Uses. Methaqualone was invented in India during the 1950s as part of a program seeking substances for treating malaria. Experiments suggest meth-aqualone has anticonvulsant properties. Although the substance does little to relieve pain, experimentation indicates it might boost pain relief provided by codeine. Methaqualone may have cough suppression qualities but has not received general medical usage for that purpose. When introduced into American medicine in the 1960s, the compound was used to calm people and help them sleep and was welcomed as an alternative to barbiturates. The drug's actions have been likened to those of pentobarbital.
A clinical experiment found that a bedtime dose of the drug did not affect users' ability to move around after awakening the next morning, which is not always the case with insomnia medicine. Those results were supported by another experiment where volunteers did so well on tests the next day and the following day that the researchers optimistically speculated that job performance might improve among people using the drug against insomnia. Britain's Royal Air Force even thought the drug had potential to help pilots get proper rest on long missions.
Drawbacks. Unwanted actions of methaqualone may include tingling sensations in hands and feet, weariness, sweating, rashes, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Instances are known of methaqualone causing people to act as if injury has occurred to nerves affecting the arms and legs. Poisoning by methaqualone is associated with bleeding, and a case report revealed that an overdose can even cause bleeding inside the eye. Research with rats showed the drug impeded learning ability.
Although fatal overdose with methaqualone or any other drug is possible, a 1983 study found that methaqualone users in that era were primarily dying from accidents involving poor decisions while under the drug's influence rather than from the poisonous effects of the drug itself. Also, if someone is intoxicated with the compound, driving skills are known to be impaired, an effect that does not involve poisoning but can have serious consequences. A study of emergency room admissions found that methaqualone poisoning cases typically involved some other substance as well, a finding indicating a certain recklessness among abusers. The same polydrug habit was observed among methaqualone abusers in the U.S. Army during the 1970s. That finding is unsurprising; most drug abusers use more than one substance.
The drug is fast acting, and persons unprepared for the speed with which methaqualone takes effect have been injured while engaged in ordinary activity that becomes dangerous if a person passes out, such as taking a bath or being near a fire. Methaqualone has the disturbing capability of causing flat brainwave readings, a standard sign that medical caregivers rely upon to verify a person's death and that could therefore cause them to stop efforts that are keeping the methaqualone patient alive.
Abuse factors. In Europe methaqualone was initially a nonprescription item. In the United States the drug was first put in Schedule V, but as methaqualone became popular among illicit users seeking euphoria and relaxation, more restrictions were placed on its legal accessibility. The drug became a Schedule II substance in 1973. When President Jimmy Carter's drug policy adviser Dr. Peter Bourne wrote a methaqualone prescription that violated regulations, that incident started a series of events that hounded Bourne out of office. Eventually concern about the drug grew so high that it was reclassified in 1984 as a Schedule I substance having no recognized medical function.
One study found that patients using methaqualone against insomnia readily changed to some other drug on advice from a medical practitioner; apparently they did not find methaqualone particularly attractive. Tolerance and dependence can develop, although one study was able to confirm tolerance only among heavy abusers. Withdrawal symptoms are similar to those with barbiturates and can include weakness, nausea, vomiting, heartbeat abnormality, tremors, seizures, and delirium tremens.
In the 1970s researchers surveyed college students who were using metha-qualone, a broader population group than persons who have so much trouble with the drug that they seek medical treatment. Survey answers showed drug use to be the main difference between students who used methaqualone and those who did not; as a whole the methaqualone users were ordinary people. Investigators found that a cross section of Midwestern users had positive attitudes about themselves.
An exception to such a self-portrait emerged when someone interviewed users who claimed to be using methaqualone as an aphrodisiac. They turned
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