Barbiturates are derivatives of barbituric acid, a chemical first synthesized in the late 19th Century. Its medical value was discovered in the early 1900s when it was discovered that Barbital, the first marketed barbiturate, was extremely effective in putting dogs to sleep. To date chemists have synthesized a broad class of over 2500 barbiturates that consists of subgroups classed according to quickly they take effect and how long they last. Barbiturates act as central nervous system depressants and can produce a wide variety of effects from mild sedation to complete anesthesia. Currently, there are about a dozen types of barbiturates being used for medical purposes. Barbiturates are used to treat epilepsy, anxiety, insomnia, etc.

Some ultrashort-acting barbiturates currently in medical use include methohexital (Brevital®), thiopental (Pentothal®) and thiamyl (Surital®). Ultrashort-acting barbiturates can produce sedation within one minute of injection. Preferred by barbiturate abusers, some examples of short-acting and intermeiate-acting barbiturates include pentobarbital (Nembutal®), secobarbital (Seconal®), and amobarbital (Amyta®). Primarily used to treat insomnia and as a surgical anesthetic, short and intermediate-acting barbiturates require 15-40 minutes to take effect but can last up to 6 hours.

Long-acting barbiturates include mephobarbital (Mebaral®) and phenobarbital (Luminal®). Medical purposes include daytime sedation and the treatment of seizure disorders. They take approximately an hour to take effect and can last up to 12 hours.

Recreational users take barbiturates to give them feelings of relaxation, contentment and euphoria.

The effects that barbiturates have on the body are very similar to that of alcohol, but users experience a greater sense of euphoria and lack of inhibition. Barbiturates can cause sleepiness, memory loss, lack of judgement, respiratory problems, slurred speech, paranoia, thoughts of suicide and possible death.

Withdrawal symptoms for barbiturates closely resemble withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and can often be life threatening. Barbiturates are metabolized slowly, and some barbiturates, such as Phenobarbital (Luminal) can be detected up to 4 weeks later.

Barbiturate Street Names

  • Amytal
  • Downers
  • Nembutal
  • Phenobarbital
  • Reds
  • Red Birds
  • Red devils
  • Seconal
  • Tuninal
  • Yellowjackets