Methaqualone (Quaaludes) in the news again

Qaaludes have been thrust in the media again. Apparently information surfaced on CNN today regarding a deposition where the comedian Bill Cosby admitted under oath that he had obtained 7 prescriptions for Quaaludes-(methaqualone + antihistamine) with the intent to use them to get sexual intercourse per CNN.

Quaaludes are a powerful sedative that actually have their origin in 1951 in India as a medicine to fight malaria. The active ingredient, methaqualone was eventually combined with an antihistamine (further increasing the sedative effects) and in 1965 was marketed as Malsed or Renoval in Britain. In fact, Malsed was the most commonly prescribed sedative in Britain in 1965.

In the US, Rorer pharmaceuticals originally had the medicine. The Rorer chairman is widely quoted as saying that Quaalude accounted for less than 2% of their sales, but created 98% of their headaches. The two ingredient product was sold the product to Lemmon Pharmaceutical in 1965. Sales increased and in 1972, Quaaludes were the 6th best selling drug in the US-being prescribed to fight insomnia and as a muscle relaxant. In the 70’s, it became a widely used as a recreational drug in the disco scene. It is psychologically addictive.

Methaqualone in any combination has been known as ludes, sopers, lemons  and lemmon 7s amongst other names. It has an unusual pharmacology in that it goes to work very quickly (onset is as little as 30 minutes) and lasts a very long time (half life is 20-60 hours). The drug was removed from the US market in 1985. The drug is available in Canada and has been banned in India. It is still available from clandestine labs and is a drug of abuse in the US.

Much controversy has erupted regarding potential use of methaqualone with or without alcohol. This approach is NEVER recommended but has been referred to “luding out” by abusers. This refers to a detached euphoria which results. The onset of the drug is usually about 30 minutes but may be much much faster in higher doses and certainly when/if combined with alcohol. Combinations with alcohol may be lethal. The drug works on GABA, a nerve transmitter and results in a decreased heart rate, slow heart rate and euphoria. 75-150 mg can yield light sedation and 300 mg is a typical sedative dose. More than 300 mg in an inexperienced user can result to strong sedation.  600 MG usually leads to strong sedation. Tolerance develops quickly to the drug and abusers need to take higher and higher doses to get the original euphoric effect.

In the US, methaqualone was schedule 2 in 1973 and eventually was placed in schedule one in 1984. Once again, it was removed from the market in 1985, but is still available in some foreign countries and from clandestine labs in the US. The case involving Mr. Cosby is still emerging and involves multiple (more than 20) women and any complaints are unproven. Seven prescriptions for any addictive medicine is highly unusual and in this day and age would be subject to Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP) for medicines in schedule two—particularly ones that have a history of abuse. Methaqualone, should it be implicated further or not, is a powerful powerful medicine with a dangerous pharmacology if combined with alcohol.    

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