Phenobarbital | Effects, Warnings, & Abuse Potential

Phenobarbital is a barbiturate that has legal uses as a seizure medication, anticonvulsant, and anxiety reliever. Like other barbiturates, phenobarbital is highly addictive and is only prescribed under carefully controlled circumstances when other medications fail to improve the patient’s condition.

Taking phenobarbital can have intended effects such as improved mood, reduced anxiety, and seizure or epilepsy management. Phenobarbital can also have side effects such as drowsiness, sedation, skin rash, and trouble breathing.

Phenobarbital is a barbiturate that has legal uses as a seizure medication, anticonvulsant, and anxiety reliever. Barbiturates can be abused to get high when consumed in higher doses.

Phenobarbital is a Schedule IV controlled substance with a moderate potential for drug abuse. Abusing phenobarbital can cause life-threatening adverse effects such as drug addiction, respiratory depression, and withdrawal syndrome when trying to quit.

What Is Phenobarbital?

Phenobarbital is a barbiturate and antiepileptic drug that can reduce symptoms of status epilepticus, anxiety, insomnia, and withdrawal symptoms of alcohol or benzodiazepines

Phenobarbital causes central nervous system (CNS) depression by binding to GABA receptors in the brain.

Historically, doctors prescribing phenobarbital may use brand name drugs such as Depakote and Luminal. Phenobarbital started use in the medical world over 100 years ago, and continues to be prescribed today as an oral elixir, oral tablets, and intravenous solutions.

Effects Of Phenobarbital Use

When taken as directed, phenobarbital can reduce the strength and frequency of seizures caused by status epilepticus. Phenobarbital can also improve anxiety symptoms and sleeplessness caused by insomnia.

Side effects of phenobarbital use may include:

  • dysphoria
  • chest pain
  • problems with excretion and urination
  • respiratory depression (trouble breathing)

These effects may be more intense in higher doses of phenobarbital, or when the drug is abused.

Warnings Of Phenobarbital Use

Taking phenobarbital with brand name prescription drugs and over-the-counter medication can affect how your body processes these drugs:

  • carbamazepine
  • phenytoin
  • diazepam and other benzodiazepines
  • enzyme inducers or inhibitors
  • birth control pills or contraceptives
  • medication that affects blood levels
  • warfarin
  • dietary supplements
  • aspirin

Some of these drugs may be contraindicated (not recommended for use) with phenobarbital. Talk to your doctor about your drug use to reduce the risk of drug interactions and serious adverse reactions.

Phenobarbital is not recommended for use in patients with liver disease, hepatic problems, hypotension (low blood pressure), porphyria (a buildup of natural substances in the body), and breast-feeding or pregnant women. Proper phenobarbital use includes storing the drug at room temperature and keeping it away from young children.

Abuse Potential Of Phenobarbital

Phenobarbital has a moderate potential for drug abuse due to its sedative effects. Phenobarbital abuse involves buying the drug from illicit sources, taking high doses of the drug, and taking phenobarbital without a prescription.

Abusing phenobarbital can increase your chances of a life-threatening drug overdose or withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit. 

Phenobarbital withdrawal symptoms may include anxiety, vomiting, insomnia, and seizures. Barbiturate withdrawal can make quitting difficult without professional help.

Get Addiction Recovery Care In Ohio

To learn how we treat barbiturate addiction in an inpatient setting, please contact Ohio Recovery Center today.

  1. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA)
  2. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  3. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus
  4. 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.

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