What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are another type of drug that has been used to treat insomnia and anxiety.

At one time there were over 50 types of barbiturates available in the United States. Ultimately, they were replaced by other medications because of safety concerns.

Fast Facts About Barbiturates

  • Barbiturates are rarely used today. They have a high risk of tolerance, dependence, and overdose.
  • This class of medications can have short- to long-acting effects. It depends on the specific drug

Why are barbiturates prescribed?

Today, these medications are used for:

– anxiety and sedation related to surgery

– insomnia

– seizures


-tension headaches

-traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Forms of barbiturates

Barbiturates are available in injectable, liquid, tablet, and capsule form. They come in many different strengths and combinations.

  • amobarbital injectable (Amytal)
  • butabarbital tablet (Butisol)
  • methohexital injectable (Brevital)
  • pentobarbital injectable (Nembutal)
  • secobarbital capsules (Seconal)
  • primidone tablet (Mysoline). This medication is metabolized to phenobarbital

What are the possible side effects?

rash , joint pain , unusual bleeding or bruising.

How do barbiturates compare to benzodiazepines?

Barbiturates have been replaced by benzodiazepines like alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) to treat anxiety and sleep disorder. They have fewer side effects when prescribed for home use compared to barbiturates.

Benzodiazepines work in a similar way by increasing GABA activity in the brain. They create a calming or relaxing effect. But if used together with barbiturates, they can increase overdose risk.

Benzodiazepines are also habit forming when used long term. They have similar side effects and risks for misuse. Benzodiazepines should

only be used for a short period of time.