Amytal is a central nervous system depressant that helps people sleep and can reduce seizure activity. Learn how the drug works and how it cause adverse effects.

Amytal is the brand name for a central nervous system depressant called amobarbital sodium. Amytal is a barbiturate, which can be used as an anti-seizure medication or to induce sleep or sedation.

What is Amytal?

Barbiturates, such as Amytal, are an older class of sedative medications that have major effects on the central nervous system. Amytal is a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning that it has high abuse potential and is associated with dependence. All barbiturates are extremely addictive and psychological and physical dependence are common with their use. Like other drugs that depress the nervous system, barbiturates can cause a person to feel euphoria and relaxation. Barbiturates can be dangerous because of the potential for toxicity, including fatal overdose, especially when used with alcohol or other substances that depress the nervous system.

Although barbiturates like Amytal are still used today, they have been replaced by benzodiazepines in many cases. Benzodiazepines are also nervous system depressants that are used for sedation and as anti-seizure drugs, but their safety profile is favorable compared with barbiturates. It is still possible to develop dependence or addiction to benzodiazepines, but since they carry less risk than barbiturates, they are the preferred option in most situations.

Since Amytal is an older drug, it has not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with regard to safety and effectiveness. It is technically not approved by the FDA.

Amytal Administration

Amytal is only meant for deep intramuscular injection or intravenous injection. It may cause irritation and skin sloughing if injected too close to the surface of the skin. If it is given too rapidly, it may cause serious breathing difficulty or low blood pressure.

What Does Amytal Look Like?

Amytal is supplied in a glass vial as a white powder. Once the powder has dissolved into water, it becomes a clear, colorless solution. Amytal dosage must be individualized based on age, weight and other health factors. One vial of Amytal contains 500 mg of amobarbital sodium.

Common Side Effects

Amytal, like other barbiturates, is associated with many side effects, many of them serious. A major side effect is the development of tolerance, dependence or addiction, which can cause many problems in someone’s life.

Common side effects associated with Amytal use can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Decreased breathing rate
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Fainting
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Liver damage

Barbiturates are known to cause problems with cognitive function, since they depress the function of the nervous system, including the brain. In the past, experiments with Amytal have been performed to assess its function as a “truth serum” because of this. Amytal is sometimes referenced in movies and popular culture for its ability to remove a person’s inhibitions and allow the truth to be told. A document produced by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) concludes that although barbiturates may alter someone’s thought processes and help to calm someone down, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will tell the absolute truth in an interrogation situation. No high-quality studies have been performed to assess the utility of barbiturates with regard to truth-telling, and it is unlikely that any such study will occur due to ethical concerns.

Is Amytal Addictive?

Amytal, like other barbiturates, has a high potential for addiction. Since barbiturates are not used very frequently anymore — addiction is less common in recent years than it was in the past. Barbiturate addiction can be very dangerous because even a slight overdose can be fatal. Barbiturates are sometimes used in suicide attempts since they are very easy to overdose on.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Christina Caplinger, RPh
Christina Caplinger is a licensed pharmacist in both Colorado and Idaho and is also a board-certified pharmacotherapy specialist. Read more

Bimmerle, George. “‘Truth’ Drugs in Interrogation.” September 23, 1993. Accessed August 31, 2019.

DailyMed. “Amobarbital sodium injection.” April 1, 2017. Accessed August 31, 2019.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Controlled Substances.” August 21, 2019. Accessed August 31, 2019.

Drug Enforcement Administration. “Drug Scheduling.” Accessed August 31, 2019.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Unapproved Prescription Drugs: Drugs Mar[…]quired FDA Approval.” November 16, 2017. Accessed August 31, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.