Scottish shops peddling "legal highs" face a trading standards crackdown ahead of a full UK-wide ban next year.

Officials north of the border have long tried to use consumer protection laws to harry retailers who sell psychoactive drugs labelled as "bath salts" or "plant food".

But now a nationwide tool kit has been produced to make sure trading standards officers use the best practice and best laws to pursue vendors.

Council, police, NHS and government officials hope this will shield the public from mass sell-offs ahead of a ban on the sale of all psychoactive substances next spring.

Officials are not revealing the exact tactics they will adopt against retailers - including online outlets - but they have had success using General Product Safety Regulations.

New psychoactive substances - or NPS - the officials' preferred usage for legal highs - account for far fewer deaths than heroin and, especially, perfectly legal alcohol.

But between 2009 and 2013, a total of 203 deaths were reported where NPS was present in the bloodstream, often along with a cocktail of other substances.

Suppliers, however, deny they have any liability for harm caused by their products, including anti-social behaviour close to vendors.

Harry McGuigan, spokesman for well-being for the council umbrella group Cosla, said: "NPS are readily sold on our High Streets and it’s perhaps the easy access and eye-catching packaging that attracts consumers who would never have considered taking illegal drugs.

"Despite the array of harms NPS are causing, suppliers continue to sell them in the full knowledge that they are being consumed for their psychoactive effects at great risk to the purchasers’ health and wellbeing."

Health problems from legal highs includes kidney failure, heart and lung problems, hyperthermia, aggressive and unpredictable behaviour, memory loss and psychosis.

The Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, Paul Wheelhouse, said: “Given our concern about this growing public health threat, I welcome the progress to take forward UK-wide legislation to prevent the importing or supplying of NPS, but it is important that all efforts are made to protect the people of Scotland between now and the introduction of the new legislation next year."

The single guidance comes as a response to an expert review of NPS policy ordered by the Scottish Government.

Mr Wheelhouse added: "This will be a vital tool for trading standards staff on the frontline in enabling them to take action against the unscrupulous and profit-driven suppliers of these dangerous substances and to thwart the efforts of any organised criminal gangs involved who care nothing for the damage they cause."

The Conservative ban on NPS has been criticised by those who argue full legalisation and a regime of testing would be safer than both the current ad-hoc situation and outright prohibition.

Major organisation crime groups are now manufacturing NPS in Scotland with police sources stressing that the line between legal highs and illegal drugs is now blurred. Many products marketed as legal highs contain proscribed products while many products sold illicitly, such as "cocaine", in fact contain huge amounts of legal high.