- What Is It Made Of?
- Are There Any Medical Reasons for Taking This Substance?
- Usage Trends
- Ludes and Pop Culture
- Treatment for Habitual Users
- The Law
What Kind of Drug Is It?
Methaqualone (meth-a-KWAY-lone) is a highly addictive, illegal, drug. It was once widely prescribed as a treatment for insomnia, a sleep disorder, and anxiety, a condition characterized by feelings of fear, worry, restlessness, and panic. Methaqualone is probably best known by its former brand names, Quaalude and Mandrax. It was a legal substance from the 1960s until the early 1980s. Shortly after its introduction as a prescription drug in 1965, however, its popularity as a recreational drug skyrocketed among college students and pop-culture figures in music, film, and television. Recreational drugs are those used solely to get high, not for any medical reason.
By the early 1970s, the U.S. government reclassified the prescription status of methaqualone in an attempt to limit its availability. By then, though, imitations of the drug were flooding the market. During the 1970s, the illegal use of methaqualone grew steadily, reaching a peak in the early 1980s. The drug was popular at discos, where people went to socialize and dance. Soon doctors realized the problems associated with the drug and stopped prescribing Quaaludes. Several states then outlawed the sale of methaqualone.
In 1984, the government finally reclassified methaqualone as a Schedule I controlled substance. This is the designation given to a drug that is highly addictive and has no current medical use in the United States. It is illegal to manufacture, use, or possess a Schedule I drug. Within just two years of this action, the use of methaqualone dropped dramatically in the United States. By 1988, the drug was illegal in almost every country throughout the world.
Methaqualone was first manufactured in 1955 by scientists in India who were trying to find a cure for malaria, a serious tropical disease spread by mosquitoes. The drug was found to have properties that made it useful as a sleep aid and a sedative to help calm anxiety. Sedatives help people relax, relieving nervousness and restlessness. Doctors and scientists believed this new drug was non-addictive.
It was soon on the market in Japan and Europe as a "safe" alternative to the highly addictive that had previously been the only choice for effective treatment of insomnia.
Methaqualone was approved for use in the United States in 1965 by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It had been sold for several years in other countries under names such as Mandrax, Malsed, Malsedin, and Renoval. Doctors were glad to have a new prescription drug available to help patients deal with anxiety and sleeplessness. In the United States, the new drug was marketed under names such as Sopor, Parest, Optimil, and the most famous of all, Quaalude. Although the drug was available by prescription only, it was originally classified as a Schedule V drug, which meant that it was considered a very safe drug without any serious risk of addiction or harmful side effects.
Highly Abused in the 1960s and 1970s
Methaqualone was a big part of the "sex, love, drugs, and rock 'n' roll" culture of the 1960s and 1970s on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In the United Kingdom, the most popular version of methaqualone was combined with an antihistamineDrugs that block histamine, a chemical that causes nasal congestion related to allergies. and sold as Mandrax. Its slang names included "mandies" and "mandrakes." In the United States, the drug was referred to as "quaaludes," "ludes," or the "love drug." By the late 1960s, the Quaalude brand of methaqualone was wildly popular with students who used the drug as an antidote to the stresses of college life. They also believed, in error, that the drug was an aphrodisiac substance that would increase sexual desire and performance. The drug also became popular at nightclubs during the disco dancing craze.
In 1973, the U.S. government reclassified methaqualone from a Schedule V to a Schedule II controlled substance. This is the category given to highly addictive drugs that nonetheless have a particular medical use. It means that doctors can still prescribe the drug for patient use, but there are numerous restrictions on how the drug may be prescribed. One of the requirements is that a patient be examined by a physician before a prescription is written. In addition, Schedule II prescriptions cannot be renewed by phone. They must be rewritten by a doctor each time a patient runs out of the drug. This reclassification of the drug was an attempt to restrict its availability.
By this time, however, two things had happened that made it almost impossible for the government to control access to methaqualone. First, prescriptions were readily available through so-called "stress clinics" that were set up in several states. These were not full-service doctors' offices, but were designed specifically to dispense prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications such as Quaalude. Because minimal physical exams were provided, and because the drug was legally available by prescription, it was difficult for law enforcement agencies to close down such clinics.
