What Drugs are Barbiturates?
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What are Barbiturates?
Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotic drugs that make the user feel drowsy and relaxed. They were used extensively in the 1960s and 1970s as a treatment for a variety of conditions, such as insomnia, anxiety, and seizure. The recreational use of barbiturates also increased during this period, which led the DEA to classify the drug as a Schedule II substance.1
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How do Barbiturates Work?
Prescription barbiturates were first introduced for medical use in the 1900s to help prevent convulsions and seizures. Since the drug belongs to the sedative-hypnotic class, it affects your brain by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that slows the activity of your brain cells. By slowing brain activity, barbiturates create an overall depression of the central nervous system, producing drowsiness, sedation, and hypnosis.2
What are Barbiturates Used For?
- Sedation: Though more modern and safer alternatives have replaced barbiturates, they can still be used as a sedative.
- Sleep induction: Barbiturates are effective in treating short-term insomnia, but they lose their effectiveness after two weeks.
- Preanesthetic agents: They can be used as a sedative given to patients before surgery to lower anxiety and ease the process of introducing general anesthesia.
- Seizure treatment: Barbiturates such as mephobarbital and phenobarbital are effective in treating partial and generalized cortical focal and tonic-clonic seizures.
- Acute convulsions: It can manage acute onset convulsions such as meningitis, status epilepticus, eclampsia during pregnancy, tetanus, and toxic reactions to local anesthetics or strychnine.
Examples of Barbiturates
Additional Examples of Barbiturates
- Amobarbital (Amytal): It can be used to treat insomnia, but it falls under short-acting barbiturates. It also helps with brain function tests.
- Butabarbital (Butisol): Mainly used in combination with other medication, and depending on the combination, it can treat tension headaches and migraines.
- Pentobarbital (Nembutal): The drug is mainly used for pre-anesthesia and helps stop seizures.
- Secobarbital (Seconal): Though its use is less common, secobarbital helps to treat insomnia, but most healthcare professionals avoid prescribing it.
- Belladonna and phenobarbital: It is primarily used to prevent or stop seizures as they happen.
- Methohexital: This type of barbiturate is especially useful for anesthesia in short diagnostics and treatment procedures
Side Effects of Barbiturates
Dangerous and Harmful Side Effects of Barbiturate Use
- Tolerance and addiction: Your body might tolerate a drug’s effect, meaning you’ll need a higher dosage for the drug to be effective. Due to increased dosage, you are at risk of possible dependence.
- Heart and breathing Complications: Barbiturate pills lower your heart rate and blood pressure, which means consuming too much can make you stop breathing, which can be fatal.
- Interaction with other medications: Barbiturates directly affect your liver, making it process other medications too quickly. This makes other drugs less effective, especially when taken simultaneously with barbiturates.
- Affects fetus development: Pregnant women should avoid taking any barbiturates because they can disrupt fetus development and affect breastfeeding infants. After all, the drug can be passed on to the child through breast milk.
Signs of Barbiturate Drug Overdose
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 400,000 Americans over the age of twelve reported using barbiturates in 2018, while 32,000 matched the criteria of barbiturate abuse.3
- Impaired judgment
- Slurred or slowed speech
- Slow, shallow breathing
- Loss of consciousness
- Difficulty in thinking
- Changes in alertness
- Memory loss
- Lack of coordination
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