What Was Sodium Thiopental (Pentothal)?

Pentothal, also known by the generic name thiopental, was a barbiturate medication used for anesthesia and in executions for lethal injections. It was not available from outpatient pharmacies and was available for in-hospital or in-prison use only. The drug was discontinued in 2010 and is no longer produced by any manufacturer. 

Barbiturates work by slowing brain and central nervous system processes, helping ease pain and relax the muscles.

Barbiturates, such as Pentothal, directly affect brain neurotransmitters and can lead to significant side effects such as extreme drowsiness, slowed breathing, slowed heartbeat and even sedation. Barbiturates are known to be highly addictive, and, as a result, it is imperative that patients should have only use Pentothal under the care of a physician.

Was Pentothal a Barbiturate?

Although no longer manufactured, Pentothal was a barbiturate. As a Schedule III controlled substance, it carried a moderate risk of abuse, addiction and dependence.

Signs of a Pentothal addiction include:

  • Taking more Pentothal than you meant to or more often than you meant to
  • Previous unsuccessful attempts to cut back on or quit Pentothal 
  • Spending a lot of time seeking, using or recovering from Pentothal 
  • Craving Pentothal 
  • Problems keeping up with obligations at work, school or home due to Pentothal 
  • Interpersonal problems due to Pentothal use
  • Giving up other activities because of Pentothal 
  • Taking Pentothal even when it is physically hazardous 
  • Continuing Pentothal even though you know that doing so is harming you
  • Needing more Pentothal to achieve the same effects as before
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop Pentothal 

Sodium Thiopental (Pentothal) Addiction

Pentothal was an extremely powerful barbiturate administered by a healthcare professional who monitored patients closely for adverse side effects. Common side effects of Pentothal included persistent drowsiness, slowed breathing, shivering, slowed heartbeat, coughing or tightness in the chest.

Severe side effects, such as difficulty breathing, hives or facial swelling, may have indicated an allergic reaction to the medication. Since Pentothal was dispensed within a medical setting, the risk of overdose was low. This medication should have always been administered by a medical professional — and never used without a doctor’s supervision. 

Misusing or Abusing Thiopental (Pentothal)

As a central nervous system depressant, Pentothal was an extremely sedating drug given by injection. Despite this, it was very difficult to misuse as it was only given in a hospital setting, and even small dose errors could have potentially deadly consequences. 

Taking Pentothal During Pregnancy 

Barbiturates like sodium thiopental are typically avoided when possible during pregnancy. Although no longer produced, Pentothal was a Category C drug, meaning it was unknown whether it could harm an unborn baby.

Was It Safe To Take Pentothal While Pregnant?

Because Pentothal is no longer legally produced by any manufacturer, taking the drug while pregnant is unsafe. Any Pentothal available would be illicitly manufactured, meaning its ingredients would not have been scrutinized.

Did Taking Pentothal Cause Birth Defects?

It was unknown if taking Pentothal could cause birth defects. For that reason, Pentothal was given to pregnant women only when needed.

Babies Born Addicted to Pentothal

Because Pentothal was only used medically in a hospital setting for short-term anesthesia, it was very unlikely that a baby would be born addicted to the drug. Pentothal was unavailable at outpatient pharmacies and only used for short-term anesthesia. 

Alternatives To Taking Pentothal While Pregnant

Since Pentothal’s discontinuation over a decade ago, many different, safer alternatives are available for anesthesia if needed while pregnant. These include options for general and local anesthesia like propofol and dexmedetomidine.

Mixing Thiopental (Pentothal) With Alcohol

Because Pentothal was only used short-term in the hospital setting, it was unlikely that someone would take it with alcohol. Nonetheless, drinking before taking Pentothal could have been dangerous because it was a potent central nervous system depressant.

Mixing Alcohol and Thiopental (Pentothal)

Mixing central nervous system depressants like alcohol and Pentothal can exacerbate the depressant side effects of both agents. Since Pentothal was an extremely potent depressant — so potent that it was used for lethal injection — mixing it with alcohol could have potentially deadly consequences. 

