Barbiturates - Uses - Dosages - Side Effects - Precautions

Barbiturates: Frequently Asked Questions Answered

What are barbiturates?

Barbiturates are a class of drugs that produce a calming effect on the user. It enhances the activity of a chemical in the brain, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), that assists in transmitting nerve signals. Doctors prescribe them to help decrease muscle spasms, anxiety, and the occurrence of seizures. They also prescribe barbiturates to promote sleep.

Amobarbital (Amytal), butabarbital (Butisol), pentobarbital (Nembutal), secobarbital (Seconal), belladonna (Donnatal), and phenobarbital are some barbiturates that are available in the market.

What are the uses of barbiturates?

Barbiturates are a broad category of drugs. Generally, they stimulate the production of GABA in the brain. This inhibitory neurotransmitter produces a calming effect by reducing central nervous system activity. Thus, barbiturates have uses as sedatives, sleep aids, pre-anesthetics, anticonvulsants, etc.

Doctors sometimes prescribe barbiturates (primarily phenobarbital) to treat the following:

  •       Epilepsy or seizures
  •       Prolonged pressure in the skull
  •       Severe skull trauma 
  •       Few varieties of convulsions

Doctors also use barbiturates as a form of anesthetic. Off-label uses include treatment for:

  •       Migraines
  •       Trauma
  •       Jaundice
  •       Alcohol and benzodiazepine poisoning and withdrawal

However, barbiturates are not common drugs because of the risk of unsatisfactory results and adverse effects.

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What are the side effects of barbiturates?

When used as per instructions, the most usual side effects of barbiturates are relaxation, drowsiness, and nausea.

Severe side effects of prolonged barbiturate use or overdose may involve:

  •       Confusion
  •       Respiratory suppression and death
  •       Headache
  •       Memory difficulties
  •       Vomiting
  •       Lack of coordination

People consuming barbiturates must take extreme precautions to avoid tolerance and dependency, as barbiturates are addictive. Tolerance occurs when a higher dosage of the drug is needed to achieve the desired effect. Dependence occurs when the person has stopped using the drug and begins suffering from withdrawal symptoms.


Frequently Asked Questions about Barbiturates

1. Is Xanax a barbiturate?

No. Xanax belongs to a class of medications called benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are somewhat similar and act like CNS depressants. They increase GABA production in the brain. It controls the stress response and reduces CNS activity to produce a calming effect. Therefore, both drug types have been traditionally used to treat insomnia and seizures and cause drowsiness.

2. Are barbiturates depressants?

Yes. Barbiturates are central nervous depressants that decrease nerve activity and promote muscle relaxation. They do this by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid production in the brain. This acid halts the action of stimulating neurotransmitters and affects the brain’s motor centers. Thus, barbiturates reduce breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.

3. How long do barbiturates stay in your system?

The time barbiturates remain in the urine, hair, and blood depends on their type and individual factors like age and health. Usually, barbiturates remain in the urine for 2–4 days and in the blood for 1–2 days. Sometimes, they can be detected in urine for up to 6 weeks. They can appear for three months, especially in hair follicle tests.

4. What is a barbiturate overdose?

Barbiturate overdose toxicity happens due to excessive dosage of barbiturates. Symptoms usually involve foggy and unclear thinking, inadequate coordination, reduced level of consciousness, and respiratory depression. A barbiturate overdose can lead to serious complications. These may include noncardiogenic pulmonary edema, which is fatal due to severe shortness of breath.

5. Is alcohol a barbiturate?

No, alcohol is not a barbiturate, though most barbiturates have a similar effect as that of alcohol. Both substances are central nervous system depressants. Both have a sedative effect and can cause significant harm with consumption. Since alcohol and barbiturates both activate GABA receptors in the brain, they enhance each other's effects when combined.

6. Are barbiturates stimulants?

No, barbiturates are not stimulants. They do not elevate your mood, boost your attentiveness, or make you feel more awake and energetic. Instead, barbiturates are depressants that slow down brain functioning. Their general uses are to treat health issues like anxiety, insomnia, headaches, or seizures. They are even effective as anesthetics.

7. Is trazodone a barbiturate?

No, trazodone is not a barbiturate. It is an antidepressant that treats the chemical imbalance in the brain. It is used to treat anxiety, depression, or a combination of both. Trazodone can also ease symptoms like poor sleep, low mood, and poor concentration. Barbiturates, on the other hand, also improve sleep and promote relaxation but by working as CNS depressants.

8. Is Ativan a barbiturate?

No. Ativan or lorazepam is not a barbiturate, but a benzodiazepine. This drug class replaced barbiturates on a large scale for both medical and recreational use. However, both Ativan and barbiturates are CNS depressants. Ativan treats insomnia, anxiety, status epilepticus, or sleep difficulties due to stress or anxiety. It also has an anesthetic effect, like barbiturates.

9. Do doctors still prescribe barbiturates?

Yes, doctors still prescribe barbiturates. Specifically, they are Prescription Only drugs under the Medicines Act (1968). However, the Misuse of Drugs Act also classifies them as Class B drugs. This makes them controlled substances. Take extreme precautions to follow the recommended dosage when a doctor prescribes them for treating anxiety, seizures, or other CNS disorders.

10. What dosage of barbiturate is recommended?

Barbiturates are a vast category of drugs. Hence, the dosage varies on the particular barbiturate and for what it has been recommended. For example, 30–50 mg of the sedative Amytal is prescribed intravenously every 8–12 hours. For short-term treatment of insomnia, 100 mg of secobarbital may be prescribed to be taken orally at bedtime. However, overdoses are common even if one uses barbiturates for over two weeks. Hence, a doctor’s consultation is strictly recommended before consuming them.

Talk to our medical experts at Yashoda Hospitals today for speedy and expert medical advice and services. Let our experts answer your queries regarding uses, side effects, and dosage, and precautions with taking barbiturates.

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Disclaimer: The information provided herein is accurate, updated and complete as per the best practices of the Company. Please note that this information should not be treated as a replacement for physical medical consultation or advice. We do not guarantee the accuracy and the completeness of the information so provided. The absence of any information and/or warning to any drug shall not be considered and assumed as an implied assurance of the Company. We do not take any responsibility for the consequences arising out of the aforementioned information and strongly recommend you for a physical consultation in case of any queries or doubts.


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