Medically reviewed by L. Anderson, PharmD. Last updated on Jan 22, 2019.
Generic name: methaqualone
Common brand names: Quaalude, Sopor
Other formal names: Cateudil, Dormutil, Hyminal, Isonox, Melsed, Melsedin, Mequelone, Mequin, Methadorm, Mozambin, Optimil, Parest, Renoval, Somnafac, Toquilone Compositum, Triador, Tuazole.
Common or street names: Bandits, Beiruts, Blou Bulle, Disco Biscuits, Ewings, Flamingos, Flowers, Genuines, Lemmon 714, Lemons, Lennons, Lovers, Ludes, Mandies, Qua, Quaaludes, Quack, Quad, Randy Mandies, 714, Soaper, Sopes, Sporos, Vitamin Q, Wagon Wheels
What are quaaludes?
Quaaludes (methaqualone) are a synthetic, barbiturate-like, central nervous system depressant and a popular recreational drug in the U.S. from the 1960s until the 1980s, when its use was made illegal by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The active ingredient, methaqualone, is an anxiolytic (lowers anxiety) and a sedative-hypnotic drug that leads to a state of drowsiness. 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. Quaaludes are rarely encountered on the streets in the U.S. today, but are occasionally confiscated coming across the border.
History of quaaludes
Quaaludes were first synthesized in India in 1950's. It was introduced into America in the 1960s and by the late '60s and '70s it became a popular recreational drug, often found in discos and referred to as a "disco biscuit". The abuse potential of Quaaludes soon became apparent and in 1973 methaqualone was placed in Schedule II, making it difficult to prescribe and illegal to possess without a prescription. In 1984 it was moved to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Federal Schedule I, so Quaaludes are no longer legally available in the United States. Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical treatment use in the U.S., and lack accepted safety for use under medical supervision.
Quaaludes that are sold only for illicit recreational use now are synthesized in clandestine laboratories. Illegally produced Quaaludes can contain other central nervous system depressants such as benzodiazepines or even fentanyl.
In the 1960s a methaqualone and diphenhydramine combination pill called Mandrax was sold as a sedative. Current Mandrax pills, made illegally, may also contain benzodiazepines, barbiturates, or ephedrine. Mandrax is still widely abused in South Africa.
Uses of quaaludes
In 1972, Quaaludes were one of the most frequently prescribed sedatives in United States.
In prescribed doses, Quaaludes promotes relaxation, sleepiness and sometimes a feeling of euphoria. It causes a drop in blood pressure and slows the pulse rate. These properties are the reason why it was initially thought to be a useful sedative and anxiolytic.
It became a recreational drug due to its euphoric effect. Quaaludes were a popular drug of abuse during much of the 1970s, even though both the United States and Britain tightened control around their use and dispensing.
When it was a legal medication, methaqualone was available in tablet and capsule form and came in different strengths.
- Oral Quaaludes dosages ranged from 75 to 150 mg for light sedation.
- A commonly prescribed dose was 300 mg. Up to 600 mg was used for strong sedation.
- Tolerance develops rapidly and some users may take up to 2000 mg daily to achieve the same effects.
- Onset of action is approximately 30 minutes after taking Quaaludes and duration of action is between 5 to 8 hours.
Quaaludes are a central nervous system (CNS) depressant. Examples of other CNS depressants include meprobamate, diazepam (Valium) and gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB). Overdose of Quaaludes can lead to seizures, coma or death.
The range of dangerous doses vary widely. Taking doses of over 300 mg can be dangerous for first-time users. Quaalude doses of about 8,000 mg per day can be fatal; however, even higher doses may not be deadly depending upon the state of the user's tolerance. 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.
Death can result at much lower doses if Quaaludes are taken with alcohol (ethanol), which is also a central nervous system depressant. "Luding out" where Quaaludes were taken with wine, became a popular college pastime in the 70's.
Learn More: Drug abuse: A National Epidemic
Quaaludes use during pregnancy and breastfeeding
Quaaludes are not recommended during pregnancy as the effects on human fetal development are not clear.
There is no data available about the effects of Quaaludes in breastfeeding.
Quaaludes should not be taken with alcohol or with other central nervous system depressants. This increases the depressant effects and can be fatal.
Do not drive or operate machinery while taking Quaaludes.
Quaalude side effects
Common side effects of Quaaludes include:
- abdominal cramps
- dry mouth
- tingling sensation in arms and legs
- reduced heart rate
- slowed breathing (respiration).
Quaaludes can also cause erectile dysfunction and difficulty achieving orgasms. At high doses it can cause mental confusion and loss of muscle control (ataxia).
As with most drugs of abuse, it was found that Quaaludes users made poor decisions and lacked normal abilities under its influence. Driving skills of Quaalude users were often impaired and lead to fatal car accidents.
This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur.
Quaaludes abuse and dependence
Abuse of Quaaludes creates a barbiturate-type dependence. It is highly addictive and frequent users build a tolerance to it, meaning they need to take higher doses to achieve the same euphoric effect. This makes them dangerous, increasing the likelihood of an overdose or death. Quaaludes can also cause withdrawal symptoms similar to barbiturates, which includes:
- mental confusion
Bill Cosby and Quaaludes
In a highly publicized court case, actor Bill Cosby was convicted and sentenced in 2018 to 3 to 10 years in prison for aggravated indecent assault. The case revolved around alleged sexual assault on a women in 2004 after he reportedly gave her Quaaludes. Previously Cosby had said that he received prescriptions for Quaaludes decades prior. However, Cosby maintains it was consensual sex and that the drug he gave the woman was Benadryl, an antihistamine, as reported by Business Insider. Mr. Cosby's attorneys have said they will file an appeal.
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- Commonly Abused Drugs and Substances
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- Fentanyl (Abuse)
- Gray Death
- PCP (Phencyclidine)
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- Speed (methamphetamine)
- Synthetic Marijuana (Spice or K2)
- TCP (Tenocyclidine)
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- United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Depressants. Accessed January 22, 2019 at https://www.dea.gov/taxonomy/term/316
- Bekiempis V. Newsweek. Do people still take Quaaludes? Accessed January 22, 2019 at https://www.newsweek.com/do-people-still-take-quaaludes-357914
- AP News. A look at Bill Cosby’s testimony about quaaludes. April 18, 2018 Accessed January 22, 2019 at https://www.apnews.com/b994b3f839bd4774a7893791ab53be23
- Business Insider. Bill Cosby has been found guilty — here's what happens if you take the pills he described as 'friends to help you relax'. April 26, 2018. Accessed January 22, 2019 at https://www.businessinsider.com/bill-cosby-andrea-constand-trial-verdict-pills-sex-quaaludes-benadryl-2017-6
- CNN. Bill Cosby sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison for sexual assault. Sept. 26, 2018. Accessed January 22, 2019 at https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/25/us/bill-cosby-sentence-assault/index.html
- PBS News Hour. What are Quaaludes, and how do they work?. Accessed January 22, 2019 at https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/what-are-quaaludes
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