

In 1895 the government placed controls on the trade in drugs such as opiates, but cannabis remained exempt from customs duty because it was categorised amongst medicinal barks, leaves, herbs and flowers.

The first time restrictions were placed on the sale of cannabis came with the introduction of the 1927 Dangerous Drugs Act, introduced as a result of pressure from the League of Nations. However, New Zealand created exemptions for Indian hemp corn and bunion plasters, and asthma cigarettes containing cannabis such as Joy’s and Grimault’s. Joy’s cigarettes (Cigares de Joy) were advertised as “perfectly harmless… smoked by ladies, children, and the most delicate patients, as they are pleasant to use, and contain no substance capable of deranging the system.”

In a pamphlet from about 1900 in our Ephemera collection Grimault’s stated their “neat little cigarette, composed of Indian hemp (Cannabis Indica) and harmless medicinal herbs” provided prompt relief for many common complaints including asthma, laryngitis, hay fever and insomnia.

Further Reading:

Author: Leanne, Central Auckland Research Centre


  1. It is well documented opium and associated concoctions were widely used over many centuries starting with the first cognisance of the human the 1950's UK, many popular medications were removed from Dispensaries including hashish, opiates and many herbal rememdies - it is interesting to note in medieval times especially, which can be confirmed by numerous Heironymus Bosch paintings, most people used opiates to help cope with massive physical pain and general debilitation. By the late 1950's UK pharmaceutical companies controlled all ingredients of medications. Childhood memories of nightmares ie tripping remain with me to this day at age 73!!

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