Author: Charles Frank

Barbiturates: Definition, Types, Uses, Side Effects & Abuse

what's a barbiturate

Long-term use can also cause sexual dysfunction, delayed reflexes, a short attention span, and memory loss. Overdose is more likely to be seen in developing countries, where low cost has led to barbiturates being used more to control and prevent seizures. Tolerance is when a greater amount of a drug is required to get the desired effect. Dependence is when withdrawal symptoms occur if the person stops using the drug.

Low doses of barbiturates can lower anxiety levels and relieve tension. Barbiturates became popular during the 1960s and 1970s in treating seizures, sleep problems, and anxiety. Their use for recreational purposes also increased during this period. If barbiturates are prepared as injection drugs, they are then classified as class A drugs, with the penalties for possession and supply being even more severe. Pharmacological barbiturates are based on the parent compound barbituric acid. The type of barbiturate depends on the substituent used at position 5 of this basic skeleton.

This can result in fatal overdoses from drugs such as codeine, tramadol, and carisoprodol, which become considerably more potent after being metabolized by CYP enzymes. These drugs are sometimes prescribed to help reduce anxiety and induce sleep, but they can also be dangerous and habit-forming. Barbiturates are a class of drugs that were used extensively in the 1960s and 1970s as a treatment for anxiety, insomnia, and seizure disorders. Apart from a few specific indications, they are not commonly prescribed these days, having been largely superseded by benzodiazepines, which are much safer, although still potentially addictive. Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotic medications, meaning they cause you to feel relaxed or sleepy. For over a century, they’ve treated many conditions, including seizures, migraines, insomnia and more.

what's a barbiturate

Babies born to women who have taken barbiturates during pregnancy can be born addicted to barbiturates and suffer withdrawal symptoms. Research indicates that the abuse of barbiturates is on the rise, especially among adolescents. They are often used to counteract the stimulant effects from drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine. Alcohol and barbiturates can interact and cause a much stronger effect. In severe cases, this could cause a person to have severe organ damage, or it could be deadly. You should also see your healthcare provider if you notice that barbiturate medications aren’t working as they should or if the side effects are disrupting your usual routine and activities.

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Up to 66 percent of people may experience delirium for several days. Use of barbiturates as a recreational drug then became popular in the 1960s and 1970s, leading to abuse in some cases. They are an old class of drug used to relax the body and help people sleep. It is important to always tell your doctor, pharmacist, or health care provider of all prescription and over-the-counter medications you use, as well as the dosage for each, and keep a list of the information. Check with your doctor or health care provider if you have any questions about the medication. Barbiturates are medications used for treating headaches, insomnia, and seizures.

Barbiturates increase the activity of a chemical in the brain that helps transmit signals. Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances. People who survive an overdose of barbiturates may be left with permanent kidney damage. The theory was that someone asked a question while under the influence of amobarbital would be less likely to be able to think of a false answer, which requires more focus than simply telling the truth. Benzodiazepines have largely replaced barbiturates in most medical uses.

Sudden withdrawal from the regular use of high doses of barbiturates can be fatal. For individuals who have become addicted to barbiturates, it is essential that they seek the care of trained rehabilitation professionals to help them withdraw safely and effectively from these drugs. The ultra-short acting barbiturate of thiamylal is administered as an injection to induce unconsciousness in patients who are about to undergo surgery. Gaseous anesthetics are then used to maintain the patient’s unconsciousness throughout the surgical procedure. The Misuse of Drugs Act classifies barbiturates as class B drugs, which means that these drugs can be bought in accordance with a doctor’s prescription; however, any other form of possession or supply of barbiturates is considered an offense.

what's a barbiturate

This can increase the risk of overdose, signs of which include shallow breathing, rapid and weak pulse, dilated pupils, clammy skin, coma, and even death as a result of the severe depression of both the CNS and respiratory system. In the case of long-acting phenobarbital and barbital, their effects may last for up to 24 hours. Typically, these long-acting barbiturates are used in combination with other drugs to prevent convulsions in epilepsy. The prolonged use of barbiturates—especially secobarbital and pentobarbital—may cause the development of a tolerance to them and require amounts much larger than the original therapeutic dose.

