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What Are Quaaludes?

by Landmark Recovery

June 11, 2019

Whether you learned about them through the Bill Cosby trial, Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf Of Wall Street, or on your own, chances are that you have heard of Quaalude. But do you know exactly Quaalude is or what it does?

What Is A Quaalude?

A Quaalude, simply put, is a brand name for the depressant drug methaqualone that was first synthesized in the 1950s. The drug became wildly popular as a recreational drug in the 1960s and 1970s and was used as a party drug due to the high that it created. Due to the psychological addictiveness and illegal and widespread abuse associated with the drug, it was eventually made illegal in 1983.

Quaaludes are a depressant, a class of drug that includes the likes of Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and more. Depressants are serious prescription pills that can cause many health problems including addiction and death. Depressants are one of the many drugs that have contributed to the current drug crisis that we are facing in the United States that kills tens of thousands of Americans each year.

Quaaludes Infographic

Because Quaaludes are actually the depressant drug methaqualone, they were first used as a sedative. However, users soon learned that the drug can create a high if you resisted the urge to fall asleep. The recreational use of the drug in the United States peaked in the late 1960s and 1970s and was used with alcohol to create the drowsy and sedative high associated with the pill.

Most sedatives, including alcohol, work by binding gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors (GABAA) in the central nervous system. This results in increasing inhibitory signals in the brain, and while Quaaludes bind to a different portion of the GABAA receptor, they continue to have similar effects.

The Effects of Quaaludes

As mentioned before, Quaalude is a sedative and hypnotic drug that has a general effect on the body and mind. While many drugs in the class have different and unique effects, a majority of them still produce feelings that are a result of sedating the user’s brain. Smaller amounts of these drugs can be used to make a person feel more lively or relaxed. With that said, larger amounts of the drug can be used to create a stimulating effect.

As the doses increase, they become more intense and even more dangerous for the user. Quaaludes can cause a lack of concentration, lower blood pressure, and slow breathing and heart rate.

According to PBS, the drug was commonly used with alcohol to create a “drunken, sleepy high” and according to some reports, it would just take 30 minutes for the effects to begin and they could last for up to six hours. However, overuse of the drug can lead to many problems. Some of the issues associated with overusing Quaaludes include:

  • Respiratory arrest
  • Delirium
  • Kidney or liver damage
  • Coma
  • Death

A lethal dose of methaqualone, the active ingredient in Quaaludes, is eight grams, about 30 times what was in a Quaalude tablet. However, when the drug was mixed with alcohol, the lethal dose is much smaller and just two grams of methaqualone can induce a coma.

Moreover, at its peak, the drug was linked to overdoses, suicide attempts, injuries, and car accidents.

(If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to Quaaludes or other sleep aid sedatives and is searching for an inpatient rehab facility, call us at 888-448-0302 to chat with a recovery specialist. We are available 24/7 to answer your questions and get you the information you need to make the best recovery decision for you. Your call is 100% confidential, and we are ready to help you get started.) 

History Of Quaaludes

Quaalude was first created in 1955 in India as an anti-malaria drug. By the 1960s, the drug first came to the United States and was used to treat insomnia and anxiety. However, it didn’t take much time before the drug started to become abused.

“Doctors were essentially giving them out like candy,” Justin Gass, author of Quaaludes, told BBC. “It was very easy to obtain Quaaludes in the mid-late 1970s and early 1980s.”

In his book, Gass discusses the emergence of the drug on the market and what manufacturers were hoping would come from the drug.

“This drug produces the effects similar to those of barbiturates and benzodiazepines in that it slows down the functions of the brain. Once the beneficial effects of methaqualone were established, it was hoped that it would be safer than barbiturates and have less potential for being abused.”

What ended up happening was a different story: Soon the addictive effects of methaqualone began to outweigh the medical benefits that it provided.

The drug was manufactured in the United States under the name Quaalude and had a “714” stamped on the front of the tablet. Quaaludes became increasingly popular in the late 1960s and 1970s at discos. They were even referred to as “disco biscuits.”

During this time, they essentially became a pop culture phenomenon. The drugs became the subject of songs by a number of famous musicians including David Bowie and Frank Zappa. The drug was used by many other famous people including Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards.

Eventually, the drug became incredibly popular in the country. In fact, by 1981, the DEA ranked that Quaaludes were the second most-used drugs in the country, behind marijuana. It was estimated that 80 to 90% of the world’s production of Quaaludes went into the illegal drug trade.

The DEA estimated that there were 20 million pills on the streets in 1980, and those would double in just a year’s time. Despite this, the problem seemed to subside in only a few years. According to PBS, by 1984, the drugs had all but disappeared in the United States.

This was accomplished by going after the source. Gene Haislip, a top member of the DEA, came up with the solution to target the chemical manufacturers of methaqualone powder in West Germany, Austria, Hungary, and China. He traveled around the world and convinced the governments of every country with a factory making the chemical to shut down its trade.

Moreover, during this time, doctors started to transition to other alternatives to treat insomnia due to the stigma that Quaaludes carried as a drug of abuse. It wasn’t long before Congress banned domestic production and sales of Quaaludes, and President Reagan signed the legislation into law in 1984.

