Barbiturate Prescription Facts

In the 1960s and 1970s, barbiturates were the first-line of treatment for anxiety, insomnia and other conditions. Barbituric acid was first synthesized in the late 1800s and by the start of the 1900s barbital companies like Bayer started marketed the drug. By the 1950s, barbiturates were starting to be associated with causing adverse consequences, such as physical dependence and changes in behavior. Despite those observed side effects, it wasn’t until the 1970s that doctors reduced the number of prescriptions. Eventually, barbiturates were largely replaced with benzodiazepines. Both drug classes are central nervous system depressants, but benzodiazepines are seen as being safer. Even with the reduced barbiturate prescriptions, they are still used in certain circumstances. They are prescribed for some seizure conditions, certain types of migraine headaches, and as a form of sedation before procedures.

Barbiturate Regulations

Barbiturates are controlled substances in the United States. Some barbiturate-related drugs are classified as Schedule IV drugs, while others are Schedule III drugs. Under U.S. regulations, any substance that has a derivative of barbituric acid is a Schedule III drug, while barbital, mephobarbital, and phenobarbital are classified as Schedule IV drugs. Schedule III drugs are considered to have more of an abuse and addiction potential than Schedule IV drugs. Amobarbital, pentobarbital, and secobarbital are all Schedule II controlled substances unless they’re prescribed as suppositories. They have the highest abuse potential, according to the DEA.

Most Commonly Abused Barbiturates

Barbiturates are a broad class of drugs. When people abuse drugs from this class, they do so because they can create feelings of euphoria, sedation and deep relaxation. Some people also experience other side effects, like a loss of inhibitions, and they use barbiturates recreationally to come down from other drugs as well. When people are abusing barbiturates, it’s common to use short-acting and intermediate-acting drugs. The most commonly abused barbiturates include amobarbital (Amytal), pentobarbital (Nembutal) and secobarbital (Seconal). Another commonly abused barbiturate is called Tuinal, which is a combination of amobarbital and secobarbital. The reason that these specific barbiturates are the most commonly abused is because they start acting very quickly in the body after someone takes them.

How Barbiturates Affect the Brain and Body

Barbiturates are central nervous system depressants. When someone uses these drugs, they experience lower heart rates, lower blood pressure and depressed breathing. In low doses, someone taking barbiturates may feel pleasantly relaxed. Barbiturates affect skeletal nerves, creating problems with balance, and they slow brain function -which is why people who use these drugs have slurred speech, and unpredictable behavior.

Many of the symptoms of barbiturates are similar to those of being drunk from alcohol.  People who frequently abuse barbiturates or use them in high doses may have lung and breathing problems. People who use high doses of barbiturates may also be more likely to experience brain damage and accidental overdose. Long-term effects of barbiturates use can include liver damage and a worsening of existing liver conditions. Heart damage is also possible, as is central nervous system damage.

Half-Life of Barbiturates

Barbiturates are a broad class of drugs, and they come in a lot of different variations. Some are short-acting or intermediate-acting, while others are longer-acting. A short-acting barbiturate has a short half-life and is eliminated from the body quickly. Short-acting barbiturates include pentobarbital and secobarbital. Butalbital and amobarbital are intermediate-acting barbiturates.

Factors That Influence How Long Barbiturates Stay in Your System

Many individual factors play a role in how long barbiturates stay in the system. Factors include the dose that a person takes and their tolerance for the drug. A person’s metabolism and body weight are also relevant to how long barbiturates stay in the system, as are the strength of the drug, the half-life of the drug and the individual’s overall health. If someone is in good health or is younger, drugs are typically eliminated from the system more quickly than they are in older people or people with existing health issues. 

How Long Do Barbiturates Stay in Urine, Hair and Blood

The length of time that barbiturates remain in urine, hair and blood depend on the specific type of drug used, as well as varying factors like age or individual health. There are many different barbiturates, and each has its own half-life and elimination time. The general standard is that barbiturates can show up in urine for two to four days, and one to two days in the blood. In some cases, barbiturates may be detectable for up to six weeks in urine and up to three months, particularly in hair follicle tests.

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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.