Everything You Need to Know About Barbiturates
Barbiturates are a group of drugs derived from barbituric acid. Barbituric acid is an organic compound and is not pharmacologically active, but a wide variety of drugs are derived from it. Each barbiturate is derived from barbituric acid by the addition of another chemical compound. These drugs vary the speed and duration of their effect on the brain. The action of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that inhibits the action of nerve cells in the brain, is enhanced by barbiturates. This means that barbiturates act as a central nervous system depressant. Currently, barbiturates are used primarily to help control seizures, to treat insomnia and during surgery. Barbiturates are highly addictive.
There are many different barbiturates. The most common brand names are:
- Amytal Sodium
- Butisol Sodium
- Nembutal Sodium
Generic names for common barbiturates are:
- Amobarbital Sodium
- Thiopental sodium
Butalbital is a fast-acting barbiturate that is often combined with acetaminophen to treat headache. Methohexital is used to induce general anesthesia before surgery. Floricet is a combination of butalbital, acetaminophen and caffeine which is used to treat headache. The action of verapamil, a calcium blocker used to treat angina, is negatively impacted when used with barbiturates.
Currently, the use of barbiturates for medical reasons has decreased in favor of a safer group of drugs known as Benzodiazepines. This group of drugs, like barbiturates, act to increase the impact of GABA on the brain. Benzodiazepines are used to treat sleep disorders, anxiety, seizures and panic attacks. They are also effective as muscle relaxants.
Addiction and Withdrawal
Barbiturate abuse peaked during the 1970s as doctors began to prescribe safer benzodiazepines instead. Currently, teenagers are most likely to use barbiturates, partly to counter the effect of powerful stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine. Barbiturates are addictive. Daily use for a month or more creates dependence in the brain. Teenagers are unlikely to know how destructive barbiturate abuse was in the 1970’s and earlier, so they don’t fully appreciate how dangerous these drugs can be. The easiest way to recognize that somebody is using a barbiturate is that they appear to be very relaxed or drowsy. This is due to the fact that barbiturates are central nervous system depressants. Aside from the risk of addiction or dependence, barbiturates are dangerous because there is only a small difference between a dosage that will result in drowsiness and a dosage that will result in coma or even death.
Withdrawal from barbiturates may include some or all of the following symptoms: agitation, insomnia and tremors. More severe symptoms of withdrawal from barbiturates include hallucinations and seizures. Pregnant women who take barbiturates may give birth to a baby addicted to barbiturates and suffering from withdrawal symptoms.
Mild symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal, such as drowsiness, require only monitoring by a friend or family member at home. If the central nervous system has become so depressed that the person stops breathing medical treatment is needed, including the use of a breathing machine. A solution of activated charcoal may be given either orally or through a tube to absorb any of the drug that remains in the stomach. Addicted persons may also be treated with decreasing amounts of barbiturates until they are drug free.
Uses of Barbiturates
While both barbiturates and benzodiazepines act as central nervous system depressants, benzodiazepines have largely replaced barbiturates for medical uses. Both kinds of drugs enhance the effectiveness of the neurochemical GABA, which inhibits the action of stimulants in the brain. Barbiturates are still used, often as part of the general anesthesia needed for surgery to treat insomnia and seizures. Barbiturates may help with recovery from some types of drug addictions, such as cocaine and meth addictions. Barbiturates can be addictive when used for a month or longer. They are also dangerous because the amount needed to achieve drowsiness and the amount which results in coma are very close, meaning that a small error in dosage can result in death. Barbiturates might be effective at such times, but the risk is just too great. For help with addiction to barbiturates, contact us today.