The story of musician Bryce Peterson and his wife taking LSD for the first time in the 60s is a delightful one. He saw the spots on a spotted dog get up and walk down to the end of its tail, for one thing.

It was also the day he wrote a song about the experience called Gracious Lady Alice Dee. The drug reference was a bit much for New Zealand at the time, so the song didn't get much airplay.

But in the documentary High Times: The New Zealand Drug Experience, Peterson remembers fondly: "It was the most beautiful day I've ever had in my life."

Stories like this are why director David Herkt describes the documentary as a good romp.

It covers more than 40 years of drugs in New Zealand, including Chinamen smoking opium in the 60s, to our continuing fetish for marijuana, to hard drugs like heroin in the 70s, to Ecstasy in the late 80s and early 90s, to P and party pills today.

"The thing for me was making a story for the first time," says Herkt. "Of all the words that had been printed about drugs, and said about drugs, no one's actually told the story of drugs in New Zealand."

Both Herkt, and producer Rachel Jean, were mindful of not condoning drugs. But at the same time they didn't want to label them as an evil.

"We have to be responsible [with] NZ On Air money," says Jean. "We're not here to condone drugs, but people take them because they're fun, so we didn't want to say, 'Drugs are bad'. We wanted to take almost an omnipotent position where we're going to give you everything and you have to decide."

From the start of filming High Times there was one rule - no blurred faces.

"If one person was going to show their face on TV and say, 'I took drugs', then everybody had to," says Jean.

"Full credit to David for that because the intimacy, and the openness of the interviews is the strength of the programme."

Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt fronts up, rock'n'roller Graham Brazier spares us no details about his heroin addiction, and 60s singer Larry Morris tells how drugs ruined his life.

Plus there are everyday New Zealanders alongside other high-profile people - such as former newsreader Darren McDonald - talking candidly about their drug experiences.

"Everybody knew Tim smoked a bit of pot in his time," says Jean, "but he's never come out and said, 'This is what I did, and I smoked my first joint with ... "'

Incidentally, Shadbolt's first joint was with the daughter of poet James K. Baxter.

The stigma surrounding P made it more difficult to find users who would go on camera, but some did.

Herkt says episode one is a teddy bears' picnic compared with the last two episodes, which deal with the era from 1974 to now when drugs become big business.

The first person in New Zealand to make drugs lucrative was small-time burglar Terry Clark - who would later be known as Mr Asia.

"He used to read books like, How To Win Friends and Influence People," says Herkt. "He was fascinated with the KFC franchise business model. So what he did was put the franchise model on to the drug industry."

By the mid-70s the police were dealing with people earning not just hundreds but millions of dollars from drugs. The scale of the Mr Asia drug ring, for example, meant police from New Zealand, Britain, the US, and Australia were involved in investigations.

"Even the police had to tip their hats to the Mr Asia syndicate. Here was a bunch of New Zealanders who went global," says Herkt.

But by 1980 New Zealand police had wiped out the heroin market in New Zealand - something that has never happened anywhere else in the world.

However, as a result of this the drug-users retaliated with some good old-fashioned "No 8 wire mentality" and invented homebake. "Make heroin in your own kitchen in two hours - we did it," says Herkt.

High Times combines TV and police archive footage and more than 100 interviews to tell the story of New Zealand's drugs past. To make it more like a drama, rather than a documentary, Herkt says he takes the old footage and makes a "music video out of it".

The archive material includes police tapes of actual crimes and drug busts, police burning mounds of marijuana in Northland, and a police-training video about how to make homebake which looks more like "a cooking show".

"All that gives a real flavour of the attitudes and the mentality of the times because you see how New Zealand has changed because of drugs," says Herkt. "Look at Northland - marijuana is its biggest crop.

"But you're also looking at your rights under law. Bugging telephones came in purely because of drugs."

Herkt and Jean say that similar to our high cellphone usage, New Zealanders are big consumers of drugs.

"A little line got crossed over in the mid-1990s when the majority of the population had broken the law and smoked marijuana," says Herkt . "New Zealanders are drug pigs."

What: Inside New Zealand: High Times - The New Zealand Drug Experience
Where and when: Three-part series over three weeks starting on TV3 at 8.30 tonight
Episodes: One: 1960-1974; Two: 1974-1986; Three: 1986-2005