Barbiturates were introduced in the early 1900s (for medical use) as sedatives, hypnotics, anesthetics, and anticonvulsants. These drugs cause depression or slowing down of the central nervous system — made of your brain and spinal cord.
Kinds of Barbiturates
There are four kinds of barbiturates: "ultra short-acting," "short-acting," "intermediate-acting," and "long-acting" barbiturates.
- "Ultra short-acting" barbiturates include Methohexital (Brevital), Thiamylal (Surital), and Thiopental (Pentothal).
- "Short-acting" and "intermediate-acting" barbiturates include Pentobarbital (Nembutal) and Secobarbital (Amytal).
- "Long-acting" barbiturates include Phenobarbital (Luminal) and Mephobarbital (Mebaral).
How are they taken?
"Ultra short-acting" barbiturates are typically taken intravenously by needle.
In contrast, "short-acting," "intermediate-acting," and "long-acting" barbiturates are taken by mouth.
What are the effects?
- "Ultra short-acting" barbiturates produce anesthesia within one minute after intravenous use.
- "Short-acting" and "intermediate-acting" barbiturates take effect within 15 to 40 minutes and last up to six hours. Used for sedation or to induce sleep.
- "Long-acting" barbiturates take effect in an hour and last up to 12 hours. Used primarily for daytime sedation and the treatment of seizure disorders or mild anxiety.
- The effects of all barbiturates resemble those of alcohol intoxication including:
- Slurred speech.
- Loss of motor coordination.
- Impaired judgment.
What are the dangers?
- Physical dependence (aka: addiction)
- Tolerance, which results in the need to take higher doses to get the same effect. These higher doses could be deadly and lead to an overdose.
- Withdrawal from the use of depressants can lead to seizures, delirium, and death.
Are they addictive?
Addiction rarely occurs among people who use a pain reliever, CNS depressant, or stimulant as prescribed. However, inappropriate use of prescription drugs can lead to addiction in some cases.
Last Reviewed: October 2013