What Is Pentobarbital?

Pentobarbital acts as a brain and central nervous depressant. This prescription medication is classified as a barbiturate drug that works as a sedative by slowing brain function and central nervous system processes.

A doctor prescribes pentobarbital to sedate patients before surgery or as a medication for insomnia. This medication slows down brain processes, allowing your mind and body to relax as you fall asleep. Like any other barbiturate, pentobarbital can be addictive if not taken according to the prescribed treatment plan. Always take pentobarbital under the care or supervision of a physician to prevent adverse side effects.

Is Pentobarbital a Barbituate?

Pentobarbital is a barbiturate drug that can be prescribed for reasons ranging from insomnia to seizure control. The drug has a very high addictive potential, and the Drug Enforcement Administration schedules it as a Schedule II or Schedule III substance depending on how it is prescribed:

  • Pentobarbital, on its own, is a Schedule II controlled substance.
  • Pentobarbital mixed with noncontrolled drugs is a Schedule III controlled substance; however, no such products are commercially available.
  • Pentobarbital rectal suppositories are a Schedule III controlled substance.

As a central nervous system depressant, pentobarbital’s use triggers the brain’s reward circuit. The feelings of drowsiness and relaxation are pleasurable, and the brain repeatedly seeks out that sensation. Over time, repeat abuse of pentobarbital for this reason can lead to addiction.

Pentobarbital Addiction

Barbiturates are especially psychologically addictive due to their drastic sedative effects at even the smallest dose. Pentobarbital is not intended for long-term use, and misusing the drug can lead to severe side effects, accidental overdose or addiction.

Signs of a pentobarbital addiction include:

  • Taking more pentobarbital than intended or more often than intended
  • Previous unsuccessful efforts to cut back on pentobarbital
  • Spending a lot of time seeking, using or recovering from pentobarbital
  • Cravings for pentobarbital
  • Problems fulfilling obligations at work, school or home due to pentobarbital
  • Interpersonal problems linked to pentobarbital use
  • Giving up other activities due to pentobarbital
  • Taking pentobarbital even when it is physically dangerous
  • Continuing pentobarbital even though you know that doing so is harming you
  • Needing more pentobarbital to achieve the same effects as before
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop pentobarbital

Seek medical attention if you experience serious side effects such as hallucinations, shallow breathing, hives, fever, fainting, depression, chest tightness or weakness. These may be signs of an allergic reaction or a pentobarbital overdose. The chances of developing a life-threatening side effect increase if you take other medications with your pentobarbital prescription. 

Misusing or Abusing Pentobarbital

Pentobarbital is a highly addictive substance that carries the risk of abuse and dependence. As a central nervous system depressant, it can cause a sense of relaxation and drowsiness, which can be pleasurable. However, seeking this feeling by taking pentobarbital outside medical guidance can be dangerous, leading to addiction and a potentially fatal overdose.

Taking Pentobarbital While Pregnant

Pentobarbital and other barbiturates shouldn’t be used during pregnancy unless a woman is otherwise advised by her healthcare provider. Barbiturates like pentobarbital are Category D pregnancy drugs in the U.S., meaning they shouldn’t be used in most cases. There is an increased risk of congenital disabilities related to using barbiturates, and newborns may experience withdrawal effects like seizures and irritability after birth. 

What Are the Pentobarbital Medical Uses?

Pentobarbital is a depressant that impacts neurotransmitters within the brain. This medication makes you drowsy and dizzy and is typically used as a sedative before surgery or as a short-term treatment for insomnia. Pentobarbital is also injected as an emergency treatment if someone is experiencing a seizure.

Pentobarbital is a medication injected — usually by a doctor — therefore, sticking to a dosage schedule is often not an issue. Pentobarbital should only be recommended as a short-term solution for surgery and insomnia, as it may become habit-forming if taken without a proper prescription.

Pentobarbital Abuse Side Effects

Patients prescribed pentobarbital are at risk of undesirable side effects and developing a psychological addiction, which can both be severe. People who misuse pentobarbital are known to mix it with other drugs, increasing the chance of dangerous side effects.

Some side effects of taking pentobarbital include:

  • Sedation
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache

Serious side effects may include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Weak or shallow breathing
  • Slow heart rate
  • Weak pulse
  • Respiratory depression

Contact your doctor immediately if you have any side effects from pentobarbital.