In addition, the world market was flooded with imitation methaqualone pills. During the peak of methaqualone use in the United States, approximately one billion counterfeit pills entered the country every year. Consequently, cracking down on the legal prescription process did little to slow the tide of demand forr supply ofhe drug.
No Longer Available Legally
By the early 1980s, as the medical world realized that methaqualone was too dangerous and addictive for most people, many doctors stopped prescribing the drug in any form. In 1984, nine states, including Florida, Georgia, and Illinois, banned the sale of the drug. The last U.S. company still manufacturing methaqualone stopped making and selling it on January 31, 1984. Within months, the drug was reclassified yet again by federal authorities. By order of Congress, methaqualone became a Schedule I controlled substance in August 1984. This made it illegal for any use.
Outlawing the manufacture, sale, or possession of methaqualone resulted in a dramatic drop in its use. According to the National Narcotics Intelligence Consumers Committee, U.S. emergency room visits related to methaqualone overdoses dropped from 2,764 in 1982 to only 163 in 1988.
Another reason for the drop in methaqualone abuse was the end of the disco dance era. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, young adults began attending ravesll-night dance parties that usually involve huge crowds of people, loud techno music, and illegal drug use. Raves brought new drugs onto the dance scene and the once-popular disco drug methaqualone was replaced by other more trendy and readily available drugs, such as ecstasy. In the twenty-first century, methaqualone is no longer monitored as a domestic drug of abuse in the United States.
Methaqualone Survives in South Africa
By 1988, methaqualone was illegal in most countries of the world as well. As of 2005, the drug was still in use in South Africa. Mandrax, which contains both methaqualone and an antihistamine, became the most popular illegal, synthetic drug used in South Africa. The chemicals used to produce methaqualone are made in southern Asia. Since the exportation of these chemicals is not well monitored or regulated, illegal drug manufacturers can buy the chemicals and produce methaqualone anywhere. Labs producing methaqualone have been found in several African countries, including Kenya, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and South Africa.
South Africa was both the largest producer and the largest consumer of the drug in the world in the early twenty-first century.
What Is It Made Of?
Methaqualone is a drug synthesized from several other chemicals. The key ingredients include compounds such as anthranilic acid, N-acetyl-anthranilic acid, and N-acetyl-o-toluidine. The formal name for methaqualone is 2-methyl-3-O-tolyl-4(3H)quinazolinone, and its chemical formula is C16H14N2O.
Illegal drug makers sometimes use a variety of "filler" substances, including talcum powder and heroin, when manufacturing counterfeit methaqualone pills. No inspection process is available to ensure or measure the purity of the finished product because the substance is illegal.
How Is It Taken?
When it was legal, methaqualone was made in tablets (solid pills) and capsules (water-soluble casings filled with a powdery form of the drug). The legal form of the drug was available in various strengths. In the United States, the most prescribed strengths of Quaalude were 150-milligram and 300-milligram pills.
Just as counterfeit versions of methaqualone were produced throughout the world and sold in the United States until the early 1980s, imitations were still being manufactured in 2005 in places such as India and South Africa. The tablets are designed to look like the original pharmaceutical versions, right down to the manufacturer's markings. Illegal forms of methaqualone are also produced in powder and capsule forms. In South Africa, the drug is also mixed with marijuana and smoked.
During the 1970s, one of the most popular ways to take methaqualone was with wine. Called "'luding out," this practice was widespread on college campuses. Taking methaqualone with alcohol was also quite popularnd particularly dangerous, since alcohol increases the effect of the drug. This can interfere with the normal breathing process and lead to accidental overdose.
Are There Any Medical Reasons for Taking This Substance?
Methaqualone was originally thought to be safe and nonaddictive as a sleep aid. Once its addictive and dangerous properties were discovered, the medical community and the government determined that the negative effects outweighed any benefits. Thus, there is no current medical use for the drug.
When methaqualone was introduced in the United States in the 1960s, it was a drug that could be taken by anyone with a doctor's prescription. This meant that the abuse of the drug easily crossed lines of culture, race, and economic status. It was neither an expensive drug accessible only to the wealthy, nor a budget-class drug associated only with low-income users. It did become a drug of choice on the rock music scene, which made it appeal to mainstream American teens. Its reputation as a love-enhancing substance popularized the drug on college campuses.
