A Queer History of Quaalude

Methaqualone (Quaalude) use peaked in the 1970s, but interest in the powerful sedative peaked again when comedian Bill Cosby admitted to using the drugs to have sex with women.

Methaqualone (Quaalude) use peaked in the 1970s, but interest in the powerful sedative peaked again when comedian Bill Cosby admitted to using the drugs to have sex with women.

Quaalude was first manufactured in the United States in 1965 by William H. Rorer Inc, a Pennsylvania-based pharmaceutical company. The drug’s name shares a similarity with another product called Maalox, which was made by the same manufacturer, according to The Paris Review.

The name Quaalude is also a play on “quiet interlude,” and the drug was first marketed as a sleeping aid.

A 1971 ad for Quaalude depicts a cheerful man greeting his family at the breakfast table, with the tag line, “A good morning after a sleep-through night.”

“He wakes up alert and ready to face the demands of the day because he slept well all night,” the ad reads. “Quaalude patients usually awaken easily and without evidence of ‘hangover.’”

The ad said side effects were mild, temporary, and “have often proved to be statistically insignificant when compared to placebo effects.”

While the drug was branded as a sleep aid, Quaalude was especially popular in the 1970s as a social drug that could inspire feelings of euphoria and arousal, The New York Times recently reported.

However, combining the drug with alcohol—a common pairing in the club scene—could result in coma, convulsions, overdose, or death.

The New York Times cited a 1973 study that found methaqualone was the third most common drug responsible for “self-poisoning.”

The FDA eventually withdrew Quaalude in 1984, citing its risk of drug overdose.

The sedative played a role in Leonardo DiCaprio’s memorable scene in the 2013 movie The Wolf of Wall Street, where the actor’s character Jordan Belfort takes expired “ludes.” The Quaaludes take effect later than expected, and Belfort finds himself slurring his words on the phone, crawling on the ground like a baby, and crashing his Lamborghini.

Recently, Quaalude became an important part of Cosby’s case. A deposition from about a decade ago was recently made public, and the comedian, who has been accused of multiple sexual assaults, admitted to using the drug to have sex with women.

According to the legal deposition obtained by The New York Times, Cosby got his hands on 7 prescriptions for Quaalude in the 1970s over a 2- to 3-year period from a physician. Cosby acknowledged that his doctor probably knew that he did not want to use the pills for himself.

“Question: You testified that he [the doctor] knew you were not going to take them. And I’d like to—explain your answer. How did he know that, or why do you say he knew that?” the deposition read.

“Answer: What was happening at that time was that that was—Quaaludes happen to be the drug that kids, young people were using to party with, and there were times when I wanted to have them just in case.”

In the deposition, Cosby said using Quaalude was like someone saying “have a drink” to a woman.

Cosby has not been charged with a crime and he denies committing sexual assault.

At a press conference on July 15, 2015, President Barack Obama did not comment specifically on Cosby’s case, but he provide a definition of rape.

“I'll say this: if you give a woman—or a man, for that matter—without his or her knowledge, a drug, and then have sex with that person without consent, that's rape,” President Obama said. “I think this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.”