AskDefine | Define barbiturate

Dictionary Definition

barbiturate n : organic compound having powerful soporific effect; overdose can be fatal

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Any salt or ester of barbituric acid.
  2. Any of a class of drugs that act as depressants of the central nervous system and are used as sedatives or hypnotics.


salt or ester of barbituric acid, used as a sedative and hypnotic drug

See also

Extensive Definition

Barbiturates are drugs that act as central nervous system depressants, and by virtue of this they produce a wide spectrum of effects, from mild sedation to anesthesia. Some are also used as anticonvulsants.
Barbiturates are derivatives of barbituric acid.


Barbituric acid, was first synthesised on December 4, 1864, by German researcher Adolf von Baeyer. This was done by condensing urea (an animal waste product) with diethyl malonate (an ester derived from the acid of apples). There are several stories about how the substance got its name. The most likely story is that von Baeyer and his colleagues went to celebrate their discovery in a tavern where the town's artillery garrison were also celebrating the day of Saint Barbara — the patron saint of artillerists. An artillery officer is said to have christened the new substance by amalgamating Barbara with urea.
Barbituric acid itself does not have any effect on the CNS (Central Nervous System), however to date chemists have derived over 2,500 compounds that do possess pharmacologically active qualities. The broad class of Barbiturates is broken down further and classified according to speed of onset and duration of action. Ultra-Short acting Barbiturates are commonly used for anesthesia because their extremely short duration of action allows for greater control. These properties allow doctors to rapidly put a patient "under" in emergency surgery situations. Doctors can also bring a patient out of anesthesia just as quickly should complications arise during surgery. The middle two classes of Barbiturates are often combined under the title Short-Intermediate acting. These Barbiturates are also employed for anesthetic purposes, and are also sometimes prescribed for anxiety or insomnia. This is not a common practice anymore however, due to the addiction liablity associated with Barbiturates, they have been replaced by the Benzodiazepines for these purposes. The final class of Barbiturates are known as Long acting Barbiturates (most notably phenobarbital, which has a half-life of roughly 92 hours). This class of Barbiturates is used almost exclusively as anticonvulsants, although on rare occasions they are sometimes prescribed for daytime sedation. Barbiturates in this class are not used for insomnia, because due to their extremely long half-life, patients would awake with a residual "hang-over" effect and feel groggy. No substance of medical value was discovered, however, until 1903 when two German chemists working at Bayer, Emil Fischer and Joseph von Mering, discovered that barbital was very effective in putting dogs to sleep. Barbital was then marketed by Bayer under the trade name Veronal. It is said that Von Mering proposed this name because the most peaceful place he knew was the Italian city of Verona.

Therapeutic use

Barbiturates like pentobarbital and phenobarbital were long used as anxiolytics and hypnotics. Today benzodiazepines have largely supplanted them for these purposes, because benzodiazepines have less potential for abuse and less danger of lethal overdose. Today, fewer than 10 percent of all sedative/hypnotic prescriptions in the United States are for barbiturates.
Barbiturates are still widely used in surgical anesthesia, especially to induce anesthesia.
Phenobarbital is used as an anticonvulsant for people suffering from seizure disorders such as febrile seizures, tonic-clonic seizures, status epilepticus, and eclampsia.

Effects on the body

Barbiturates are classified as ultrashort-, short-, intermediate-, and long-acting, depending on how quickly they act and how long their effects last. Ultrashort barbiturates such as thiopental (Pentothal) produce unconsciousness within about a minute of intravenous (IV) injection. These drugs are used to prepare patients for surgery; other general anesthetics like nitrous oxide are then used to keep the patient from waking up before the surgery is complete. Because Pentothal and other ultrashort-acting barbiturates are typically used in hospital settings, they are not very likely to be abused, noted the DEA.
Abusers tend to prefer short-acting and intermediate-acting barbiturates. The most commonly abused are amobarbital (Amytal), pentobarbital (Nembutal), and secobarbital (Seconal). A combination of amobarbital and secobarbital (called Tuinal) is also highly abused. Short-acting and intermediate-acting barbiturates are usually prescribed as sedatives and sleeping pills. These pills begin acting fifteen to forty minutes after they are swallowed, and their effects last from five to six hours. Veterinarians use pentobarbital to anesthetise animals before surgery; in large doses, it can be used to euthanise animals. Long-acting barbiturates take effect within one to two hours and last 12 hours or longer.