Major Drop in Use during the 1980s
Illegal use of the brand drug Quaalude was widespread on college campuses in the 1970s. Its use rose dramatically between 1978 and 1981, but dropped very quickly after the drug was made illegal in the mid-1980s. In 1981, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the University of Michigan, 10.4 percent of college students said they had tried methaqualone at least once in their lifetimes, and 6.5 percent of college students reported having used it without a prescription at least once in the previous year. In the 1989 survey, which was done five years after the drug was reclassified as a Schedule I substance, only 0.2 percent of college students said they had used methaqualone during the previous year.
A similar reduction in use took place among American high school students, according to the Monitoring the Future survey. This annual study follows drug use patterns of secondary school students in the United States. In 1981, 8 percent of American twelfth-graders surveyed reported use of methaqualone during the previous twelve months, as compared to 0.5 percent and 0.6 percent, respectively, in 1991 and 2003.
Effects on the Body
Methaqualone is a depressant that has both physical and psychological effects on users. It lowers the levels of chemicals called in the brain and nervous system. When neurotransmitters are decreased, blood pressure drops and the breathing and pulse rates slow. The user enters a state of deep relaxation. These properties explain why methaqualone was originally thought to be a useful drug to treat sleeplessness and anxiety.
Methaqualone reaches its peak levels in the bloodstream within one or two hours after being taken. Its effects generally last from four to eight hours. Regular users of methaqualone build up a physical tolerance to the drug, which means they need more of it each time to achieve the same physical and psychological effects. As a user takes more of the drug to experience a particular response, the nervous system can be overwhelmed and shut down, leading to coma and death.
Methaqualone's effects are intensified with the use of other substances, including alcohol. The average lethal dose of methaqualone used alone is between 8 and 20 grams, depending on the size and tolerance level of the user. However, death and coma can result at much lower dosages in the presence of alcohol, which also functions as a depressant on the body.
"Feeling No Pain" Can Be Dangerous
Common side effects of methaqualone include diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting, headache, chills or sweating, irregular heartbeat, skin rash and itching, fatigue, slurred speech, and seizures. Methaqualone affects muscle movement and coordination and can produce a "pins and needles" sensation called paresthesia (pah-russ-THEE-zhuh), usually in the face and fingers. Under the influence of heavy doses of methaqualone, users have a heightened pain threshold, which means they do not feel pain as readily as they would otherwise. The consequence is that they can hurt themselves without noticing any pain. Because their thought processes are also slowed down, they cannot respond quickly enough to avoid serious injury.
Methaqualone can also cause a condition called , in which muscles twitch and move uncontrollably. Users experiencing ataxia are sometimes called "wallbangers." They appear to have lost control of their bodies and may repeatedly run into things because they cannot feel any pain. Driving or operating heavy machinery is especially dangerous for anyone who is under the influence of methaqualone because of ataxia and the slowed reflexes that accompany the sedative effect of the drug.
In the early 1980s, emergency rooms across the country reported increased numbers of trauma victims whose injuries were related to automobile crashes caused by users of methaqualone, often in conjunction with alcohol. According to Paul M. Gahlinger in Illegal Drugs: A Complete Guide to Their History, Chemistry, Use and Abuse, in Broward County, Florida, 82 percent of drunk drivers apprehended in 1980 also had methaqualone in their systems.
Dependence and Addiction
Methaqualone also has significant mental effects on users. When it was considered safe, one of its benefits was thought to be its ability to reduce anxiety. Before long, it became clear that users were becoming psychologically addicted to the drug. Common symptoms of psychological dependenceThe belief that a person needs to take a certain substance in order to function, whether that person really does or not. on methaqualone are memory loss, learning and judgment problems, difficulty focusing on work or school tasks, and a preoccupation with getting more of the drug.
Reactions with Other Drugs or Substances
The sedative effects of methaqualone are increased significantly when the drug is combined with other depressant substances such as alcohol or marijuana. The combination can result in coma or death. In addition, unknown substances in illegally produced methaqualone can cause unexpected, damaging side effects. Some of the ingredients that might be used to make methaqualone pills include talcum powder, flour, baking soda, heroin, decongestants, pain relievers, and laxatives. Impurities may also enter the drug during the illegal manufacturing process.
