Mandrax – Methaqualone dependence


Mandrax – Methaqualone

South Africa is the largest abuser of Mandrax in the world.

Mandrax was originally considered a miracle drug for sleeplessness, high blood pressure and anxiety attacks. It was not considered a habit forming drug. it was later found that it has serious side-effects when taken with alcohol and dagga. People started breaking into pharmacies to get hold of it. It was then banned world-wide because of its misuse.

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It was first manufactured in Britain during the late 60s and early 70s. Its active ingredient is Methaqualone, which is chemically and functionally related to barbiturates.  Mandrax tablets were initially a controlled substance prescribed as a sleeping aid but were pulled off the market and banned because of their extremely high dependency (addiction) rate.

Crime syndicates started producing it because the market was already set up by pharmaceutical companies. It is a highly addictive drug and is smoked for a greater rush. The street value of Mandrax is approximately between R25-R65 per tablet.

Methaqualone is marketed in South Africa as illicit tablet formulations usually in combination with the antihistaminic drug diphenhydramine, and less frequently with the benzodiazepine tranquilliser diazepam. MX is a small tablet varying in colour that is highly addictive.

man111  Mandrax is commonly smoked. The Mx tablet is crushed, mixed with dagga and smoked through a pipe or broken bottleneck known as a ‘white pipe’. Mandrax can also be swallowed whole or injected.

Short term effects

  • Relaxation – feeling happy (or laughing), calm and carefree
  • Confusion
  • Aggression – when the high wears off
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Falling over and passing out
  • Sleep

Long-term effects

  • Risk of addiction – tolerance is built up rapidly
  • Decreased immune system
  • Convulsions
  • Mental and physical deterioration
  • Breathing becomes slower leading to respiratory failure, comas or death.

Symptoms of excessive use

Nausea, vomiting and stomach pains are not unusual. A user will often have red, glazed or puffy eyes, especially if the Mandrax is taken together with dagga. Smoking of the “Bottle neck” causes the distinctive stains on the palm of the hand of a Mandrax user.

Increased usage in order to achieve the same effects as before is usually the first sign of a full scale addiction developing. In many cases, users feel tired after taking Mandrax and may go to sleep for lengthy periods. Depression is also not uncommon and is part and parcel of the Mandrax ‘hangover’. This often leads to repeat use of Mandrax to counteract the negative and unpleasant feelings.

Withdrawal symptoms

Withdrawal from Mandrax takes place a few days after stopping use. Sleeping problems, nervous, anxious and irritable feelings, headaches, restlessness and eating problems are also common. Mandrax has proved to be a particularly difficult habit to break according to the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centre.

Drug detection times

Please use these figures as a guide only:

Alcohol: 3-5 days in urine, 10-12 hours in blood
Amphetamines: 1-3 days in urine and around 12 hours in blood
Barbiturates: 2-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Benzodiazepines: 3-6 weeks in urine and 2-3 days in blood
Cannabis: 7-30 days in urine and up to 2 weeks in blood
Cocaine: 3-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Codeine: 1 day in urine and up to 12 hours in blood
Heroin: 3-4 days in urine and up to 12 hours in blood
LSD: 1-3 days in urine and up to 2-3 hours in blood
MDMA (ecstasy): 3-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Methamphetamine (crystal meth): 3-6 days in urine and 24 – 72 hours in blood
Methadone: 3-4 days in urine and 24-36 hours in blood
Morphine: 2-3 days in urine and 6-8 hours in blood

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Van Zyl, E.F. The synthesis and analysis of methaqualone and some positional and structural isomers thereof. M.Sc (Chemistry) Thesis 2001.


Terminology and Information on Drugs, Revised Edition, United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, New York, 1999.


Merck Index, 13th Edition, Merck & Co., Inc., Whitehouse Station NJ, 2001.




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