Methaqualone, popularly known as Mandrax, is a "downer" used to get relief from mental stress and anxiety. Its long-term side effects, however, have led to the banning of the drug in most countries.
Methaqualone was introduced in the 1960s into the pharmaceutical market as non-addictive sleeping pills and was also used for other medicinal uses, especially to treat high blood pressure and anxiety attacks.
However, the drug's abuse potential soon surfaced leading to its being listed in the 1971 United Nations (UN) Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Subsequently it was banned in most countries. Methaqualone is currently listed in the UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1988.
Researchers have also found that the use of Mandrax with alcohol could be life threatening and can cause psychological and physical dependency.
The substance is mainly sold in the form of a tablet but sometimes it is crushed to powder.
In one of the biggest drug hauls in the national capital, Delhi Police Sunday seized 4,400 kg of Mandrax worth Rs.2 billion in the international market.
Said Suranjeet Chatterjee, a senior medicine specialist with the Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals here: "Methaqualone is highly addictive and youths prefer the contraband stuff because its gives them high for a longer time."
Experts also said the short-term effects of the drug could range from slowing down of the activity of central nervous system, blurred vision, impaired thinking, slurred speech, slowed reflexes and breathing and reduced sensitivity to pain.
Its long-term side effects include anaemia, impairment of liver function and many other diseases. Babies of persistent users may have difficulty in breathing and feeding, disturbed sleep patterns, sweating, irritability and fever.
According to Rajiv Walia, deputy director general of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Mandrax is highly in demand in South Africa and a favourite among youngsters there.
"South Africa is the top consumer of this contraband and it is popularly known as street drug," Walia told IANS.
According to South African Police Service website, Methaqualone represents more than 60 percent of all drugs seized on the street.
"In 2002, a total of 6,064 methaqualone-related cases involving more than three million dosage units were submitted to the National Forensic Science Laboratories," the site said.