The Truth Behind The Disco Biscuit

The 1970s were notorious for all sorts of reasons — bad fashion, bad hair, and some really bad drugs. One particularly notorious intoxicant popular in the '70s was actually legal right up until the '80s. Per the BBC, methaqualone was first synthesized in India in the 1950s and was meant to treat insomnia and anxiety. It became well known under one of its brand names, Quaalude. According to The Paris Review, the pharmaceutical company William H. Rorer Inc. started manufacturing Quaaludes in 1965. The name was a combination of a tribute to another one of their popular products, Maalox, and the phrase "quiet interlude." Despite the pills' intended use as a sleep aid, however, Quaaludes became colloquially known as "disco biscuits" because of their popularity in discos after users discovered that the pills caused feelings of euphoria and reduced inhibitions that made activities like dancing and sex even more fun than usual. 

The Paris Review reported that during the disco era, "Manhattan was littered with 'juice bars,' nightclubs where no alcohol was sold but quaaludes could be had for a song." It was also relatively easy to get access via "quack doctors who would, for the paltry sum of fifty bucks, write anyone who walked in off the street a prescription." Of course, today Quaaludes have a particularly nasty reputation because of their use in perpetrated sexual assault. Transcripts from Bill Cosby's 2015 depositions revealed him "admitting ... to obtaining Quaaludes to give them to young women he wanted to have sex with," as reported by Quartz.

Quaaludes are incredibly dangerous

In addition to its association with Cosby and his crimes, The Paris Review notes that Roman Polanski reportedly gave a Quaalude to the 13-year-old girl he assaulted in 1977 and, according to Hugh Hefner's onetime girlfriend Izabella St. James, "every night out was prefaced with an offer of 'ludes from Hugh" who has well known for hosting "post-nightclub sex parties" at the Playboy Mansion. Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal of Quaalude-addled stockbroker Jordan Belfort in the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street included a nearly unbelievable scene (posted on YouTube) in which Belfort, too intoxicated to even walk, somehow rolls himself into his Lamborghini and drives it, unwittingly smashing into just about everything he passes on his way home. According to Jordan Belfort (also on YouTube), this did actually happen. 

Belfort was lucky he didn't kill himself or anyone else while on Quaaludes; according to a UPI article from 1983, more people died from accidents caused by the effects Quaaludes than of Quaalude overdoses. In a study of 246 Quaalude-related deaths within Dade County, Florida, 175 deaths were due to "trauma" via accident, suicide, or homicide, while 68 were due to an overdose. Per Quartz, United States production of Quaaludes came to an end in 1983 and by 1984, they were banned outright. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency then "embarked on a campaign" to get manufacturers around the world to stop producing methaqualone. In 2014 and 2015, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported just three airport seizures of Quaaludes, according to Newsweek.