Barbiturates | Types, Uses, Side Effects, & Abuse Potential

Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotic drugs that have largely been replaced by benzodiazepines since their high potential for abuse became apparent in the 1980s. However, barbiturates may still be prescribed in cases where other medications are ineffective.

Barbiturates are a class of drugs derived from barbituric acid. They are sedative-hypnotic drugs, which means they make you feel relaxed and sleepy. 

Although they have some legitimate medical uses, they pose a high risk of overdose and addiction. That’s why many doctors in Ohio and the rest of the country no longer prescribe them. 

Barbiturate Drug List

Barbiturates are prescription drugs that act as central nervous system depressants. That means they slow down your brain activity. They cause relaxation and drowsiness by increasing the activity of a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.

There are four main types of barbiturates: ultra-short acting barbiturates, short-acting barbiturates, intermediate-acting barbiturates, and long-acting barbiturates.

Ultra-Short Acting Barbiturates

The effects of ultra-short acting barbiturates last about 15 minutes when used intravenously and between 45 and 60 minutes when used in rectal suppository form. These drugs include:

  • methohexital (sold under the brand names Brevital and Brietal)
  • thiamylal (Surital)
  • thiopental (Pentothal)

Short-Acting Barbiturates

The effects of short-acting barbiturates last about three to four hours. These drugs include:

  • pentobarbital (Nembutal) 
  • secobarbital (Seconal) 

Intermediate-Acting Barbiturates

The effects of intermediate-acting barbiturates last about four to six hours. These drugs include:

Long-Acting Barbiturates

The effects of long-acting barbiturates last up to 12 hours, though the drugs may stay in your system for up to a few days. They include:

What Are Barbiturates Used For?

In the 1960s, barbiturates became a well-known treatment option for anxiety, insomnia, and epilepsy (seizure disorder). However, their popularity faded in the 1970s when benzodiazepines were introduced as a safer alternative. 

Today, barbiturates are only prescribed in rare cases. 

For example, they may be used to treat severe cases of insomnia or epilepsy that have not responded to other, safer treatments. They are also sometimes used as general anesthetics (medicines that make you go unconscious before surgery or other medical procedures). 

Side Effects Of Barbiturates

Barbiturates can have a number of adverse effects, both physical and psychological.

The most common physical side effects of barbiturates include:

  • headache
  • slurred speech
  • vision problems
  • poor coordination
  • nausea and vomiting

The most common psychological side effects of barbiturates include:

  • poor concentration
  • poor judgment
  • lowered inhibitions
  • memory problems
  • confusion
  • low blood pressure

Barbiturate Abuse

Like alcohol, barbiturates can make you feel calm and happy. That’s why some people abuse them.

Barbiturate abuse occurs when people use the drugs in a manner not prescribed. For example, they might use barbiturates more often than prescribed, at higher doses than prescribed, or without a prescription. They may also mix barbiturates with alcohol or other drugs. 

Many people who abuse barbiturates buy them on the illegal drug market, where they’re sold under street names like “barbs,” “goof balls,” and “yellow jackets.”

Barbiturate Overdose

When you abuse barbiturates, you’re more likely to experience their side effects. You also face a high risk of overdose.

The most common signs of barbiturate overdose include:

  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • trouble breathing
  • extreme thirst
  • change in pupil size
  • bluish lips and/or fingernails
  • low body temperature
  • loss of consciousness

If you or someone you know experiences these symptoms, call 911 right away. When left untreated, a barbiturate overdose can be fatal.

Addiction Treatment Options In Ohio

To learn more about barbiturate addiction treatment options, please reach out to Ohio Recovery Center. Our board-certified healthcare providers offer personalized, evidence-based care to help you or your loved one thrive. 

  1. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
  2. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus
  3. National Library of Medicine: StatPearls

Written by Ohio Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: August 16, 2023

© 2024 Ohio Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

Prefer Texting?
We've got you covered.

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.

Sign up for text support

Receive 24/7 text support right away.
There is no obligation and you can opt out at any time.
Let us walk you through the treatment process. We're here to help.
For 24/7 Treatment Help:
100% Free & Confidential. Call (419) 904-4158
(419) 904-4158