Treatment for Habitual Users
When a person suddenly stops taking a drug like methaqualone, the body overreacts to the loss of the substance. For example, if the heart rate is slowed by a drug, when that drug is abruptly discontinued, the heart rate will accelerate rapidly and unevenly. Such body changes can cause withdrawal symptoms, which include a range of extremely uncomfortable and sometimes life-threatening physical symptoms. These symptoms last until the user has undergone . Due to the intensity of methaqualone withdrawal, inpatient treatment is highly recommended.
In the case of methaqualone, seven to ten days is considered the average detox time for someone who has become dependent on the drug. Withdrawal symptoms will begin at approximately twelve to twenty-four hours after the last dose is taken. They peak twenty-four to forty-eight hours later. Symptoms typically include nausea, vomiting, tremors, an irregular heartbeat, heavy sweating, anxiety and panic attacksUnexpected episodes of severe anxiety that can cause physical symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, and shaking., insomnia, confusion, convulsions, and seizures. Methaqualone detoxification should always take place in a hospital or rehab setting, under the supervision of health-care professionals, so that withdrawal symptoms can be treated properly.
During medically supervised withdrawal, doctors may prescribe a substitute sedative to ease the initial symptoms. Antidepressant medication may also be prescribed for individuals experiencing anxiety or sleep disorders.
The consequences of methaqualone use are not just physical and psychological. Social and legal consequences accompany the use of an illegal controlled substance such as methaqualone. As with users of other highly addictive substances, methaqualone abusers quickly become focused on when and where to get the next dose of the drug. Relationships with friends and family often break down when drug use becomes the most important aspect of a person's daily life. Financial consequences result from spending money on drugs as well as from the job loss that frequently accompanies drug addiction.
Use of an illegal drug usually leads to legal consequences, as well. A Schedule I drug like methaqualone is illegal to make, sell, take, or even have in one's possession. Conviction on any level will carry heavy fines and possible jail time as well. Convictions often result in the suspension of a user's driver's license, whether or not jail time is also required. Criminal drug charges may also limit employment and education options. For example, federal law requires that applicants for student college loans reveal whether or not they have ever been convicted of a drug offense. Having a conviction on one's record will result in either temporary or permanent ineligibility for federal financial aid for college.
Possession of methaqualone is a federal offense in the United States. Even if the amount of the drug is small, the fine for a first offense may be as much as $10,000. The fine amount is set according to the offender's income, financial assets, and circumstances of the case. A first offense for "personal use" possession typically does not
result in jail time. However, the offender must pay the fine, stay out of trouble, and pass drug tests as administered.
This is not the case for someone who is convicted of transporting or selling methaqualone. A first-time offender faces as many as twenty years in prison and a $1 million fine. If the case also carries a charge of causing death or serious injury to another person, the sentence is automatically set at between twenty years and life.
For More Information
Gahlinger, Paul M. Illegal Drugs: A Complete Guide to Their History, Chemistry, Use and Abuse. Las Vegas, NV: Sagebrush Press, 2001.
Kuhn, Cynthia, Scott Swartzwelder, and Wilkie Wilson. Buzzed: The Straight Facts about the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy, 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton Company, 2003.
Ziemer, Maryann. Quaaludes. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 1997.
"Background Information: Methaqualone." South African Police Service. http://www.saps.gov.za/drugs/drugs/bground.htm (accessed July 29, 2005).
"Fact Sheet: Cannabis and Mandrax Use in South Africa." SA HealthInfo. (accessed July 29, 2005).
"Glutethimide and Methaqualone." U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. http://www.usdoj.gov/dea/concern/glutethimide.html (accessed July 29, 2005).
"Methaqualone Timeline." The Vaults of Erowid. http://www.erowid.org/chemicals/methaqualone/methaqualone_t... (accessed July 29, 2005).
Monitoring the Future. http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/ and http://www.nida.nih.gov/Newsroom/04/2004MTFDrug.pdf (both accessed July 31, 2005).
See also: Barbiturates; Rohypnol; Tranquilizers
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