5 Things to Know Before You Take Barbiturates – LIFESTYLE BY PS
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5 Things to Know Before You Take Barbiturates


Many may have heard of the word, but don’t exactly know what a barbiturate is. These drugs have been around for years, and at one time were heavily prescribed by doctors and used recreationally. Today the drug is less used in both the medicinal and recreational worlds. 

However, barbiturates are still abused with more well-known drugs of abuse and are occasionally still prescribed for certain medical reasons. If you or a loved one have been prescribed barbiturates, there are several questions you should consider. 

These include:

  • What is a barbiturate?
  • What are the short-term effects?
  • Why are they used?
  • Why are they prescribed less than before?
  • Why is there a high risk of overdose?

Let’s take a closer look at the answers to each of these questions. 

What Is a Barbiturate?

Barbiturates come from barbituric acid, and were first created in 1903, then became available in 1912. They work on the central nervous system, particularly in the brain, and slow down many body functions. People usually take them in a pill form, but there is also a liquid form that some inject. 

Some nicknames for barbiturates are:

  • barbs
  • block busters 
  • Christmas trees
  • goof balls 
  • pinks 
  • red devils 
  • red and blues 
  • yellow jackets 

Under the Drug Enforcement Agency, barbiturates are classified as Schedule II, III, and IV drugs. This is based on how long their effects last and their legal status. It’s illegal to use or buy barbiturates without a doctor’s prescription, and illegal to sell them. 

What Are Some Short-Term Effects of Barbiturates? 

Similar to alcohol, benzodiazepines, and tranquilizers (which are all called “downers”), barbiturates create a sense of drowsiness. Depending on how much is taken, along with the person’s own health history, the effects can vary. Effects can last anywhere from 30 minutes to four hours. 

Short-term effects are:

  • mild euphoria
  • lack of inhibition 
  • anxiety relief 
  • sleepiness 
  • increased sensitivity to sound and pain 
  • slurred speech 
  • confusion
  • emotional fluctuations

In larger doses, barbiturates can have stronger effects.

These can include: 

  • memory loss 
  • impaired judgment 
  • coordination trouble 
  • irritability 
  • paranoia
  • suicidal thoughts 

Why Are Barbiturates Used?

Barbiturates are used both medicinally and for recreational purposes. There are around 12 different medicinal barbiturates. They became widely used as a sedative, hypnotic, anesthetic, and anticonvulsant in the 1950s. Barbiturates can be used to relieve anxiety, help treat seizure disorders, and are sometimes used for headaches and insomnia. 

Some common barbiturates are:

  • Luminal 
  • Brevital 
  • Seconal 
  • Butisol 
  • Fiorinal

In the 60s, barbiturates were abused to offset the effects of other more intense drugs, such as cocaine or LSD. Today, they are sometimes paired with alcohol and narcotic painkillers. 

Why Are Barbiturates Less Prescribed Than Before?

Patients who are prescribed any barbiturate medications are given dosage instructions that shouldn’t create addiction. However, even in small doses, they can create dependence and build tolerance extremely quickly. Similar to its downer counterpart alcohol, withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.

This is why after the 70s barbiturates were, for the most part, replaced by safer medications. When barbiturates are habitually abused, they create many long-term health effects, affecting both the physical and mental state. 

Some of these are: 

  • changes in blood pressure 
  • breathing difficulties 
  • increased risk of developing bronchitis, pneumonia, and kidney failure 
  • impotence 
  • respiratory depression 
  • impaired mental functioning 
  • emotional instability 
  • depression 
  • hallucinations

Over time, addiction to barbiturates can cause trouble at work, in relationships, and in overall self-care. 

Why Is There a High Risk of Overdose? 

Barbiturates are very potent, even if only a small amount has been ingested. Overdosing on them is easy, especially if mixed with other substances. People new to the drug are at risk of barbiturate intoxication, because they may be unaware of their strength, or try to push the limits of how much their body can handle. 

Because there is no antidote for the drug, (such as how Narcan is used for opiate overdoses) it’s important to call 911 and stay with the overdose victim until medical responders arrive.  

Avoid Misuse of Barbiturates

In order to avoid prescription barbiturate misuse, you can practice properly disposing of unused medications. You should never sell or loan your own prescription, or take someone else’s prescription.