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A-Z of Drugs

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Q Is for Quaaludes

Neil Wilson
Neil Wilson

Q Is for Quaaludes.

“On daily basis I consume enough drugs to sedate Manhattan, Long Island and Queens for a month. I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my “back pain”, Adderall to stay focused, Xanex to take the edge off, pot to mellow me out, cocaine to wake ne back up again, and morphine.. Well, because it’s awesome.” The Wolf of Wall street.

The ‘Wolf of Wall street’ was one of the most successful film of the last decade or so, receiving critical acclaim and whole host of nominations during the awards season. It also made a healthy profit for its makers and entered the Guinness book of records for the most use of the ‘F’ word in a film (with 569 instances or 3.16 per minute).

It chronicles the life of Jordan Belfort and his rise to become the most notorious Wall street trader of his generation, a real-life Gordon Gekko. Jordan began his extraordinary career by taking a lowly job as a ‘connector’ at Rothchild’s stockbrokers. The job consisted of ringing hundreds of clients a day in the hope that he could connect them to a stockbroker who would then pitch stock to them. As part of his induction he was told: “I also strongly recommend the use of drugs, especially cocaine, because it makes you dial faster, which is good for me.”

The story picks up again a few years later after Jordan is laid off following the ‘Black Monday’ stock market crash. He begins to build his own firm, Stanton Oakwood. The company became infamous for using illegal ‘pump and dump’ schemes whereby stock was strongly talked up to increase its value and then sold on before anyone was any the wiser. Located out on Long Island, Stanton Oakwood became a byword for debauchery. There were tales of employees eating live goldfish, taking part in dwarf tossing contests. Simply ‘rutting’ (as Jordan put it) under the desks during working hours seemed almost normal in comparison.

Whilst cocaine was the drug of choice for many on Wall street at the time, Jordan tended to favour the recreational use of the sedative prescription medicine Quaalude. It produced in him a sense of euphoria and increased sexual desire. His use of the drug was a long way from the effect of a ‘quiet interlude’ (there is a clue in the name) that the drug was intended to instill in a more typical user. Despite the side effects of respiratory depression, slurred speech, headaches, and photophobia (excessive sensitivity to light) when taken in larger quantities, he says of the drug : “I considered myself lucky to be addicted to them (Quaaludes). I mean, how many other drugs made you feel as wonderful as they did, yet didn’t leave you with a hangover the next day?”

The risk of overdosing, especially when combined with alcohol often led to some close calls. In one scene Jordan’s chief sidekick Donnie (played by Jonah hill) enters the office all excited and holding a bottle of ‘Lemmons 714’s’ a legendary extra-strong form of Quaaludes which had been lying on a shelf somewhere for some fifteen odd years. When they think the pills are inert they end up going for broke and take two more each. Relaxing later at their country club the Quaaludes finally take effect and Jordan finds himself virtually unable to speak or even crawl. Despite his condition he still attempts to drive his white Lamborghini home. Whilst he applauds himself for completing the feat we later see the car ends up as a total wreck.

The film’s director Martin Scorsese used his own experiences of Quaaludes, which were prescribed for him to help counter his fear of flying, in coaching Leonardo Di Caprio in the title role. Di Caprio also repeatedly watched a viral Youtube video of ‘The Drunkest Guy in the world’ stumbling around a 7-Eleven convenience store to perfect his performance.

The drug itself has the scientific name ‘Methaqualone’ (Quaaludes is one of its several brand names) and was first synthesised in India. The original plan was for it to be used as an anti-malarial medicine. The drug’s hypnotic qualities led to its widespread use in countering insomnia and also as a muscle relaxant. Legal production of the drug continued right up until 1985 and thereafter it was produced illegally in Mexico. In a somewhat underhand move it was also marketed under alternative names such as ‘Mequin’ in an attempt to distance the drug from the increasingly bad press that Quaaludes were beginning to receive.

It’s popularity as a recreational drug grew steadily during the 1960’s and 70’s. Prescription pills were regularly diverted into the hands of dealers and the supply was supplemented by a burgeoning cottage industry producing counterfeit Quaaludes. It was especially popular in the ‘Juice bars’ of the Manhattan disco scene that sold only soft drinks alongside the Quaaludes (or ‘disco biscuits’ as they were called at the time). In the UK they were popular on the Glam rock scene (who remembers the songs of Iggy Pop, Wizzard, Sweet or T.Rex?). In the UK they were often known as ‘mandrakes’ or ‘mandies’, but by the time the film was released in 2013 they were little more than a distant memory. Perhaps spurred on by the success of Wolf of Wall Street it seems that some producers of ‘headshop’ products tried to cash-in by attempting to re-create this ‘retro-drug’.

Quaaludes also had a reputation that their use led to better sex with less feelings of inhibition. Not surprisingly they sought after on many college campuses. With musicians such David Bowie and Frank Zappa referencing them in their lyrics their popularity was further heightened. Unfortunately this feature of the drug also meant that Quaaludes were also associated with cases of unwanted sexual contact including instances of rape.

This has been highlighted in several high-profile cases including that of Bill Cosby as this chilling excerpt from the court testimony shows:

Cosby: What was happening at that time? 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.

Lawyer: when you got the Quaaludes, was it in your mind that you were going to use these Quaaludes for young women that you wanted to have sex with?

Cosby: Yes

In psychology, ‘drive theory’ is an attempt to analyse, classify or define the psychological drives of humans. A drive being the instinctual need that has the power of driving the behaviour of an individual. It is reasonable to say that the use of drugs such as Quaaludes enables users to explore some of those drives with a reduced sense of conscience. In the Wolf of Wall Street some of the most powerful men of the financial world (and they were nearly always without exception men) referred to themselves as ‘Masters of the universe’. The film goes on to pose the interesting question of what the most powerful drug for those masters actually was money, power, sex, fame, gambling or the fear of failing are all likely candidates.

In a rather nice twist Jordan Belfort himself appears in the final scene of the film. He introduces the screen version himself to an audience at a motivational speaking event after his time in jail. Reflecting on his life Belfort sums up the ‘Wolf’ period of his life in quite a profound way in his memoirs:

“It was all about excess: about crossing over forbidden lines, about doing things you thought you’d never do and associating with people who were wilder than yourself, so you’d feel that that much more normal about you own life.”


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