What are Quaaludes, and how do they work?

Actor and comedian Bill Cosby testified in a 2005 civil lawsuit that he acquired Quaaludes “with the intent of giving them to young women to have sex with” and admitted to giving the sedative to at least one woman, the Associated Press reported Monday. Here’s a brief look at the drug and its history.

What are Quaaludes?

Methaqualone, or brand name Quaalude, is a central nervous system depressant that acts as a sedative and hypnotic. Hypnotics are drugs that induce sleep.

Methaqualone’s sedative quality was first noted in the 1950s and researchers found it could fight malaria, but it wasn’t patented until 1962. In the 1960s, the drug was prescribed as a sedative mostly in Britain and later caught on as a sleep aid in the United States in the 1970s.

The drug was manufactured in the United States under the name Quaalude with the number 714 stamped on the tablet. Quaaludes became popular for recreational use in the late 1960s and 1970s in discos — where they were known as “disco biscuits” — and in juice bars.

Its effects include drowsiness, and reduced heart rate and respiration. An overdose of the drug, which is highly addictive, can cause coma and death.

How do they work?

Most sedatives, including alcohol and Valium, work by binding to gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors (GABAA) in the central nervous system, resulting in an increase in inhibitory signals in the brain. Quaaludes bind to a different segment of the GABAA receptor, but have similar sedative effects.

Are they legal?

Not anymore. Congress banned domestic production of the drug and its sales as a prescription, and President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation into law in 1984.

Can you still get them today?

The legal production of the drug ended in the United States in the 1980s, but underground labs in Mexico continued to manufacture the pill, and it is still used in South Africa and India under different names.

Cosby has not been charged with a crime in connection to allegations that he drugged women in order to have sex with them. His lawyers have denied all allegations.

Catherine Woods contributed to the reporting.

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