What Drugs Are Barbiturates

What are barbiturates?

A Barbiturate is a central nervous system depressant that reduces the activity of nerves, causing muscle relaxation. This type of drug is derived from barbituric acid and can reduce heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Because barbiturates affect gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter (chemical) that nerves use to communicate with one another, they can reduce heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure.

Barbiturates carry a high risk of psychological and physical addiction. The risk of a fatal overdose is higher with barbiturates than other drugs because the difference between a safe dose and a deadly one is small. Overdoses from Barbiturates are problematic because there is no good treatment to reverse a Barbiturate overdose. Barbiturates have even been used in some states for physician-assisted suicide. There are only about 12 barbiturates currently on the market.

What are Barbiturates used for?            


Barbituates are used as sedatives or anesthetics and were first developed in the late 19th century. During the 1960s and 1970s, barbituates become popular as a recreational drug, causing abuse in many cases. Since then, the use and abuse of the drug have significantly declined in recent years. This decline is mainly attributed to the development of newer, safer drug alternatives, like benzodiazepines.

List of Barbiturates:      

Common names (generic and brand) for barbiturates include:

  • amobarbital injectable (Amytal), DEA Schedule II
  • butabarbital tablet (Butisol), DEA Schedule III
  • methohexital injectable (Brevital), DEA Schedule IV
  • pentobarbital injectable (Nembutal), DEA Schedule II
  • secobarbital capsules (Seconal), DEA Schedule II
  • primidone tablet (Mysoline). This medication is metabolized to phenobarbital. It’s used for seizure disorders and has no DEA Schedule.

How Are Barbiturates Abused?               

Abuse and addiction to medications are not always blatant and can indeed be quite subtle. Someone abusing prescription medications may:

  • Use the drug more often than intended or in higher doses than what was prescribed
  • Consume the medicine in ways that make the drug “kick” in faster, like snorting or chewing the pill
  • Combine alcohol or other drugs with prescribed medications to intensify the effects
  • Combine the medication with other drugs or alcohol to modify or intensify the effects.

One reason why barbiturates are extremely dangerous is that the correct dose is so difficult to predict. Even a slight overdose can cause coma or death. Barbiturates are also addictive and can cause a life-threatening withdrawal syndrome. Barbiturates are abused when taken for a more extended period of time or in higher doses than prescribed by a physician.

Commonly known as “downers,” street names for Barbiturates include:

  • Barbs
  • Red
  • Redbirds
  • Yellowjackets
  • Pinks
  • Tooies
  • Christmas trees
  • Phennies
  • Double trouble
  • Blues
  • Blockbuster
  • Sleepers
  • Gorilla pills
  • Goofballs

Dependence can develop quickly after barbiturate use becomes regular. After an individual has developed a tolerance, they will need to take more and more of the drug to feel the same effects.

Side effects of Barbiturate abuse?        


Similar to alcohol, barbiturates have been described as “brain relaxers,” which is appropriate as the effects of alcohol and barbiturates are very similar. Opiates, pain medications, sleeping pills, and antihistamines also cause similar effects. Side effects of barbiturate abuse may include the following:

Mood symptoms:

  • A feeling of euphoria
  • Feelings of pleasure
  • A deep feeling of relaxation
  • Feeling high
  • Being unable to think clearly
  • Experiencing an overall feeling of well-being
  • Irritability with or without a known cause
  • Agitation or anger          
  • Experiencing Mood swings

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Having slurred, jumbled speech patterns or speaking very slowly
  • Experiencing poor concentration
  • Behaving as though intoxicated
  • Having poor interpersonal skills; being unaware of making others uncomfortable with their actions or words
  • Becoming violent
  • Inability to fulfill essential obligations at school, work, or at home

Physical symptoms:

  • Development of Physical dependence
  • Developing withdrawal symptoms
  • Experiencing intense feelings of drowsiness or being unable to stay awake
  • Significantly decreased in blood pressure
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Loss of coordination of the muscles

Psychological symptoms:

  • Addiction
  • Marked confusion or inability to understand what should be easily comprehendible
  • Experiencing delirium or extreme confusion
  • Feeling disoriented or having memory loss
  • Experiencing Hallucinations or paranoia

What other drugs interact with Barbiturates?             

There is a long list of drugs that can interact with barbiturates. These interactions are very dangerous and can be deadly. Some of the drugs known to interact with barbiturates include:

You can see above some of the more common drug interactions; there are others, which is why it is vital to clear any medications you are taking with your doctor.

Available treatments for Barbiturate abuse?                 

Detox is often a necessary first step when treating barbiturate abuse. Detoxification is a process in which drugs are allowed to gradually clear from the system. With medically supervised/medically managed detox, specific strategies and interventions are used to manage the process of withdrawal and limit discomfort. This process also minimizes threats to physical and mental health. Most detox programs gradually reduce the dose of barbiturates over a period of time.

Getting Help

Although detox is so often a critical first step in treatment, it is usually not enough to help people achieve long-term recovery from barbiturate abuse. People interested in long term recovery from barbiturate use should strongly consider more treatment after detox. Some of the treatments available include:

  • Inpatient/residential treatment.  Most inpatient recovery programs last between 30-60 days, although some programs may last one year or longer. In these programs, a patient lives on-site in a medical treatment facility and receives mental health treatments and medical monitoring on a daily basis.
  • Outpatient treatment. After completing an inpatient or residential treatment program, many people will choose to follow up that care with an outpatient treatment program. Many people who complete an inpatient/residential program will follow up their treatment episode with an aftercare treatment component. Outpatient treatment is more appropriate for less severe addictions, previous treatment success, or having a solid support system at home. Outpatient programs are often more convenient as they permit the individual to live at home and attend treatment during the day.


Barbiturates are a dangerous drug that has mostly been replaced with safer, less-lethal drugs.

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