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Drugs of the Past: Barbiturates and Quaaludes

Quaaludes (Methaqualone) was a “safer” less addictive barbiturate-substitute first introduced in the 1950s. As the famous scenes from The Wolf of Wall Street showed, quaaludes were heavy sedatives that became especially popular during the 70s and the 80s as a party drug of choice for America’s wealthy. Many high profile celebrities have admitted to using barbiturates to help them sleep during hectic scheduling. But becoming dependent on quaaludes was very easy. People started using them recreationally to help lower inhibitions, anxieties, and create a euphoric sleepy state. 

But people got hooked on quaaludes without meaning to. Tolerance was unpredictable and some people were at risk for dependency or overdose even if they only took a medically-prescribed dose. When they tried to stop taking the drug they would experience painful withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, panic, vomiting, sweating, seizures, tremors, and intense fevers. For those who gave in the threat of overdose was always looming. Like users of opioids today, users of quaaludes in the past were at risk of overdose by way of reduced heart rate and respiratory depression.

Interestingly, as Splinter News points out, quaaludes are one of the only success stories the United States’ war on drugs has had. The government managed to get quaaludes off the streets shortly after making them illegal in the mid-1980s’. By the early 1990’s quaaludes were difficult to find. 

Several years later, companies again released a barbiturate-substitute that they claimed was safer and less addictive. They were called benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Ativan). Today, they rank in the top 5 most addictive drugs. Between 1999 and 2017, benzos were the third-highest cause of deaths by drug overdose in America. See a pattern?

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