Dependence, tolerance, and overdose

Barbiturate use can lead to both psychological and physical dependence. Psychological addiction can occur quickly. Signs of drug dependence include relying on a drug regularly for a desired effect. The addicted abuser believes he or she must take a barbiturate to sleep, relax, or just get through the day. Continued use of barbiturates leads to physical dependence. Particularly dangerous is the impact on short-term memory and judgement that can cause the user to re-dose because they do not remember how much they took.
As people develop a tolerance for barbiturates, they may need more of the drug or a higher dosage to get the desired effect. This can lead to an overdose, which results when a person takes a larger-than-prescribed dose of a drug. "People who get in the habit of taking sleeping pills every night to fall asleep", noted Andrew Weil and Winifred Rosen in From Chocolate to Morphine, "might start out with one a night, progress to two, then graduate to four to get the same effect. One night the dose they need to fall asleep might also be the dose that stops their breathing." Generally, barbiturate overdoses "occur because the effective dose of the drug is not too far away from the lethal dose", explained Dr. Eric H. Chudler on the Neuroscience for Kids Web site. Symptoms of an overdose typically include severe weakness, confusion, shortness of breath, extreme drowsiness, an unusually slow heartbeat, and darting eye movements. The amount of a fatal dosage of barbiturate varies from one individual to another. However, the lethal dose is usually ten to fifteen times as large as a usual dose. An overdose affects the heart and the respiratory system. The user then falls into a coma and dies.
Clayton pointed out that barbiturates "can have a 'multiplying' effect when taken with other depressants. For example, if someone drinks alcohol and takes a barbiturate, the effect may be ten times stronger than either one taken separately." According to Weil, "many people have died because they were ignorant of this fact".
Older adults and pregnant women should consider the risks associated with barbiturate use. When a person ages, the body becomes less able to rid itself of barbiturates. As a result, people over the age of sixty-five are at higher risk of experiencing the harmful effects of barbiturates, including drug dependence and accidental overdose. When barbiturates are taken during pregnancy, the drug passes through the mother's bloodstream to her fetus. After the baby is born, it may experience withdrawal symptoms and have trouble breathing. In addition, nursing mothers who take barbiturates may transmit the drug to their babies through breast milk.
Slang terms for barbiturates include reds (Seconal), yellow jackets (Nembutal), Christmas Trees (Tuinal or barbiturate-amphetamine combinations), tuies (Tuinal), blue devils, red devils, dolls, and many others.

Other non-therapeutic use

Barbiturates in high doses are used for physician-assisted suicide (PAS), and in combination with a muscle relaxant for euthanasia and for capital punishment by lethal injection.

Famous users


barbiturate in Czech: Barbiturát
barbiturate in Danish: Barbiturat
barbiturate in German: Barbiturate
barbiturate in Spanish: Barbitúrico
barbiturate in French: Barbiturique
barbiturate in Galician: Barbitúricos
barbiturate in Croatian: Barbiturati
barbiturate in Hebrew: ברביטורט
barbiturate in Latvian: Barbiturāti
barbiturate in Malay (macrolanguage): Barbiturat
barbiturate in Dutch: Barbituraat
barbiturate in Japanese: バルビツール酸系
barbiturate in Norwegian: Barbiturat
barbiturate in Norwegian Nynorsk: Barbiturat
barbiturate in Polish: Barbiturany
barbiturate in Portuguese: Barbitúrico
barbiturate in Russian: Барбитураты
barbiturate in Slovenian: Barbiturat
barbiturate in Serbian: Барбитурати
barbiturate in Finnish: Barbituraatti
barbiturate in Swedish: Barbiturater
barbiturate in Ukrainian: Барбітурати

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Amytal, Amytal pill, Demerol, Dolophine, H, Luminal, Luminal pill, M, Mickey Finn, Nembutal, Nembutal pill, Seconal, Seconal pill, Tuinal, Tuinal pill, alcohol, amobarbital sodium, analgesic, anodyne, barb, barbiturate pill, black stuff, blue, blue angel, blue devil, blue heaven, blue velvet, calmative, chloral hydrate, codeine, codeine cough syrup, depressant, depressor, dolly, downer, goofball, hard stuff, heroin, hop, horse, hypnotic, junk, knockout drops, laudanum, liquor, lotus, meperidine, methadone, morphia, morphine, narcotic, opiate, opium, pacifier, pain killer, paregoric, pen yan, phenobarbital, phenobarbital sodium, purple heart, quietener, rainbow, red, scag, secobarbital sodium, sedative, shit, sleep-inducer, sleeper, sleeping draught, sleeping pill, smack, sodium thiopental, somnifacient, soother, soothing syrup, soporific, tar, tranquilizer, turps, white stuff, yellow, yellow jacket
Privacy Policy, About Us, Terms and Conditions, Contact Us
Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2
Material from Wikipedia, Wiktionary, Dict
Valid HTML 4.01 Strict, Valid CSS Level 2.1