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Methaqualone, or Quaalude as it is better known in the US, hit the headlines a few years ago when US comedian Bill Cosby admitted that he gave them to women he wanted to have sex with, under cross-examination during his initial sex assault trial. Cosby has not been charged with a crime in connection to allegations that he drugged women in order to have sex with them and his lawyers have denied all allegations.
In the 1970s, the use of methaqualone, or Quaalude, was so prolific, it even appeared in the lyrics of songs such as:
- Time by David Bowie – “To the floor. His trick is you and me, boy. Time, in Quaaludes and red wine. Demanding Billy Dolls. And other friends of mine. Take your time”.
- National Health by The Kinks – “It sure beats Quaaludes. It sure beats cocaine. Even Freud recommends it. Cos it relieves the strain.”
- Billericay Dickie by Ian Dury and the Blockheads – “Another thing with Sandy, what often came in handy, was passing her a Mandie” (A reference to Mandrax, a street name for Methaqualone).
The abuse potential of methaqualone, or Quaalude, soon became apparent and the drug was made illegal both in the US and the UK. It may be difficult to obtain methaqualone in the UK and the US, but according to reports, it is still the most widely abused drug in South Africa, and underground labs in Mexico continue to manufacture the pill. Through illegal drug trafficking, it does find its way into the UK and the US.
What is methaqualone?
Methaqualone is a synthetic, barbiturate-like, central nervous system depressant. The active ingredient, methaqualone, is an anxiolytic (lowers anxiety) and a sedative-hypnotic drug that leads to a state of drowsiness. Hypnotics are drugs that induce sleep.
Methaqualone was first synthesised in a lab in India in the 1950s. In its earliest days, it was used as a treatment for malaria. Several synthesised versions of this drug have been created over the years. Its formulation has changed somewhat, depending on the country manufacturing it. In some areas, benzodiazepines or diphenhydramine have been added to enhance its effects.
By the 1970s, methaqualone was extremely easy to obtain. The high wasn’t extreme, and the drug was very calming. It was often used as a recreational drug. Many people would say that they were used recreationally more often than by prescription. In the UK, the drug was better known as Mandrax or also called “Mandies”. Current Mandrax pills, made illegally, may also contain benzodiazepines, barbiturates or ephedrine.
Now methaqualone is a controlled drug. Controlled drugs are classed according to their relative degree of overall harm from misuse. Methaqualone has been classified by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) as a class B drug which makes its production and distribution illegal under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971.
Because methaqualone is a banned drug, there is virtually no statistical information on it in the UK.
What are the different forms of methaqualone?
Common brand names for methaqualone include Quaalude and Sopor.
Other formal names for methaqualone include:
- Toquilone Compositum.
Common or street names for methaqualone include:
- Blou Bulle.
- Disco Biscuits.
- Lemmon 714.
- Randy Mandies.
- Vitamin Q.
- Wagon Wheels.
Can methaqualone be addictive?
Methaqualone is highly addictive. These drugs, imprinted with the number “714” on the tablet, were initially introduced as a safe barbiturate substitute to help induce sleep, but were later shown to have addiction and withdrawal symptoms similar to other prescription barbiturates.
Withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Mental confusion.
Methaqualone is considered to be both psychologically and physically addictive at any dose over 600mg per day. There are some physical signs of addiction that you can look for if you think you are addicted to or may be becoming addicted to methaqualone.
You will probably notice:
- The development of a hives-like rash.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Appetite loss and probably weight loss.
- Sexual dysfunction in both men and women.
- The possibility of memory loss.
- Physical weakness.
- An irregular heart rate.
There are some behavioural symptoms that you can look for as well.
- Become angry or irritable if you run out of the drug.
- Become obsessed with thinking about methaqualone.
- Lose interest in your favourite hobbies and activities.
- Experience problems in your relationships.
- Have legal problems related to possessing methaqualone.
Frequent users build a tolerance to methaqualone, meaning they need to take higher doses to achieve the same euphoric effect. This makes its use dangerous, increasing the likelihood of an overdose or death. This is one of the reasons why the drug was taken off the market in the UK and the US, and classified as a controlled substance by the ACMD.
What is methaqualone used for?
Methaqualone has been around for several decades, and was patented by Wallace and Tiernan in 1962. In the very beginning, it was used as a treatment for insomnia. It has been used to treat muscle spasms due to its muscle relaxing qualities. It was also used to fight malaria.
Methaqualone is a central nervous system depressant. It works by increasing the activity of GABA receptors in the nervous system; GABA receptors on nerve cells receive the chemical messages that help to inhibit or reduce nerve impulses.
This results in a drop in blood pressure, pulse and breathing rates. Depressants are also called sedatives, downers or tranquillisers. Brain activity slows down, inducing a state of relaxation. Depressants in general are prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders.
Some other depressants include:
- GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyrate).
How is methaqualone abused?
Interest in methaqualone has risen dramatically in recent years. Its popularity was due to its undeserved reputation as an “aphrodisiac” often in combination with diphenhydramine.
People use a variety of forms and routes to administer methaqualone such as:
- Orally – Methaqualone usually comes in solid white tablet or water-soluble capsule forms of either 150mg or 300mg and is taken orally.
