Mandrax, Cocaine, and the Future of South Africa

You’ve no doubt heard about it by now. Mandrax, the scourge of the African drug world, is a growing threat across the continent. In 2014, 15% of South Africa’s population had a drug problem, and evidence points to this being a growing trend. While a great deal of this is due to growing rates of crack cocaine addiction, Mandrax is still alive and well. Its effects are more dangerous, and it’s notoriously difficult to detox from it. With little being done in the way to control this drug, the Mandrax problem is likely just beginning.

Mandrax wasn’t always the problem it is now. For a brief time after its synthesis, people used it effectively used like many other Quaaludes. The drug was legally available for just shy of 35 years, and was taken off the market for its highly addictive and dangerous properties. Many thought this would be the end of the drug, as at the time it was notoriously difficult to produce or even replicate. However, a top-secret government program accidentally allowed a massive amount of the drug to re-enter the market.

In 1980s, South Africa instituted Project Coast, a top-secret biological weapons program that attempted to develop new chemical weapons based on already existing drugs. One of these drugs was methaqualone, or Mandrax. When the Project Coast was blown open at the end of the apartheid era, most of the chemicals and drugs used by the program slipped away, only to resurface on the black market. The once notorious sleep aid and extremely dangerous drug was back and stronger than ever.

Mandrax was taken off of the market for a reason. The drug is one of the most dangerous available, and is extremely addictive. Even when used as directed, it was almost impossible to avoid addiction. With just one use, the drug can cause psychosis, dramatic emotional problems, depression, and insomnia that can last for months. More serious side effects include epilepsy, seizures, coma, and death. It doesn’t help that many take the drug while using alcohol in unsafe amounts. Together, these substances can easily induce a fatal overdose.

As South Africa moves forward, drug policy has taken a backseat to many other societal and political changes. In 2004, the government disbanded the SANAB [South African Narcotics Bureau], a police unit dedicated to enforcing drug laws and hindering drug crime. In the time since, drug crimes rose by 30%. In the time since, South Africa was named one of the drug capitals of the world by the United Nations, and Mandrax isn’t the only problem. The amount of South Africans with a crack cocaine addiction has risen by over 16% since 1996. If little is done in the way of pushing back against drug use in South Africa and beyond, the problem looks as though it will continue to expand. Hopefully, as these problems continue to persist and grow, more people will voice their displeasure with the direction South Africa is taking its drug policies. Your voice matters in this fight. We can take back South Africa from drugs.

Victor is a writer, photographer, and film aficionado living in Detroit, MI. He currently blogs about drug and alcohol addiction at, and how to move beyond them. You can find him on his days off watching television with his cat, cooking, or arguing on the internet about the best way to cook a steak.