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What are Quaaludes?

quaaludes | Just Believe Recovery PA

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Quaaludes are sedative drugs that saw the height of recreational use and addiction in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. However, they’ve banned for more than 30 years now. But certainly not every banned drug disappears. So what happened? Why were quaaludes so dangerous, and how did the drug disappear from the United States?

What are Quaaludes?

The trade name for quaaludes is methaqualone, and it was originally manufactured in the early 1950’s, in India. Interestingly, the drug was initially intended to treat malaria.

Medically, methaqualone is a depressant with hypnotic properties, and acts on the GABA activity in the brain and nervous system. Increased GABA eventually results in a reduction in blood pressure, breathing, and pulse rate. Deep relaxation will likely ensue. This effect can last for several hours.

Addiction occurred because regular users would build a tolerance. Increased use due to tolerance and addiction was frequently responsible for fatal overdoses. Even if the user survived, they could be subjected to delirium, convulsions, vomiting, and kidney failure, among other highly unpleasant side effects.

Dosing was usually a standard 300 mg. By itself, 8000 mg of the drug was considered lethal, which in fact, was a considerably high amount. However, if it was taken with an alcohol beverage or under other circumstances involving central nervous system depression, a mere 2000 mg could be enough to cause an overdose.

A Brief History

The first countries to experiment with quaaludes were Japan and Germany. Indeed, within a short time they were being widely abused, and many people found themselves addicted. In the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, it was known as Mandrax.

By the 1960’s it was being used in the United States to treat both anxiety and insomnia, not unlike benzodiazepines such as Xanax.

But like the opioids of today, physicians were oft accused of giving them out a bit too freely. By the 70’s, they were easily obtained and also sometimes known as “disco biscuits.”

In addition, people could purchase them in stress clinics, which were somewhat sketchy medical centers that would often provide the maximum legal prescription. Not surprisingly, this method of doing business eventually led to their demise.

As barbiturate sedatives of the past fell out of favor, drug companies replaced them with a new wave of drugs. During this time, quaaludes rose to popularity, along with Valium and Librium.

As is the case with many drugs, recreational users tended to be young people. They could provide a very powerful, relaxing high, and were said to enhance sex. However, it was also this effect that contributed to date rapes during that time, in addition to generally poor judgment regarding sexual decisions. The effect begins relatively quickly, and can last for several hours.

Like most sedatives, it could be dangerous when taken with alcohol or other drugs – even downright deadly. A cocktail that could cause a life-threatening overdose, resulting in a sleep than never ended.

So What Happened?

It took considerable time, but eventually in 1984 it was listed as a Schedule I drug by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration. It’s no longer manufactured legally, and finding a true quaalude these days is quite difficult.

However, methaqualone did not completely disappear from the face of the earth. It is still commonly used recreationally in Africa and somewhat in India. In these areas, it may be known as Mandrax, M-pills, smarties, or can be found in a mixture along with other drugs. Methaqualone is also a minor product of labs in Lebanon, which is a supplier to African markets.

Finally, there have been a few reports of markets for the drug in the Americas, which apparently receive it from illegal labs in Mexico, as well as Central and South America. Small operations in the U.S. and Canada are occasionally identified, often in conjunction with the manufacture of similar drugs.

The New Quaaludes?

As quaaludes could be considered the date rape drugs of their day, today’s counterparts are likely rohypnol and GHB. Both drugs result in significant or total sedation, especially when mixed with alcohol, and are sometimes used willingly for recreational purposes.

Aside from these, the closest drugs available for medical purposes are benzodiazpines such as valium and xanax. Highly-potent opioids such as fentanyl can also result in central nervous system depression and death, but are not typically obtained legally. Rather, they are found as illicit street drugs, originally manufactured in clandestine labs and sometimes laced into heroin.

Like quaaludes, opioids and benzodiapines are both highly addictive. When taken together, they are more likely to result in overdose.


Quaalude abuse and addiction was a drug scourge that thankfully, has gotten a lot less press than it did a few decades ago. However, similar drugs (prescription sedatives, hypnotics, etc.) are still dangerous and addictive, and can lead to similar life-threatening effects if abused or misused. Breaking addiction is not the easiest thing for you or your family to deal with. So if you or someone you know is struggling, Please reach out to get help. Give our counselors a call today so that we can help you plan a successful recovery. We are always available at 888-380-0342 to answer your questions.

Just Believe Recovery Carbondale

Just Believe Recovery is a fully licensed, Joint Commission accredited, comprehensive drug and alcohol treatment center located in Carbondale, Pennsylvania

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