The Wolf Of Wall Street's Drug Of Choice: 10 Things You Didn't Know About Quaaludes

by Aaron Kaufman

Bath salts are so 2013. Thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio’s entrancing portrayal of Jordan Belfort in the instant classic "Wolf of Wall Street," America has a new favorite drug fascination: Quaaludes.

Despite his apparently perfect portrayal of a man deep in the throes of a ‘lude high, DiCaprio admits that he knew nothing about the drug prior to signing up for the role.

In fact, the real Belfort actually had to coach DiCaprio on how to mimic the effects of the drug, filming himself rolling around on the floor of DiCaprio’s living room.

Ironically, the whole experience was so physically taxing on Leo that he admitted he needed a chiropractor after filming his Quaalude scenes.

The irony might be lost on you if you don’t know anything about Quaaludes, so to bring you into the loop, we’ve listed 10 facts about the onetime legal drug that used to be considered as big a problem in the United States as heroin and cocaine.

1) Quaalude is a Brand, Not the Drug Itself

Quaalude is the brand name for the sedative and hypnotic drug methaqualone. Just as Motrin has become synonymous with Ibuprofen, Quaalude’s popularity soared after it was first introduced in the early 1960s as a barbiturate substitute.

Though they are synthetic barbiturate-like depressants that affect the central nervous system, they were originally believed to be safe barbiturate substitutes.

This proved untrue when it became clear that the possibility of addiction and painful withdrawal symptoms were about as likely with methaqualone as they were with barbiturates.

2) They Don’t Come with a Made in America Tag

Quaaludes were originally synthesized in India in the 1950s and did not make their way to America until about a decade later. There, scientists developed methaqualone as an anti-malarial drug.

Though Quaaludes were originally developed to aid relaxation and sleep as a sedative, it only took a few years for Quaaludes to become an immensely popular recreational drug, especially among teenagers and college students.

3) Quaaludes Were Once Among the Most Prescribed Sedatives in the United States

The rise of Quaaludes' popularity as a recreational drug can largely be attributed to the frequency with which it was prescribed to legitimate patients.

By 1972, Quaaludes soared near the top of the charts as one of the most prescribed sedatives in the United States despite tightened control in both the US and Britain around their use and dispensing.

4) Your Parents' College Wine Nights Were Pretty Wild

Among its more popular applications was the act of “Luding out” where Quaaludes were consumed with a healthy dose of wine. This activity was especially popular among college students in the 1970s. In fact, David Bowie references this pastime in his song “Time” with the line “Time – in Quaaludes and red wine.”

Just don't forget that according to Belfort, you feel the drug's real effects once you fight off the urge to sleep.

5) Even Commonly Prescribed, Legal Doses Could Be Lethal

Quaaludes were commonly prescribed at 300mg, a level that could be dangerous for first time users. However, the drug’s effects depend on the user’s tolerance, whereas one individual could potentially take a daily dose of up to 20,000mg in a day while 8,000mg kills another person.

This inconsistency contributed to the dangers associated with the drug, though there is a consensus that death can result at significantly lower doses if alcohol is consumed alongside the drug.

6) Say Goodbye to Your Sex Life

You might want to chase your dose of Quaaludes with a side of Viagra. Among its other side effects – dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, seizures, tingling in the arms and legs, reduced heart rate and respiration – Quaaludes can also cause erectile dysfunction and cause difficulty when attempting to reach orgasm.

At even higher doses, the drug can cause mental confusion and loss of muscle control, so you won’t necessarily understand why your arm keeps shooting up in the air but your friend down south won’t move an inch.

7) They Took a Pretty Serious Toll

The highly addictive drug presented itself as a major societal issue when it was linked to numerous overdoses, suicide attempts, injuries and car accidents.

Overuse of the drug caused spikes in those suffering respiratory arrest, delirium, kidney and liver damage, coma and death.

8) It Was Insanely Popular

The recreational Quaalude industry was supplied by legitimately-manufactured pills that were diverted to the drug black-market combined with counterfeit drugs developed in South America and criminal labs in the United States.

By the early 1980s, the DEA considered Quaalude abuse second only to marijuana, estimating that as much as 90 percent of the drug's production went directly to the illegal drug trade. In 1980, the enforcement agency projected that in just one year, the 20 million pills on the street would double to match levels equivalent to that of heroin.

9) You’ll Probably Never Get the Opportunity to Try the Drug

Recognizing that the Quaalude problem was only getting worse, the DEA took immediate and drastic action to get the drug off the streets.

By 1984, the DEA had all but eliminated Quaaludes from the U.S. marketplace by traveling the world and convincing governments in the countries where methaqualone powder was manufactured to shut down the trade.

Eventually, this strategy worked, and the Colombians responsible for so much of the illegally manufactured drug could no longer get the powder required to make it.

10) If the DEA Followed its Quaalude Strategy when Combating Meth, We Might Never Have had 'Breaking Bad'

As was the case with Quaaludes, methamphetamine production requires such chemically sophisticated materials that there are only a handful of huge manufacturers throughout the world capable of making them.

When meth began popping up on the West Coast in the mid-1980s, the same DEA brass responsible for snuffing out Quaaludes assumed that they could eliminate the meth-threat by relying on chemical control laws concerning meth’s key ingredients, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine.

This strategy proved ill-conceived however, and meth production persists to this day. And without it, Bryan Cranston’s greatest legacy on TV would be limited to him chasing a young Frankie Muniz around the house in tighty whities.

Photo credit: Wolf Of Wall St