On 9 December, ENACT Africa reported on a recent drugs haul that included an estimated 3.9 tons of methaqualone powder (more commonly known as Mandrax in South Africa). It is said that of greater interest was the discovery of 1 ton of anthranilic acid – the main precursor in the manufacture of Mandrax. There is a high likelihood, it is said, that methaqualone was being synthesised from chemical starting materials, presenting a concerning development. Methaqualone is a synthetic drug that acts as a central nervous system depressant, similar to barbiturates. First synthesised in 1951, methaqualone was then used medically in the treatment of sleep and insomnia issues and as a muscle relaxant or a general sedative. Patients with high blood pressure and anxiety attacks were also treated with the drug. In the 1960s and 1970s, the drug was commonly marketed as Quaalude and Mandrax and quickly gained notoriety as a recreational drug. In South Africa, Mandrax is usually sold in small colourful tablets with a logo imprinted on them under various street names such as ‘buttons’, ‘MX’, ‘lizards’ and ‘flowers’, among others. While Mandrax was originally meant to be taken orally, users tend to smoke or inject the drug for a faster onset of effect. The preferred mode among South African Mandrax users is what is referred to as ‘bottle neck’ or ‘white pipe’. This is where Mandrax is crushed and mixed with cannabis, after which the mixture is placed in the neck of a broken glass bottle and smoked by the user.
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