Administering pentobarbital through an IV too rapidly can cause respiratory depression, apnea, laryngospasm (affecting breathing and speaking) or a widening of the blood vessels, causing a drop in blood pressure.

The following are signs of a possible pentobarbital overdose:

  • Cognition problems
  • Unconsciousness
  • Fast or slow pulse
  • Poor coordination
  • Vertigo
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Thirst
  • Decreased urination
  • Decreased temperature
  • Large or small pupils
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slowed breathing

All side effects are a medical emergency and must be dealt with right away or there is a risk of brain damage, coma or death.

Pentobarbital Long-Term Effects

When taken chronically, pentobarbital use can lead to some long-term side effects. These include:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Shortened attention span
  • Short- and long-term memory loss
  • Physical dependence

Because pentobarbital is a controlled substance, the risk of developing an addiction is also ever-present. When you are addicted to pentobarbital, detoxing alone can be hard due to withdrawal effects.

Pentobarbital Withdrawal and Detox

For your body to remove pentobarbital from its system, pentobarbital treatment must be stopped. Set up a meeting with your doctor if you want to stop your Pentobarbital treatment. Typically, your doctor will slowly lower your pentobarbital dose over time so your body has enough time to respond to less and less of the medication. Do not abruptly stop taking pentobarbital. Suddenly stopping your pentobarbital treatment has the potential to produce undesirable and enhanced withdrawal symptoms.

What Are Common Pentobarbital Withdrawal Symptoms?

Pentobarbital withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Hallucinations
  • Sweating 
  • Insomnia 
  • Hypertension

If you abruptly stop your pentobarbital treatment, you may have an increased frequency of seizures. This is another reason why pentobarbital should not be stopped cold turkey. After stopping treatment, you may also experience a physical dependence or psychological addiction to pentobarbital.

Pentobarbital Withdrawal Timeline and Symptom Durations

Remember, the timeline of pentobarbital withdrawal is specific to the person and should never be compared to that of another patient. Certain factors play a role in how long it takes for your body to rid itself of pentobarbital, including: 

  • Age
  • Metabolism
  • Organ functions
  • Genetics
  • The frequency and levels of pentobarbital dosage

Managing Withdrawal Symptoms of Pentobarbital

Managing pentobarbital withdrawal on your own can be hard, but a medically supervised detox can help. Doctors and nurses work to prevent and treat any pentobarbital withdrawal symptoms you experience in medical detox. This helps ensure your safety during a pentobarbital detox, which is crucial to living a happier, healthier, pentobarbital-free life. 

Pentobarbital Medications and Detox

Medical detox is specifically recommended for those who have taken a high pentobarbital dose for 90 days or longer. This is because withdrawal frequently needs close management to prevent seizures and delirium. Further, medications can treat withdrawal symptoms. Some withdrawal symptoms and the medications used to treat them include:

  • Insomnia: melatonin, mirtazapine and trazodone
  • Nausea and vomiting: ondansetron or prochlorperazine
  • Abdominal cramps: hyoscine
  • Diarrhea: loperamide
  • Headaches: acetaminophen and ibuprofen

The Importance of Aftercare

Taking any prescription can come with certain mild side effects. Common side effects of pentobarbital include: 

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of coordination
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation 

You should avoid drinking alcohol while on pentobarbital to prevent serious side effects or a possible blackout due to the depressant qualities of both substances.

You should never drive a car or operate machinery that relies on you being awake and alert while taking this medication. Never take pentobarbital with other sleep aids or muscle relaxers, which can result in respiratory failure and death. Always inform your doctor of any changes to your condition while on pentobarbital to ensure the medication benefits your overall health.

Becoming addicted to pentobarbital can lead to some dangerous and fatal side effects. Don’t let pentobarbital addiction rule your life. Contact The Recovery Village to speak with a qualified Recovery Advocate. We can help 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

How The Recovery Village Treats Pentobarbital Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with pentobarbital addiction or another substance use disorder, seeking help right away is important. The Recovery Village believes that pentobarbital addiction requires a whole-health approach to care. We treat not only your addiction but also help provide you with the mental health and social support crucial to recovery. From medical detox to get you off pentobarbital to rehab to keep you off the drug, we are with you every step of the way. Don’t wait: contact us today to learn more.

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Editor – Theresa Valenzky
Theresa Valenzky graduated from the University of Akron with a Bachelor of Arts in News/Mass Media Communication and a certificate in psychology. She is passionate about providing genuine information to encourage and guide healing in all aspects of life. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

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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.