What Are Quaaludes? Drug Information

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What are Quaaludes exactly? You may have heard of these sedative drugs in passing. Perhaps the Bill Cosby trial was your first reference, as this substance is a powerful sedative once in the category of rape drugs. 

At one point in history, Quaaludes were frequently prescribed, and they were also recreational drugs. Now, Quaaludes are no longer prescribed or made by pharmaceutical companies, but their effects are similar to benzodiazepines and other sedative-hypnotics, which are currently available.


An Overview of Quaaludes

  • The brand name Quaalude was popular in the 1960s and 1970s especially, but there’s been a ban on the drug in the United States for decades. 
  • In the Bill Cosby trial, Cosby admitted that he would drug women using the prescribed sedatives. 
  • There’s also a depiction of the addictive drug in The Wolf of Wallstreet where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character and can’t speak, walk or drive due to a Quaalude binge. 

Quaalude is a brand name for the active ingredient methaqualone. 

  • First synthesized in India in 1951, methaqualone became popular first in Germany and Japan, and South Africa leading to high abuse and addiction numbers. 
  • The drug reached the United States in the 1960s, beginning our history, lasting until the 80s. 
  • Touted as a treatment for anxiety and insomnia, and as in other countries, the abuse potential became apparent relatively quickly. 
  • In the 1970s and early 80s, doctors were prescribing methaqualone very quickly. The drug flowed freely, and you could go to a so-called stress clinic to get them without going to your doctor. The situation wasn’t unlike what triggered our current drug crisis with the highly addictive opioid epidemic and prescription drug abuse. 

In the 1970s, the drug became known as a disco biscuit.

  • This period was the perfect storm for popularizing the drug because barbiturates had gained stigma after being popular in the 1950s, following widespread abuse. 
  • Drug companies introduced new versions of deep relaxation sedatives, like Valium, claiming they were different from barbiturates to get around that stigmatization. 
  • Young people were the primary consumers of this drug, but older people took them as well; they’re referenced in songs by Frank Zappa and David Bowie.
  • The drug became known as a party drug, and people promoted it as helping them have “freer sex.”
  • Among the many sleeping pills popularized in the 1970s, these sleep aids were the most abused.


Quaaludes Effects

Methaqualone is a depressant of the central nervous system that increases the activity of GABA receptors. 

  • GABA receptors have a calming effect on the brain. Methaqualone is a sedative, and a hypnotic, and hypnotics help you sleep. 
  • Methaqualone is known as a quinazoline, which is in a class of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics.
  • When you take a central nervous system depressant, physical effects include slowing the pulse rate and breathing and a reduced heart rate and blood pressure. You’ll feel very relaxed, but that can put you at risk of overdosing. 
  • The risk of overdosing on a drug like this is exceptionally high when combining it with another substance like alcohol.
  • Even when people were taking methaqualone as prescribed, they were dying in their sleep. First-time users were dying of overdoses as well. 
  • People taking Quaaludes would experience a sleepy, stupor-like high. The effects would usually begin around 30 minutes after taking it and could last up to six hours. 
  • Risks aside from abuse addiction included respiratory arrest, delirium, liver damage, coma, and death. 
  • When Quaaludes use is combined with alcohol, a dose as small as two grams can cause a coma and become a lethal dose. 
  • Psychological effects included increased risk of depression and even a higher suicide risk. 


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A Ban on Quaaludes

Since many people were getting addicted to quaaludes, the drug enforcement authorities decided to move methaqualone from a commonly prescribed drug to an illegal one. The hypnotic drug was contributing to a wave of addiction, accidents, and overdoses. By 1982, methaqualone as a Schedule I drug, meaning it was illegal to buy or sell it, although it was available for several years on the black market. 

The FDA never initially tested methaqualone to determine the potential for abuse and addiction when its prescribing started in the U.S. After coming to America from India, there weren’t any initial questions to determine how safe or unsafe it might be. Advertising simply focused on the fact that it isn’t barbiturate, which seemed to be enough for most people. With that marketing, many people incorrectly believed methaqualone to be non-addictive.

Even after making it an illicit Schedule I drug, there was still a massive amount of methaqualone floating around the country. The DEA started lowering production quotas until they reached zero, and the last manufacturer stopped making them. By the mid-1980s, the highly abused drug was essentially gone.


Present-Day Sedative-Hypnotics

While Quaaludes are no longer available, there are modern-day sedative-hypnotics with similar effects. The risks are lower, and these drugs aren’t as powerful as methaqualone, but there’s still an abuse and addiction potential, as well as health-related side effects that can occur.

  • Sedative-hypnotics slow down brain activity, and they’re depressants as a result. Benzodiazepines are a particular type of sedative-hypnotic.
  • Barbiturates were an older class of drugs that could be similarly categorized.
  • Benzodiazepine abuse is prevalent, and drugs in this category include Xanax and Valium. 
  • Benzodiazepines are among the most frequently prescribed medicines in the U.S.
  • Legitimate conditions calling for a prescription of these drugs include the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and alcohol withdrawal. They may also help with seizure control, muscle relaxation, or to help calm someone down before a procedure or surgery.
  • Around 15 benzodiazepines have current approval in the U.S.
  • These drugs fall into categories, which are ultra-short acting, short-acting and long-acting.
  • Due to how available they are, benzos are a common drug of abuse.

It’s relatively rare for someone to overdose from benzodiazepines alone, but it is possible. What’s more common is that someone overdoses because of a combination of benzodiazepines and another substance, like alcohol or opioid pain relievers.

  • Symptoms of benzo abuse include confusion, drowsiness, weakness, blurred vision, and a lack of coordination.
  • There’s the potential for benzos to lead to both psychological and physical dependence.
  • If someone uses them for a long time and has a physical dependence, trying to stop cold turkey can be dangerous. Stopping benzos cold turkey can even lead to seizures.

Benzos work like Quaaludes in that they enhance how effective GABA is, a neurotransmitter. When the effects of GABA increase, the results are calming messages sent to the body. If you feel anxious, your brain experiences overstimulation. When you take benzos, your brain sends messages to counteract that high stimulation level, reducing anxiety symptoms.

If you’re struggling with substance abuse of any kind, help is available. Contact the team at Opus Health by calling 855-953-1345 to learn more about our treatment programs and how you can make a positive change.

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