The Wolf of Wall Street's Greatest Achievement? Getting America Curious About Quaaludes

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Think of what Scarface did for cocaine— that's what Wolf of Wall Street is doing for Quaaludes. For the last ten years, Quaalude haven't really been a fascination for Americans. The only time I had heard about the sedatives was in reference to Roman Polanski. 

But Quaaludes are slowly creeping back into the American conscience. Here's a timeline (via Google Trends) of the amount of search interest for "Quaalude" over time:

So "Quaalude" were barely even mentioned until the end of 2013. A couple of the spikes involves local crimes or a story of Sonia Sotomayor declining Quaaludes on her wedding night. Let's break that 2013 down further:

The initial spike occurred between December 24, and December 27. So what happened around Christmas? That's right— The Wolf of Wall Street premiered on Christmas day. And of course, there's that scene.  


While Quaaludes sit proudly side-by-side with cocaine on the dream board of Wolf protagonist Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), the ludes take center stage in the film's third hour, as Belfort and his lil' sidekick Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) pop a pair of old ludes, and when they don't seem to have the desired effect, they pop several more. When the time-release Quaaludes finally do kick in, it's a bonanza of physical comedy for a gumby-limbed DiCaprio, who can no longer speak nor stand not properly operate his Lamborghini. Audiences, and a majority of the Scorsese-rabid critics, ate it up. The ludes were singled out in raves from Richard Brody, Todd McCarthy, Scott Foundas, and Rex Reed.

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Understandably, interest in Quaaludes went on a sharp upswing, not only, presumably, what they were how to get them (if possible). We hit peak Quaalude on January 11—a day before the Golden Globes, where Leo ended up taking home the Best Actor in a Comedy prize. On January 12, True Detective premiered on HBO,  also featuring a mention of Quaaludes

What any Googler of Quaaludes would discover is that it's hard to find ludes IRL. The last legal manufacturer of 'ludes halted production in 1983.  Finding them these days is a lot more difficult. "Quaaludes are pretty much impossible to get — according to reports, all the back supply has been used up, leaving the market mostly to dodgy internet chemists," Gizmodo UK reported, explaining there's a substitute drug called Mandrax, a methaqualone-containing sedative, still available in South Africa. 

Available or not, however, 'ludes are definitely having a moment. 

The movie reference-Google effect isn't unique. The last time we saw a giant spike of this sort was around two years ago. It was then that Tony Stark told the other Avengers about his craving for shawarma. The rest was Google history:


This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.