Explainer: What is methaqualone, the Rs 5,000-per-gram drug seized in Bengaluru

Methaqualone was first synthesized in India in the 1950s as an anti-malaria drug.
Explainer: What is methaqualone, the Rs 5,000-per-gram drug seized in Bengaluru
Explainer: What is methaqualone, the Rs 5,000-per-gram drug seized in Bengaluru
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The Bengaluru police recently seized 750gm of methaqualone from a person alleged to be a part of an inter-state drug racket.  

The recreational drug was being sold for a staggering Rs 5,000 per gram in the city.  

Siddalingaiah, Assistant Commissioner of Police, said that while they had seized consignments of various drugs including cocaine, LSD and heroin in the past, this was first time they had came across methaqualone.

What is methaqualone?

It is a central nervous system depressant earlier used as a sedative and hypnotic drug in some countries.  

Methaqualone was first synthesized in India in the 1950s as an anti-malaria drug. 

While it was sold as Quaalude in the US, methaqualone was available as Mandrax in the UK and South Africa. 

The drug, which is addictive in nature, was initially being used to treat sleep disorders and anxiety in the US.

In a 1973 report for Rolling Stone, Charles Perry quoted an early user of the drug, who described the experience as, “Quaalude made me feel friendly, open and receptive. In fact, it made me feel permanently receptive. I got into things I'd never gotten into before and they're still with me."

Soon the drug became a recreational drug because of its easy availability. 

"Doctors were essentially giving them out like candy. It was very easy to obtain Quaaludes in the mid-late 1970s and early 1980s,” Justin Gass, who wrote a book on the drug, told the BBC.

Perry described the workings of the drug, prescribed as a sedative, thus, "If you don't follow doctor's orders, though, and take a sleeping dose while you're actually running around doing things, you feel high," he wrote. 

"You'll also be unable to coordinate your muscles very well, or tell where your limbs exactly are, when undertaking tricky tasks such as walking; you'll understand the meaning of the term 'wallbanger.' Your speech will be slurred. Your eyes may play ping-pong a little in their sockets. But none of this will matter much to you. People who have taken enough quacks can fall down flights of stairs and not feel the bruises until the next day," he added. 

Higher dosages could result in a coma, convulsion and even death in some cases. 

The drug reportedly takes half-an-hour to kick in and its effects can last up to eight hours

Reports of the drug’s abuse and addiction to it came to the fore and “by 1984, the drug was listed as Schedule I in the US and a Class B drug in the UK, which makes its production and distribution illegal altogether,” the BBC reported.

Bill Cosby allegedly gave Quaaludea to the women he planned to have sex with. Film director Roman Polanski also allegedly gave the drug to a 13-year-old before sexually assaulting her. References to the drug can also be found in The Wolf of Wall Street (2013).

In India, the manufacture, possession and transportation of methaqualone is an offence under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. 

Earlier this year, Palghar police and the Gujarat anti-terrorism squad seized over 550Kg of methaqualone powder worth Rs 27.5 crore from a farmhouse in Palghar district.

The drug is reportedly very expensive because it is not easily available. A senior police officer told The Hindu that the drug, which is popular in countries like the UK, USA and South Africa, is being smuggled into India through the Indo-Pak border near Rajasthan. 

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