Summing up Side Effects, Interactions and Blackouts of Mixing Alcohol and Pentothal (Thiopental)

Although Pentothal is no longer available, mixing the substances would have increased the chances of side effects like dizziness and drowsiness. Because both alcohol and Pentothal are central nervous system depressants, it only makes the combination more dangerous.

What Were the Thiopental (Pentothal) Medical Uses?

Pentothal has not been manufactured since 2010. However, before its discontinuation, it was a potent injectable drug used in hospitals for anesthesia, severe seizures and elevated pressure in the brain. When used in prisons, the drug was so potent that it was used as part of the lethal injection cocktails given to condemned prisoners. 

Side Effects of Thiopental (Pentothal)

Like any medication, Pentothal could produce certain side effects. Common side effects included:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Slowed heart function
  • Abnormal heart rhythm 
  • Prolonged drowsiness
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Trouble breathing
  • Shivering

What Is Pentothal Barbiturate Withdrawal? 

Although many barbiturates are abused and can cause withdrawal symptoms if taken chronically and then stopped, Pentothal was rarely linked to withdrawal. This is because the drug was available only in hospitals, was extremely potent — so potent that it was used as part of a lethal injection cocktail — and was typically only used briefly for surgeries.

Pentothal Barbiturate Withdrawal Symptoms

It was uncommon for patients to experience severe Pentothal withdrawal symptoms since the drug was rarely used for specific purposes.

Pentothal Withdrawal Timeline

Typically, the body could detoxify itself from Pentothal in just a few days. However, there were exceptions to this because every patient’s unique physiology contributes to how long the detoxification process takes. Several factors, such as age, metabolism, organ functions, Pentothal usage frequency, genetics and more, contributed to how quickly Pentothal was removed from the body.

Short-Term Symptoms of Withdrawal Effects of Pentothal?

Because Pentothal withdrawal symptoms would have been so uncommon even before the drug’s discontinuation in 2010, little is known about possible short-term withdrawal effects. The drug was unlikely to cause withdrawal symptoms because it was restricted to short-term use within a hospital setting and was so potent that it was even used in lethal injections.

Long-Term Symptoms of Withdrawal Effects of Pentothal?

Long-term symptoms of withdrawal effects from Pentothal are unknown and would have been extremely rare even before the drug’s discontinuation in 2010. The drug was unlikely to be linked to withdrawal symptoms because of its restriction to short-term use in a hospital or prison setting and its extreme potency as this was a lethal injection drug.

How Is Thiopental (Pentothal) Addiction Treated? 

Pentothal addiction would have been extremely rare even before the drug’s 2010 discontinuation due to its restriction to hospital and prison settings and its extreme potency. However, barbiturate addiction is treated through a continuum of care involving medical detox to help wean you off the drug, followed by rehab and therapy and aftercare.

Detox at Home or Under Medical Supervision?

When detoxing from barbiturates, it is best to detox under medical supervision. This is because barbiturate withdrawal can involve serious complications like seizures, which can be life-threatening. When you are medically supervised, doctors and nurses work to treat and prevent these kinds of complications, leading to a safer recovery.

Starting Barbiturate Detox

Barbiturate detox is best done under medical supervision. Therefore, the first step in a successful detox is seeking medical advice. Speaking to your doctor about your barbiturate use can help you develop a plan for quitting the agent, and a medical detox center like those available at The Recovery Village can help you quit barbiturate use for good.

The Importance of Aftercare

Following medical detox, barbiturate rehab involves intensive therapy to help you overcome the core issues that led to you relying on barbiturates. However, even after rehab is complete, it is important to maintain your focus on recovery to avoid relapse. This is where aftercare comes in. In aftercare, you continue indefinite involvement in therapy and alumni groups to keep your recovery in motion.

How Recovery Village Helps Thiopental (Pentothal) Addiction?

At The Recovery Village, we believe in a holistic approach to your barbiturate recovery, treating your body and the underlying reasons for your addiction. As such, we offer medical detox options, inpatient and outpatient rehab and aftercare. Don’t wait; contact us today to learn more about how we can put you on the path to recovery.

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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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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.