Drinkers of wine, sherry and port may be unknowingly breaking
the law and consuming small doses of the party drug fantasy,
an illegal class B drug.
The revelation has brought calls for wine to be tested for
traces of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), or its precursor
gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), the active ingredient in fantasy.
Concerns have also been raised about beauty products
containing GHB, which have been sold here for years.
The Ministry of Health has just been made aware of the issue
and is working on how to deal with it.
National Addiction Centre director Doug Sellman said it
seemed likely some wine contained GHB, and called for more
research to be undertaken.
"It raises the bizarre conclusion that many wines in New
Zealand may, in fact, be technically illegal. There's been no
research done on New Zealand wines, and only one article in
2005 in the international literature."
The paper found GHB or GBL occurred naturally in fermenting
grapes. It looked at 50 beverages in Britain and found the
ingredient in red-wine vermouth, sherry, port, red wine and
The concentration of GHB ranged from 4.1mg to 21.4 mg per
litre, the greatest concentration being found in red wine.
Doses as a recreational drug are usually between 500mg and
Dr Sellman said he was not calling for prohibition, but
wine-drinkers were essentially using fantasy in small but
"We're not talking about trace amounts. If you drank a bottle
of wine, a small but significant part of that intoxication
will be from fantasy."
But Environmental Science Research general manager of
forensics Dr Keith Bedford said the level of GHB in wine was
"You can consider the effects as being very similar to
alcohol. Compared to the amount of alcohol in alcoholic
drinks, what we're talking about is trivial."
Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said "there'd be a
measure of outrage" if wine were found to be illegal.
"A fair measure of common sense would need to be applied."