What is it?
Barbiturates belong to a class of prescription hypnotic-sedative
depressants that affect the central nervous system. They have
widely been replaced by different drugs because they are dangerous
in higher doses and can be both physically and psychologically
addictive. However, they still are used commonly to treat forms of
epilepsy. Commonly-abused barbiturates include amobarbital
(Amytal), pentobarbital (Nembutal), and secobarbital
barbs, birds, blockbusters, Christmas trees, goof balls, pinks, red
devils, reds and blues, yellow jackets.
How is it used?
Barbiturates are usually swallowed in pill form or liquid gel pill
form, crushed as a powder and added to liquid, injected, or used as
a suppository. Drug abusers use barbiturates to get high, or after
using stimulants, to “come down.” The drugs are also used in
combination with alcohol, which multiplies their effects and can be
Signs of usage:
When high on the drugs, the user may experience slurred speech,
sluggishness, shallow breathing, fatigue, disorientation, and
dilated pupils. The drugs often cause drunk-like behavior as the
user experiences mild euphoria. Breathing disorders, general
chronic tiredness, physical coordination problems, and menstrual
irregularities are signs of prolonged use.
Effects of usage:
Used as a drug of abuse, barbiturates may cause a person to feel
euphoric and relaxed and act with poor judgment. He or she may
experience slurred speech and an awkward gait when walking. The
calming effect of the drugs is why barbiturates are often used to
counteract the anxiety and other negative sensations felt when
withdrawing from stimulant drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines.
Sluggishness and sedation also occurs at higher doses, as well as
fever, dizziness, and respiratory depression. Overdose with
barbiturates or use with alcohol can be deadly.
How long do the effects last?
The effects of barbiturates can last from 4 to 16 hours or longer.
Symptoms of use may gradually fade over the week after use,
depending on the dose. Use over a period of time usually builds up
tolerance to the drugs, so users must take larger doses to get the
same effects. When users take the drug daily for more than a month,
usually beyond the therapeutic dose, the brain easily develops a
need for the drug. When a user is psychologically addicted to the
drugs, finding and using the drug becomes the focus of life.
Effects of withdrawal:
Effects of withdrawal or abstinence include shallow breathing,
tremors, insomnia, and agitation, and can escalate to high
temperature and hallucinations. Barbiturate withdrawal can be more
dangerous than heroin withdrawal at high doses. Life threatening
respiratory depression can occur with withdrawal. When regular
users abruptly stop taking the drugs at high doses, they may
develop symptoms from insomnia to restlessness and anxiety to
convulsions and death.
Respiratory depression can lead to death. In fact, barbiturate
overdose is a factor in nearly one third of all reported
drug-related deaths, because accidental overdose may be very close
to what is considered a safe dose. Barbiturates are also commonly
implicated in suicides. When barbiturates are used as a club drug,
the user becomes vulnerable to assault or sexual assault.
Effects of prolonged usage:
Physical and psychological addiction can develop rapidly with these
drugs. If taken as an antidote to stimulant drugs, the vicious
cycle is hard to break. Chronic breathing problems, slowed
reflexes, continual inebriation, and sexual dysfunction are also
risks of prolonged use. All withdrawal symptoms noted remain
serious risks with prolonged use. Abstinence can result in
dangerous symptoms and must be medically supervised.
Usage by youth:
Even though barbiturates were mainly drugs of abuse during the ‘60s
and ‘70s, there has been a moderate resurgence of use of
barbiturates by youths during the last ten years. This is in part
because of the popularity of stimulant drugs and the use of
barbiturates to calm agitation during withdrawal. Because
barbiturates have a longer duration of effects, they are not the
most popular drugs. In 2001, 2.8 percent of high school seniors
reported use of barbiturates. Barbiturates, GHB (gamma
hydroxybutyerate), and benzodiazepines are all used in the club and
rave drug scene. Often users in these settings do not know that
barbiturates and other sedativehypnotics have been added to a
Club drugs are very dangerous and include the use of debilitating
sedative hypnotics like barbiturates. So-called club drugs are also
available on the Internet.
*Information provided by Dr. Barbara
A. Krantz, Chief Medical Officer at the Hanley Center
*First Check Diagnostics Corp. is offering these resources for
informational purposes only, and the Hanley Center is no way
affiliated with any of the entities that provide the