- Smoking – Illicit users sometimes crush the tablets and mix the powder with marijuana for smoking.
- Injection – Really heavy users liquefy the drug for IV injection.
The most popular way to take methaqualone in the 1970s was with wine, called “luding out”. This was a particularly dangerous way of taking the drug as the alcohol only increases the depressant effect of the drug which can adversely affect the respiration process and lead to accidental overdose.
Methaqualone is also used sometimes as a cutting agent for heroin. It appears on the illicit drug market either through diversion from the legitimate pharmaceutical trade or through illicit synthesis. The illicit samples are usually brown or grey powders with varying degrees of purity.
How does methaqualone affect the body?
People become extremely uncoordinated when methaqualone is used in higher doses. They may experience muscle tremors, convulsions, or even fall into a coma. Any dose that is higher than a typical sleeping dose can cause depression of the trachea-bronchial reflexes. This means that if someone were to take that much and vomit in their sleep, they could choke to death.
In Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character goes on a Quaalude (an alternative street name for methaqualone) binge, where he can barely speak and can’t even walk.
Methaqualone causes significant changes in the brain. It produces excess amounts of dopamine, which is a chemical the brain typically produces on its own. Having too much dopamine, or too much dopamine concentrated in some parts of the brain and not enough in other parts, is linked to being more competitive, aggressive and having poor impulse control. It can lead to conditions that include ADHD, binge eating, addiction and gambling.
Common side effects of methaqualone include:
- Abdominal cramps.
- Dry mouth.
- Tingling sensation in arms and legs.
- Reduced heart rate.
- Slowed breathing (respiration).
What are the risks of methaqualone?
As with most drugs of abuse, it has been found that methaqualone users make poor decisions and lack normal abilities under its influence. The driving skills of methaqualone users are often impaired and can lead to fatal car accidents.
The range of dangerous doses of methaqualone vary widely. Because these drugs are made in illegal labs, the strength and contents of the actual product may not be known, putting the user at even higher risk. Overdose of methaqualone can lead to seizures, coma or death.
Methaqualone is particularly dangerous when mixed with alcohol, leading users to fall asleep but never to wake up again.
Short-term and long-term effects of methaqualone
Methaqualone has a similar effect on the body as barbiturates and is highly addictive. The severity of the short-term and long-term effects typically depends on what is used to make the drug, the tolerance of the user, and the frequency of use.
Tolerance to methaqualone can develop in as little as four days. As you continue to use methaqualone, your body requires you to take more frequent or higher doses to achieve the same effect.
Overdose then becomes a serious risk when methaqualone addiction or dependency develops, because physical tolerance to the drug builds more slowly than psychological tolerance. This means that while your brain is craving more methaqualone, your body is warning that it has had enough.
Regular use of the drug eventually affects muscle movement and coordination, often accompanied by paraesthesia or that “pins and needles” sensation in the face and fingers. Heavy doses also increase a user’s pain threshold, making them unable to feel pain.
They can end up hurting themselves without noticing it at all because they did not feel any pain. Thought processes are also impaired, making a user unable to protect themselves in a timely manner in order to avoid injury.
Another long-term effect is a condition called “ataxia”, or uncontrollable muscle twitches and movements. Over time, increasing doses of methaqualone can cause the nervous system to shut down, leading to coma and death.
Physical and psychological addiction can occur in as little as two weeks, particularly if methaqualone is taken daily. Because of this dual addiction, methaqualone addiction treatment must focus on both the physical and psychological elements of addiction in order to be successful.
Long-term non-medical use of methaqualone will lead to addiction and withdrawals will most certainly occur when users suddenly stop using it after continued use. A person who is suffering from addiction to any type of drug, including methaqualone, is unlikely to break the cycle of addiction without outside help.
If you or someone that you know needs treatment for methaqualone drug addiction, you are entitled to NHS care in the same way as anyone else who has a health problem. Speaking to your GP is a good place to start. They can discuss your problems with you and get you into treatment.
Treatment will depend on your personal circumstances and what you are addicted to.
Drug treatment plans may include a number of different treatments and strategies including:
- Talking therapies, such as CBT – These help you to see how your thoughts and feelings affect your behaviour. Depending on the circumstances, as well as being offered a form of individual therapy, you might be offered group therapy or a period of therapeutic work with your partner or with your family.
- Treatment with medicines – You may be offered a substitute drug so you can get on with your treatment without having to worry about withdrawal symptoms. Substitute prescribing refers to prescribing a safer alternative to the drug.
- Detoxification (detox) – This helps you to cope with the withdrawal symptoms. This is when you attend a special centre where you receive your treatment daily in a structured and more intensive way. This may be provided on a day-patient basis in your local area but this is also available, when it is considered appropriate for your needs, as residential rehabilitation.
For advice and support for methaqualone usage or addiction you can contact:
- FRANK – 0300 123 6600 24 – Hours a day, 7 days a week. Confidential advice and information about drugs, their effects and the law.
- Narcotics Anonymous – 0300 999 1212 – Support for anyone who wants to stop using drugs.
- Release – 020 7324 2989 – National charity that offers free and confidential advice about drugs and the law.
- DrugFAM – 0300 888 3853 – Provides support to anyone affected by someone else’s harmful use of drugs.