What Drugs Are Barbiturates?

What drugs are barbiturates? Learn about the symptoms of barbiturate use, its uses, how they work, and their effects.

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are drugs that relax the body and put people to sleep. However, the use of this centuries-old drug has suffered a continuous and significant decline (due to the emergence of its popular alternative, benzodiazepine).

Nevertheless, it still poses a risk that is dangerous to ignore.
What Drugs Are Barbiturates


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How Do Barbiturates Work?

Barbiturate medications work fascinatingly. For many body functions to occur, nerve cells transmit signals to one another or other body cells. The vehicles for these transmissions are called neurotransmitters.
However, there are classes of neurotransmitters that do the exact opposite. They make sure that neurons do not release these signals. These neurotransmitters are called inhibitory neurotransmitters, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) being a famous example.
Barbiturates drugs strengthen these inhibitory neurotransmitters, which reduces nerve communication. This lack of communication will lead to hypnosis, sedation, and drowsiness.

Are Barbiturates Addictive?

Yes, continuous use of barbiturates can lead to addiction. But unfortunately, barbiturates drugs are medications that people can easily buy on a street corner. The chances are that the drug begins to have an irresistible appeal with continuous use. Then, after daily use for about thirty days, addiction sets in.

For persons whose bodies have been accustomed to the presence of barbiturates, a sudden stop will trigger reactions. These barbiturates reversal symptoms include:

  • Tremors 
  • Fast heart rates
  • Hallucination 
  • Seizures 
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness 

Breaking Down Barbiturates

The body cannot break barbiturates drugs down to become active metabolites of barbiturates. Barbiturate metabolites are pharmacologically inactive. The body’s enzymes are responsible for breaking them down and making them lose their power. At the stage of a use disorder, you might need extra hands to help counteract their appeal.

If you allow a reputable addiction treatment center to show you how you can discontinue impulsive use and escape the excruciating experience of barbiturate withdrawal symptoms.

How Common is Barbiturate Addiction?

While there are no clear-cut figures for barbiturate addiction, increased use and overdose-related deaths over the last ten years are some facts about barbiturates. Barbiturate addiction is a worrying trend because barbiturate drugs aren’t that difficult to get. Many people need help in calming their nerves or getting more sleep. For others, it is another way to get under the influence of something other than alcohol. As barbiturate use increases, so will supply. Therefore, it could take only a few inquiries to locate a seller on the street.

Common Slang Terms for Barbiturates

Barbiturates medications could be sold as pills or injected into the body. But unfortunately, these ‘downers’ or ‘purple hearts,’ as they are often called, have led to more addictions in the past decade than previously.
Other common street names for barbiturates include Red Devils, Goof Balls, Yellow Jackets, Christmas Trees, Blockbusters, and barbs.

What Drugs are Barbiturates?

Since we have established how important it is to identify barbiturates, the following are the common barbiturate drugs you are more likely to encounter:
  • Aspirin
  • amobarbital (Amytal)
  • butabarbital (Butisol)
  • pentobarbital (Nembutal)
  • secobarbital (Seconal)
  • belladonna (Donnatal)
  • butalbital/caffeine/acetaminophen
Barbiturates drugs do not act at the same speed. Secobarbital and Amobarbital, which act fastest, will produce a ‘high’ within 45 minutes. They are the popular barbiturates for persons with barbiturate use disorder. Pentobarbital is also common in use.

What are Barbiturates Used For?

Barbiturates have quite several uses. However, let’s focus on the common barbiturate uses. These are:

Anxiety and Sedation Related to Surgery ​

People take barbiturates for anxiety, and in the surgery room, barbiturates help put patients to sleep.

Seizures (if other drugs haven’t worked) ​

While barbiturates medications aren’t the typical first-choice drugs for calming seizures, they can get the job done when called upon.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches could be mild, moderate, or intense headaches that feel like tightening a band around the head. Sometimes, this sensation may find its way to the neck area.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

TBIs are internal injuries that affect the brain. They result from a violent blow to the head. TBIs usually come with brain swelling, which reduces the space in the brain and increases the Intracranial Pressure (ICP). Barbiturates step in to reduce the production of brain fluid, hence, lowering the pressure.


The same way barbiturates act as preoperative sedatives, they can also help put people to sleep and combat insomnia.

What are the Possible Side Effects of Barbiturates?

Many people experience short-term effects of barbiturates which typically last for a few hours. However, some others experience barbiturates’ long-term effects, which will generally last for several days. Many of these barbiturate effects arise from indiscriminate use. However, barbiturates abuse isn’t the only cause of side effects. Clinical and legitimate use also lead to these barbiturates’ complications.

Common Side Effects

A little too much barbiturate intake can result in misuse, usually leading to barbiturate abuse. Here are the common side effects of barbiturates:
  • Breathing difficulty, chest pain or tightness
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Fainting
  • Hallucinations 
  • Depression
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Low blood pressure
  • Joint pain
  • Swelling of the face, lips, or throat
  • Unusual bleeding or bruising
Pregnant women should avoid barbiturates. Studies have shown their harmful effect on the fetus.

Signs of Barbiturate Drug Overdose

There are several ways to tell if people have had more than their body’s fair share of barbiturates. Likewise, the body has several ways of giving up someone who has had more than enough barbiturates. Here are the symptoms of barbiturates overdose:

  • Disorientation 
  • Impaired judgment
  • Slurred or slow speech
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

What Drug Interactions are Possible with Barbiturates?

What Drugs Are Barbiturates
It is possible to treat multiple health challenges simultaneously. For people who use barbiturates, there could be other medications in the picture.
That’s where drug interactions come in. One of the well-known facts about barbiturates is their interactive activity with other medications.

Barbiturates Clashing With Other Medications

There is the possibility of a clash of barbiturates with other medications, weakening or amplifying their powers. While at it, barbiturate complications could also set in. Hence, it is essential to let your doctor know of any other medications you are likely to take along with the barbiturates. Drug interactions of barbiturates include:
  • Anticoagulant drugs 
  • Corticosteroids
  • Steroidal hormones
  • Alcohol (which has a depressant effect on the central nervous system)
  • Phenytoin/Dilantin (a seizure medication)
  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs)


Even though barbiturates use has suffered a progressive decline since it came on the scene over a century ago, it is still beneficial for several medical purposes. However, the past decade has seen a spike in unwholesome use, especially among younger adults. Barbiturates can be abused, even unintentionally, hence the need to identify their symptoms, side effects, and interactions. It becomes easier to use them more safely and beneficially now that we can.