Cosby testimony puts ’70s party drug back in news
Los Angeles — Before there was Molly there was the quaalude, the most popular party drug of the 1970s.
It was also, as we now know, the one Bill Cosby kept on hand to give to young women he wanted to have sex with.
In 10-year-old testimony uncovered this week, Cosby said he would offer the drug “the same as a person would say, ‘Have a drink.’ ”
He never tried to sneak any of it into someone’s drink, he added, as many others did during those years. But when asked whether a woman who accused him of drugging and sexually assaulting her in 1976 could have resisted him while on quaaludes, he replied, “I don’t know.”
One thing is certain. The drug, outlawed in the United States since 1982, was hugely popular 40 years ago. People routinely swallowed it with their drinks at nightclubs from coast to coast.
The 13-year-old girl with whom Roman Polanski pleaded guilty to having unlawful sexual intercourse in 1977 said the Oscar-winning director plied her with champagne and half a quaalude before raping her at Jack Nicholson’s house. Polanski fled to France in 1978 to avoid a long prison sentence and continues to live there as a fugitive.
Holly Madison, in her recently published memoir, “Down the Rabbit Hole: Curious Adventures and Cautionary Tales of a Former Playboy Bunny,” writes that Hugh Hefner once offered her a handful of quaaludes.
“ ‘Usually, I don’t approve of drugs, but you know, in the ’70s they used to call these pills thigh openers,’ ” she says he told her. Hefner has declined to discuss Madison’s book.
At one point during Cosby’s testimony for a lawsuit he eventually settled out of court, he said he had seven different prescriptions for quaaludes. He got them by asking his doctor for some, he said. The doctor asked him if he had a “bad back or anything,” and Cosby said yes.
But Cosby said in the deposition that he wanted them for non-medical reasons. “Quaaludes happen to be the drug that kids, young people were using to party with and there were times when I wanted to have them just in case,” he said.
Cosby’s lawyers wrote in a legal filing in arguments over the release of the testimony on Tuesday that quaaludes “were a highly popular recreational drug in the 1970s, labeled in slang as ‘disco biscuits,’ and known for their capacity to increase sexual arousal.”
The lawyers wrote that media reports inaccurately labeled Cosby’s testimony about the drug as a “confession of drugging and assaulting women.”
“There are countless tales of celebrities, music stars, and wealthy socialites in the 1970s willingly using quaaludes for recreational purposes and during consensual sex,” the lawyers wrote in the filing.
The drug, synthesized in the 1950s, was originally intended as an anti-malarial treatment, says James Adams, associate professor at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy. When doctors discovered what a great painkiller and sleep aid it appeared to be, they prescribed it for that instead.
Soon, people discovered that it also released sexual inhibitions, particularly in men, and that when mixed with alcohol it produced a mellow euphoria. It also made it difficult if not impossible for an intoxicated woman to resist a man’s advances.
As it spread through the hippie culture and then into the bars and private parties of the hipster crowd, bootleg versions known as “ludes” began to flood the streets. Doctors who prescribed it began to be seen as pariahs.
“Quaalude accounted for less than 2 percent of our sales but created 98 percent of our headaches,” the chairman of the William H. Rorer pharmaceuticals company told The Associated Press in 1981, three years after the company sold its rights to make the drug. The following year the Food and Drug Administration banned it in the United States.
It’s still legal with a prescription in Mexico, but until Cosby’s testimony it seemed to have become the forgotten party drug among American millennials. Save for those fans of the 2013 film “The Wolf of Wall Street,” whose anti-hero, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort, was wildly addicted to it.
“Party drugs go in and out of favor,” Adams says. “They come and go in waves. MDMA is another drug from the ‘60s that used to be really popular and went out of popularity and then came back.”
These days it’s known as Molly.