Legal highs pulled off the shelves

Some of the first legal highs to be sold under licence in New Zealand have been urgently pulled off shelves after users reported adverse health effects.

The five brands were previously assessed by the Ministry of Health and in August were judged low risk enough to be sold to the public.

But a spike of calls to the National Poisons Centre will lead to a recall today of the AK47, Anarchy, Karma, Northern Lights Primo and Voodoo brands.

There are now 42 legal high products being sold in New Zealand under interim licences.

Suppliers paid $10,000 to register each product, with authorities evaluating calls to the National Poisons Centre and other reports of harm before granting approval.

Associate Health Minister Todd McClay told the Herald that the newly banned products appeared to contain the same active ingredient.

The recall did not show flaws in the current system, he said.

"Before the Psychoactive Substances Act came into effect these products not only could be sold, there was no legislative or regulatory ability for the ministry to withdraw them. Now, where additional concern or risk is shown, any decision around licensing can be reviewed and products withdrawn from the market, as happened in this case."

Mr McClay said consultation on more permanent regulations around legal highs would begin next month.

The world-leading regime will require manufacturers to prove their products are low risk before they can go on sale.

In the meantime, products being sold under the interim licensing system would be closely monitored.

"No other licences can be issued now. There can be no other products or retail outlets allowed until the regulations are in place," Mr McClay said. "The reason I think the legislation is working is we had an estimated 4000 retail outlets, we're down to about 150 now. We had more than 200 products, we're down to only 42 now."

Yesterday Tim Kelly, owner of the Gizmo businesses in Nelson and Richmond and holder of the licence for AK47, said he was unaware of the pending action against his product.

Customers had not made any complaints after smoking AK47, he said.

"That's not to say that people haven't [had adverse effects], but they haven't come back and made it clear. It's not really any different to any other products on the market, they're all basically much of a muchness - they're pretty much all the same."

Approved - then banned

Temporary licences allowing the sale of the following legal high products have been cancelled after users reported adverse health affects:

* Anarchy
* Karma
* Voodoo
* Northern Lights Primo
* AK47.

- Nicholas Jones

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