Dr. Haridas is a final year resident, Dr. Oluwabusi is a Child Fellow, and Dr. Gurmu is Chief resident in the Psychiatry Program at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Dr. Kushon is Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Drexel University College of Medicine and Medical Director of the Psychiatric-Medical Care Unit at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Disclosure: The authors report no affiliation with or financial interest in any organization that may pose a conflict of interest.
Off-label disclosure: This article includes discussion of investigational treatments for major depression.
Please direct all correspondence to: Arun Haridas, MD, MRCPsych, Drexel University College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, 1427 Vine St, 8th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19107; Tel: 215-762-6660; Fax: 215-762-6673; E-mail: email@example.com.
• Several case reports point to quetiapine’s abuse potential on the black market.
• Oral, intravenous, and intranasal routes of abuse have been reported.
• The inhalational method of quetiapine abuse is novel and counter-intuitive.
• Polysubstance abuse history may bring combinations of abuse, eg, quetiapine with cocaine-“Q” ball, quetiapine with marijuana “Maq ball.”
Quetiapine abuse has been a cause for increased concern among clinicians. Several reports have highlighted this in the past. Reports of quetiapine abuse have varied in their routes of administration. The authors have had experience in managing several patients who have admitted to the use of quetiapine outside of prescription settings. This article examines the case of a recent patient on the authors’ inpatient unit who admitted to a novel route of abuse. While quetiapine’s abuse potential in the black market is well known, motivations for the abuse of quetiapine have varied in the past. Anxiety and insomnia has been amongst the reported motivations. Combination abuse of quetiapine with cocaine, called “Q ball,” have been reported previously. Quetiapine serves as a substitute for heroin when used in this combination. This article highlights a previously unreported combination of quetiapine with marijuana used in the inhalational route in what is termed a “Maq ball.”
Quetiapine has been cited in several recent reports of being abused, especially in prison settings under the name “baby heroin” and “quell.”1,2 Reports of quetiapine abuse have varied in their routes of administration from the intravenous,1 intranasal,3,4 and oral.5 The authors have had experience in managing numerous patients in the in-patient unit who have admitted to obtaining and using quetiapine outside of prescription settings. A recent patient in an in-patient unit is highlighted below, illustrating this worrisome trend.
A 27-year-old Hispanic male was admitted to the in-patient unit with a history of worsening depressed mood with suicidal ideation. He described polysubstance abuse involving marijuana, crack cocaine, alprazolam, and quetiapine; his preferred drug of choice was marijuana. He described smoking 1 oz. of marijuana daily. Approximately 1–2 times per week, he smoked crushed quetiapine tablets mixed with one ounce of marijuana. In addition, he smoked crack cocaine 3 times/week and alprazolam 5–10 mg/day orally up to 5 times/week.
Efforts to stop his quetiapine on this admission were unsuccessful on the unit, though he agreed to a tapered discharge dosage of quetiapine 100 mg/day. He requested to be discharged to a local drug and alcohol recovery house. Examination of prior admission records revealed that 5 months earlier, he had admitted to using quetiapine from the black market. At the time, he abused quetiapine orally, taking ~2–3 pills of quetiapine 100 mg/day, in addition to being prescribed quetiapine 100 mg BID by his primary care physician for his mood symptoms.
Quetiapine is a drug of known value on the black market of antipsychotics.6 Its use is motivated by anxiety and insomnia.4 Quetiapine, amongst olanzapine, anticholinergics, and tricyclic antidepressants, have been a favored method to “zone out” or “take the edge off” amongst buyers in the black market.6 This may be related to the fact that quetiapine is associated with a better subjective response than its conventional antipsychotic counterparts.7
Quetiapine, crushed and mixed with cocaine and water, and taken intravenously, has been previously recorded in the literature as a “Q ball.”8 The strategy aims to mitigate the dysphoria associated with cocaine withdrawal through the sedative and anxiolytic effects of quetiapine. Quetiapine in the described case served as a substitute for heroin and the more classic cocaine and heroin “speed ball” combination.8
There have been no reports of quetiapine combined with marijuana and serving as what we term a “Maq ball.” Unlike combining cocaine and quetiapine, which carries the risk for QT prolongation,8 lethal side effects are unlikely with this combination. However, it once again draws attention to this worrying trend of quetiapine becoming an increasing favorite for novel and hitherto unknown methods of abuse. Clinicians would do well to keep this fact in mind when deciding on an appropriate antipsychotic for individuals with comorbid substance use disorders. PP
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4. Pierre JM, Shnayder I, Wirshing DA, Wirshing WC. Intranasal quetiapine abuse. Am J Psychiatry. 2004;161(9):1718.
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6. Tarasoff G, Osti K. Black market value of antipsychotics, antidepressants and hypnotics in Las Vegas, Nevada. Am J Psychiatry. 2007;164(2):350.
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8. Waters BM, Joshi KG. Intravenous Quetiapine-Cocaine Use (“Q- Ball”). Am J Psychiatry. 2007;164(1):173-174.