Fast facts on barbiturates

Doctors can also bring a patient out of anesthesia just as quickly, should complications arise during surgery. The middle two classes of barbiturates are often combined under the title “short/intermediate-acting.” These barbiturates are also employed for anesthetic purposes, and are also sometimes prescribed for anxiety or insomnia. This is not a common practice anymore, however, owing to the dangers of long-term use of barbiturates; they have been replaced by the benzodiazepines and Z-drug such as zolpidem, zaleplon and eszopiclone for sleep. The final class of barbiturates are known as long-acting barbiturates (the most notable one being phenobarbital, which has a half-life of roughly 92 hours).

  1. This decline is mainly due to the development of newer, safer drug alternatives.
  2. Most of them exert a sedative effect in small doses and a hypnotic effect in larger doses.
  3. Typically, these long-acting barbiturates are used in combination with other drugs to prevent convulsions in epilepsy.
  4. Barbiturates have been around since the 1860s, and they still see a use for many conditions today.
  5. These properties allow doctors to rapidly put a patient “under” in emergency surgery situations.

Barbiturates of intermediate duration of action, such as amobarbital and butabarbital sodium, act for 6 to 12 hours and are used to relieve insomnia. Short-acting barbiturates, such as pentobarbital and secobarbital, are used to overcome difficulty in falling asleep. Barbituric acid itself does not have any direct effect on the central nervous system and chemists have derived over 2,500 compounds from it that possess pharmacologically active qualities. The broad class of barbiturates is further broken down and classified according to speed of onset and duration of action. Ultrashort-acting barbiturates are commonly used for anesthesia because their extremely short duration of action allows for greater control. These properties allow doctors to rapidly put a patient “under” in emergency surgery situations.

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Thiopental is relatively short-acting and is used to induce anesthesia before general anesthetics are given. Barbiturates are a class of drugs derived from barbituric acid that act as depressants to the central nervous system. These drugs are used as sedatives or anesthetics and have the potential to become addictive. They’re problematic because there is no good treatment to reverse a barbiturate overdose.

This material is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Data sources include Micromedex (updated 3 Mar 2024), Cerner Multum™ (updated 4 Mar 2024), ASHP (updated 12 Feb 2024) and others. Abrupt discontinuation of barbiturates in people who have been taking them for longer than one month can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, such as hallucinations, a high fever, and seizures.

Barbiturates: Usage, History, and Side Effects

Barbiturates slow down the CNS in a similar way to alcohol and, depending on how rapidly they produce effects and the duration of those effects, they may be classed as ultra-short-, short-, intermediate-, or long-acting. As a person uses barbiturates more, the difference between a dose that causes the desired effect and that of a fatal overdose becomes narrower. This makes overdoses more common in long-term use such as for more than 2 weeks. When used according to instructions, the most common side effects of barbiturates are drowsiness, relaxation, and feeling sick. However, although illegal barbiturate use is rare, it remains an extremely dangerous drug to abuse because of the high risk of fatal overdose.

Inform your doctor of all medications you are currently taking, who can advise you on any possible drug interactions. Never begin taking, suddenly discontinue, or change the dosage of any medication without your doctor’s recommendation. All barbiturates affect gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter (chemical) that nerves use to communicate with one another. A key reason why healthcare providers don’t prescribe barbiturates as often now is the risk of misusing them.

The pharmacological actions of barbiturates include depressing nerve activity in the cardiac, smooth, and skeletal muscles. These drugs also affect the CNS in several ways and can produce effects ranging from mild sedation to a coma depending on the dosage. Although widely used in the middle of the 20th century, present-day barbiturate use is uncommon. Some barbiturates are still made and sometimes prescribed for certain medical conditions.