Herbal Remedy

Bush medicine

Written by      

Dr H. Bramwell Cook

In the late 1880s, “Maori Cigarettes” were marketed in Scotland and New Zealand as a cure for “asthma, hay-fever, chronic bronchitis, colds in the head, whooping-cough, and all forms of tight and spasmodic breathing in the chest”. The information sheet included in each packet also promised the user immediate and long-term relief from the suffocating feeling associated with respiratory illnesses and, in time, “the most complete mastery over his complaint”. Furthermore, use of these cigarettes would be “followed by a delightful feeling of repose—the calm after the storm—ending in a sleep of the most refreshing description”.

In fact, the cigarettes contained hemlock, cannabis, datura (devil’s weed), belladonna (deadly nightshade), lobelia and arsenic, all of which are among the most potent organic substances on the planet and are known to cause delirium, hallucinations, chronic vomiting, loss of balance, convulsions and bizarre, possibly violent, behaviour when ingested.

The brand, which featured a trademarked emblem of a warrior grasping a club and carrying a spear, was the product of Dr Thomas Kennedy Douglas, a Scottish medical doctor who formulated and tested them on patients during his 1873–1884 tenure in Otago, New Zealand.

Douglas sailed from Scotland in 1872 and practised as a “bush doctor” in Tapanui, West Otago, for 10 years before returning home to Perthshire. He had a particular interest in the medicinal properties of plants, and while in New Zealand investigated the effect of various drugs on respiratory illnesses such as asthma, consumption, croup and head colds. After careful trials, he settled on a formula for “asthma cigarettes” which included many known neurotoxins and psychoactive compounds. The cigarettes were made of absorbent bibulous paper soaked in a chemical and herbal solution and then rolled tightly to form a cigarette which was smoked—or in the case of croup, unrolled, burned and inhaled as a vapour.

Douglas marketed his asthma cigarettes as Dr Douglas’ Maori Cigarettes, the branding linking them with New Zealand and taking advantage
of the relatively new fashion of cigarette
smoking (pipes were the preferred method before the 1850s), which Douglas believed to be the best method of ingesting the curative properties of his product.

Dr Douglas’ Maori Cigarettes were used in the wards of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the “beneficial” effects noted in an article in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet in 1885, the writer of which noted the heady cocktail of hallucinogens and was “not surprised to hear that they have been found useful”. Members of the medical profession, clergy, grateful ladies and “stoic gentlemen” also confirmed the cigarettes’ effectiveness in a series of written declarations included in the promotional material for the consumer’s peace of mind.

The medicated cigarettes were available in New Zealand until at least 1889 and were sold in Scotland until the 1930s.