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Barbiturates belong to a group of sedative-hypnotic drugs composed of synthetic substances.
A medical professional may prescribe barbiturates to treat different medical conditions, including:
Barbiturates are classified as central nervous system (CNS) depressants. This means that these types of medications can slow brain activity, affect an individual’s level of consciousness, and cause symptoms like sleepiness and more.
The effects of barbiturates will vary in speed and time, depending on whether the medications are:
However, because barbiturates can build physical dependence and even result in substance misuse, health care providers do not often prescribe such medication outside of clinical practice.
Instead, health care regimens tend to include another type of CNS depressants called benzodiazepines. Examples of benzodiazepines include:
If individuals misuse barbiturates, there is a risk of barbiturate poisoning or drug overdose. In more severe cases, the improper use of barbiturates can lead to death.
Barbiturate drugs are available in different forms, including:
Some of the main barbiturate medications available in the United States are:
One of the most common prescription anticonvulsants in the world is phenobarbital. In the United States, this barbiturate medication is a second-line treatment for epilepsy.
Barbiturates are not illegal in the United States.
Phenobarbital is a common antiepileptic drug in the country and elsewhere around the world. Low-resource countries may prescribe this type of barbiturate as a first-line treatment because of its low cost.
However, because barbiturates can lead to abuse and physical dependence, these drugs are classified as Schedule II, III, and IV depressants under the Controlled Substances Act. Classification for barbiturates will vary according to the type of medication, its potential for abuse, and the severity of psychological or physical dependence.
For example, Schedule II barbiturates have a high potential for abuse and severe physical dependence. Schedule IV barbiturates, however, have a low potential of abuse and low risk of dependency.
Because barbiturates fall in this classification series, it is illegal to purchase or consume this type of drug without a doctor’s prescription. Selling barbiturates without proper documentation or misusing these drugs can result in criminal offenses or penalties imposed by state and federal authorities.
Additionally, when individuals obtain and use barbiturates, primarily through online purchases, they run the risk of consuming contaminated or expired drugs. The risk of overdose is also high.
Common street names of barbiturates include Barbs, Block Busters, Christmas Trees, Goof Balls, Pinks, Red Devils, Reds & Blues, and Yellow Jackets.
Barbiturates are habit-forming. As a result, medical professionals prescribe benzodiazepines more often for anti-anxiety or insomnia. Even in the operating room, the use of barbiturates is minimal due to the rise of other recommended alternatives such as propofol (an anesthetic drug with fewer side effects).
Using any type of barbiturate can cause side effects. Those effects can last from 2 to 6 hours, or more depending on the drug itself, dosage, etc. It is important to speak with a physician if any of the side effects mentioned below occur or worsen while under treatment.
Some of the more common side effects of barbiturate use include:
Some of the less common side effects of barbiturate use include:
Some rare side effects of barbiturate use include:
In incredibly ill individuals, symptoms such as confusion, mental depression, and unusual excitement are more common to appear.
Equally important, because of the potency of barbiturates, the body may still experience some symptoms after quitting the drug. In individuals who take high doses or for an extended time, the effects of a barbiturate drug could remain up to 15 days after quitting.
In terms of other health risks, regular, even therapeutic use of barbiturates can lead to tolerance (when a drug is not as effective due to repeated use) and physical dependence. Continued misuse could result in barbiturate intoxication (poisoning) and, in some cases, death.
For individuals who are hypersensitive to barbiturates, there is the additional risk of a life-threatening syndrome called drug rash with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms (DRESS). Some of the symptoms include rash, fever, organ inflammation, lymphadenopathy (abnormal size or inconsistency of lymph nodes), and hematological problems. The mortality rate of individuals with DRESS is 10%.
Finally, pregnant women and their fetuses face a high risk of health problems. Barbiturate toxicity during pregnancy increases the likelihood of congenital disabilities (malformations) and can cause neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). Despite these risks, though, medical professionals may prescribe this type of drug for either serious diseases or during a medical emergency, in which the mother’s life is at stake.
Certain barbiturate drugs can have a much higher potential for abuse than other drugs of the same group. That said, when individuals abuse this type of drug, they may experience the following symptoms:
Individuals who abuse barbiturates may seem like they drank too much alcohol. This is because of the excitement or euphoric effects paradoxically caused by the drug.
A “hangover” effect, in which judgment and fine motor skills are impaired, can occur up to 22 hours after an individual takes a hypnotic barbiturate drug.
Individuals misusing barbiturates shouldn’t stop drug use suddenly. Abrupt barbiturate withdrawal can be dangerous and result in death.
Barbiturate withdrawal is similar to alcohol withdrawal, with individuals experiencing the following symptoms:
Symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal tend to disappear after eight days or so.
Because tolerance to the lethal effects of barbiturates can occur little by little, an overdose is a considerable health risk.
Lethal overdoses will vary from one barbiturate drug to the next. For example, the lethal dose for amobarbital is 2 to 3 grams, while the lethal dose for phenobarbital is 6 to 10 grams.
Similarly, if alcohol, opiates, or other CNS depressants are taken with a barbiturate substance, the risk of overdose and death increases much more.
Here is a list of some overdose symptoms:
There is also the additional risk of hypoxia (a decreased amount of oxygen to the brain). Individuals with hypoxia may suffer both short- and long-term health problems, including coma and permanent brain damage.
Those with a barbiturate addiction do have health care options, including:
If you or your loved one is suffering from a barbiturate addiction, please seek medical attention to design a treatment plan that can accompany you to a path of recovery and relief.
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