While the legal production of the drug ended in the United States in the 1980s, there are still labs in Mexico and other parts of the world that continue to manufacture the pill. It can also be found in South Africa and India under different names.

Other Depressants

While Quaaludes are still manufactured and sold in some parts of the world, they have become increasingly less popular across the nation. In fact, the overall use of the drug is so minimal that is it no longer listed on the Drug Abuse Warning Network’s reports.

While Quaaludes aren’t as relevant anymore, depressants in general are still a highly used medication that many use and abuse. Depressants in general work to put you to sleep, relieve anxiety, help with muscle spasms, and help prevent seizures.

There are two major types of depressants: barbiturates and benzodiazepines.


Barbiturates are drugs that work to relax you and induce sleep. They are central nervous depressants that can be used for everything from normal sedation to capital punishment.

While barbiturates have clear meditative use, they can still be addictive and lead to a number of different problems, including physical dependence. Moreover, when you stop taking the prescriptions, the withdrawal can be life-threatening.

Unfortunately, not only can withdrawal be dangerous but overusing the drug can also lead to problems such as coma and death. Some common intoxication and overdose symptoms associated with the drug include:

  • Difficulty thinking
  • Drowsiness
  • Coma
  • Faulty judgment
  • Lack of coordination
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow speech
  • Sluggishness and more

Similarly, some common long-term effects of barbiturates include memory loss, irritability, decreased functioning and more.

Common barbiturates that are used include Butisol, Fioricet, Luminal, and more.


Essentially benzodiazepines are more mild forms of barbiturates. They are also central nervous depressants that can prove to be extremely addictive. Benzodiazepines are commonly prescribed for a wide range of conditions such as sleep aids and muscles relaxants.

Benzodiazepines affect the body by creating a calming and euphoric feeling. They also can cause amnesia, vivid and disturbing dreams, hostility, and irritability. Moreover, increased use of benzodiazepines can lead to overuse and overdoses. Some common signs of an overdose include shallow respiration, clammy skin, dilated pupils, weak and rapid pulse, and coma.

Some commonly prescribed benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, and more.


Research over the years has shown that substance use disorders are brain disorders and diseases that can be effectively treated. With that said, treatment must take into account the type of drug that is used and the personal needs of the patient; this includes comorbidity problems including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and more.

Successful treatment that promotes long-term sobriety will likely need to incorporate several components including detoxification, counseling, medications, therapy, and more. It should also be noted that recovery is not always successful on the first try. In fact, many patients require multiple courses of treatment before they are able to make a full recovery.

Most drug and alcohol treatments will utilize detoxification programs and behavioral counseling programs. During detoxification, patients will go through a multi-day process to help them get through the withdrawal symptoms of their respective drug safely. During this time, they will be medically supervised and may be given medication to help safely wean them past their addiction problems. Detox, if done at the very beginning of treatment, prevents the process of withdrawal from interfering with other parts of treatment such as behavioral therapy sessions.

During behavioral therapy sessions, patients will either go through group counseling or individual therapy programs to help teach them about the processes and details of addiction. During these sessions, patients will work with practitioners to identify triggers that could induce a relapse. These sessions are incredibly important as they will continue to help a patient long after they have left the facility.

Speaking of leaving the facility, many inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities have discharge plans in place to help patients adjust to their new, sober life gradually. For some, this means an intensive outpatient program of therapy and counseling for three to four days a week following release from the inpatient facility.

Treatment can go a number of ways, but it is important to look at what a specific patient needs to help them overcome their substance use disorder. Overall, if you have noticed that you or a loved one may have a problem with some sort of substance, including alcohol, it may be best to search for professional help.

Recover From Drug Addiction

If you are looking for an Indiana treatment center to help with a drug or alcohol problem, there are many dedicated rehabilitation facilities across the country that can help. Good treatment centers will utilize detoxification, inpatient, and outpatient therapy to provide patients with all the tools that they need to overcome their substance use disorder and commit to long-term sobriety. Detox will be used to help patients overcome their withdrawal symptoms so they can focus their attention on the behavioral therapy sessions characteristic of inpatient and outpatient treatment.

Landmark Recovery is dedicated to helping as many people as possible. Landmark’s goal is to help one million families over the next 100 years. Landmark’s professional staff has the tools and knowledge required to help patients safely detox and learn from the behavioral therapies during inpatient and outpatient treatments. While Quaaludes may not be a common drug in the country anymore, there are many deadly substances that people still suffer from including opioids and alcohol. If you or a loved one is dealing with some sort of substance use disorder, call 888-448-0302 to speak to a recovery specialist, or visit our locations page to find the nearest addiction treatment center.

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About the Author

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery

Landmark Recovery was founded with a determination to make addiction treatment accessible for all. Through our integrated treatment programs, we've helped thousands of people choose recovery over addiction and get back to life on their own terms. We're on a mission to save one million lives over the next century. We encourage all those struggling with substance use to seek professional help.