Quaaludes: The Rise And Fall Of A Controversial Drug

In the annals of pharmaceutical history, few substances have had such a roller-coaster journey as Quaaludes, also called methaqualone or “ludes.” Hailed initially for their sedation and hypnotic properties, these central nervous system depressants gained popularity in the mid-20th century. However, their misuse and harmful effects eventually led to their prohibition in many countries.

At GateHouse Treatment, we aim to inform you about the truths and dangers behind drug use. Quaaludes, though rare, are among the most dangerous drugs available for misuse. This article will delve into the history of Quaaludes, understand the reasons for their near-worldwide ban, explore their side effects, and examine what makes them uniquely dangerous.

1. History of Quaaludes

Quaaludes, first synthesized in India in the 1950s, were supposed to be a safer alternative to barbiturates, a class of sedative-hypnotic drugs famous for killing Marilyn Monroe. With the growing notoriety and scrutiny surrounding barbiturates, many companies sought a safer way to induce relaxation.

Pharmaceutical companies initially sold methaqualone under the brand name “Mandrax.” The drug quickly gained attention for its sedative effects, making it a popular prescription medication in many parts of the world for treating insomnia and inducing muscle relaxation. Prescriptions started to fly in Europe and the United States.

Quaalude’s popularity peaked during the 1970s Disco Age when its recreational use increased significantly. The circular white tablets, manufactured by the Pennsylvania-based Lemmon company with the text “Lemmon 714” stamped in large letters, became a staple of the party scene due to their euphoric effects. Those numbers remain iconic today, still found on illicitly manufactured fake “quaalude” pills sold by dealers.

2. The Crash and the Ban

In response to the mounting evidence of Quaalude abuse and its associated harms, many countries took action to control and eventually ban the drug. The United States was among the first to take decisive steps in regulating Quaaludes. In 1973, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classified methaqualone as a Schedule II controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. This classification meant the government thought Quaaludes had a high potential for abuse, a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions, and a significant physical and psychological dependence risk.

Quaaludes were then re-classified as a Schedule I substance, meaning they had no medical use. Finally,  President Reagan signed a 1984 bill banning any further drug production, sale, or possession outright. The DEA also cooperated extensively with foreign governments and manufacturers to ensure this ruling would be global, and other countries followed suit. Dealers proceeded to sell the remaining pills on the black market or manufacture them illicitly until Quaaludes were overtaken in popularity by cocaine and heroin.

Effects and Side Effects of Quaaludes

If you speak to someone who has used quaaludes and other sedatives, they describe it as a very unique experience. Best captured and played for laughs in Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” former users report feeling as if they were gliding, like being very drunk without a hangover and more relaxation. The effects of quaaludes are as follows:

  • Sedation and Relaxation: Quaaludes were primarily known for their soothing properties, inducing a sense of calm and relaxation. This effect made them desirable for recreational users seeking to reduce anxiety.
  • Euphoria: Many users reported experiencing joy akin to severe drunkenness when taking Quaaludes, contributing to their appeal as a party drug.
  • Muscle Relaxation: Doctors originally prescribed quaaludes for their muscle relaxant effects and an overall sense of physical ease, making them a popular bedroom drug.
  • Impaired Cognitive Function: Quaaludes caused cognitive impairment, leading to difficulties with concentration, memory, and decision-making. This effect made activities that required mental acuity potentially hazardous when under the influence of the drug. Driving is a dangerous activity to engage in while on this drug.
  • Drowsiness and Sleepiness: Due to their soothing nature, Quaaludes often induce drowsiness and sleepiness, making them effective in treating insomnia.

Side Effects of Quaaludes:

  • Nausea and Vomiting: Some users experience gastrointestinal disturbances, such as nausea and vomiting, particularly when taking higher doses.
  • Respiratory Depression: Quaaludes, like other central nervous system depressants, could slow down respiratory function, leading to shallow or labored breathing. In extreme cases, respiratory depression can be life-threatening.
  • Anterograde Amnesia: Prolonged use of Quaaludes could cause anterograde amnesia, where users have difficulty forming new memories while under the influence of the drug.
  • Dependence and Withdrawal: Continued use of Quaaludes, especially in high doses or for prolonged periods, could lead to physical and psychological dependence. Quitting the drug could result in withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, tremors, and sweating.
  • Overdose: Abusing Quaaludes has a high risk of overdose, potentially fatal due to respiratory depression and other severe complications—which grow when abused alongside other depressants.

3. What Makes Quaaludes Uniquely Dangerous

Governments treated the popularity of quaaludes as national epidemics for various reasons. For starters, quaaludes have a narrow therapeutic window, meaning the difference between a therapeutic dose and a lethal dose is small. Accidental overdose can occur quickly, especially when users don’t know the drug’s potency. Since they were famous for recreation, it became popular to mix them with alcohol. The famous 714s had a dosage of 300mgs; when taken with alcohol, quantities as small as 2000mgs could lead to overdose.

Furthermore, their effects were too strong. An individual can go to a restaurant, have one beer, and get behind the wheel while driving below the legal limit. A single quaalude severely impairs cognitive function for several hours, making coordinated physical movement impossible for many. Finally, their ability to induce muscle weakness and deep sleep led to their widespread and infamous use as a date rape drug, like Rohypnol (roofies), today.

Although the United States and many other countries collaborated to stop their manufacture, quaaludes are still available in South Africa, where they can be obtained legally by prescription or stolen and smuggled out. Most recently, Bill Cosby admitted to purchasing quaaludes to give them to women, briefly returning widespread awareness of this potentially dangerous medication.

The history of quaaludes is a stark reminder of the complexities involved in the pharmaceutical industry and the challenges of balancing medicinal benefits with potential dangers. The ban on Quaaludes serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the need for responsible drug usage, robust regulations, and comprehensive education on the risks associated with substance abuse. In pursuing medical progress, we must remain vigilant against the dangers of potentially hazardous substances.

GateHouse Treatment and Addiction

No matter how unique the drug or how robust the addiction is, we are here to help. GateHouse Treatment has everything you need to ensure your path to recovery and sobriety. We offer outpatient, intensive outpatient, and partial hospitalization therapies alongside medication assistance, family programs, and continuing support so you remain healthy and drug-free.

To secure your wellness, call (855) 448-3588 for a free consultation or reach out through our website.

GateHouse Treatment Editorial Staff
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