Authorities announced criminal charges on Wednesday against Bill Cosby relating to the investigation of an alleged sexual assault that took place more than a decade ago.
Cosby was charged with aggravated indecent assault, a first-degree felony — making this the first criminal case against him regarding his conduct with women.
When all of this was happening, so-called date-rape drugs didn’t exist. There were no “roofies” (slang for Rohypnol), no “easy lay” (slang for GHB, or gamma-hydroxybutyric acid), no Ketamine.
Yet Cosby acknowledged that he got seven prescriptions from a Los Angeles doctor for quaaludes, lab-produced pills that act to suppress the central nervous system, which slows heart rate and can make users feel relaxed or sedated.
The drugs, which soared in popularity in the ’70s, were taken off the market in the US in 1983 because they were linked with a high risk of abuse.
Quaaludes’ effects — which can include sleepiness and a sense of euphoria — are strikingly similar to those of modern date-rape drugs, including alcohol. (Booze is “the drug most commonly used to help commit sexual assault,” according to the US Department of Health.)
A brief history of quaaludes
Quaaludes, or methaqualone, were first produced in labs in India in 1955; the scientists who made the drug were trying to find a cure for malaria. While the drug was ineffective against the disease, it appeared to work as a sedative. After the drug was patented in 1962, doctors in the UK began prescribing it to patients who had trouble sleeping; it started being widely used in the US in the ’70s.
As early as the late 1960s, people at dance clubs were using quaaludes, known then as “disco biscuits.” By the ’80s, they were outlawed.
Quaaludes and the brain
Like other drugs, quaaludes affect our brain chemistry by altering the levels of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that pass along the signals that control our thinking and behaviour.
Quaaludes are a type of sedative, which work in the brain by halting the functioning of our “excitatory” messengers, the ones that typically increase our energy levels, and boosting the activity of our “inhibitory” messengers, those that usually work to calm things down.
All at once a warm feeling came rising up my brain stem, as a pleasant tingling sensation went ricocheting through every molecule of my body. The phone receiver was still at my ear and I wanted to tell Bo to have Rocco come pick me up at the Brookville Country Club, but I couldn’t get my lips to move. It was as if my brain was sending out signals but they were being intercepted — or scrambled. I felt paralysed. And I felt wonderful. I stared at the shiny metal face of the pay phone and cocked my head to the side, trying to find my own reflection … How pretty the phone looked! … So shiny it was!
The key important inhibitory messenger that quaaludes act on is GABA, short for gamma-aminobutyric acid.
This action is why quaaludes make us drowsy and slow down our heart rate and breathing. It’s also one of the reasons they’re so dangerous — a quaalude overdose can result in coma or even death. If they’re combined with another sedative like alcohol, they become far more dangerous, and much lower doses of the drug can kill.