Barbiturates Effects – How Barbiturates Affects Mind And Body

Last Updated: June 24, 2020

Authored by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Barbiturates effects are widespread. Similar to other CNS depressants, they make the brain and body functions slower. Most notably, they are so powerful that it may not take more than just a few doses to change the sedation into death.

A Quick Overview Of Barbiturates

Barbiturates are a class of sedative medications. They affect the levels of a brain chemical. They call it Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). Consequently, taking them makes one less stressed and more likely to fall asleep. A doctor’s prescription to buy them is required.
Till a few decades back, they used to prescribe it to treat a number of medical conditions. In some cases, they might include insomnia, anxiety, and epilepsy.
However, their use in the current medical practice has declined a lot. It is because they are very addictive and cause severe toxicities. Regrettably, this may occur even if one takes a bit more than the normal dose.

What is the Current Status Of Barbiturates?

Currently, safer options such as Benzos have mostly replaced them. Nonetheless, doctors still use them during a major surgery and to reduce seizures. Furthermore, they may also use them to reduce increased pressure inside the head. Such conditions may arise when a patient has a brain injury due to some accidents or falls.

Early Barbiturates Effects: What It Feels Like

Barbiturates abuseWhen one takes a Barbiturate, it is possible to feel a kind of high. It produces euphoria and relaxed feelings and helps to calm down. For this reason, they bring desirable results when the patients have seizures or anxiety.
Unfortunately, these are the same reasons why they may abuse it and become addicted to barbiturates.
A recent study suggests their use among high school students has surged over the past decade. People have a theory about the most probable underlying cause for such alarming rise. In some cases, they take them to counteract the effects of stimulant medications.
Strangely enough, the effects are similar to those produced due to alcohol intoxication. This is because barbiturates effects include depressing the activity of CNS. For this reason, one should never mix barbiturates with alcohol.
Other effects may include:

  • Slowed heartbeat
  • Reduced rate of respiration
  • Problems with focus and decision-making
  • Muscle relaxation
  • Heightened sense of well-being and enhanced self-confidence

These effects will go away if one stops taking more of it. What will determine how long these effects will persist? In fact, they will depend on the type of Barbiturates taken.

Barbiturates Side Effects On Large Doses

A common problem with any form of addiction is the addicts fail to sense how much is too much. Regrettably, this impaired judgment often results in overdoses or development of severe symptoms.
In the same manner, Barbiturates effects become more dangerous as one takes more of it. To make things worse, there is a very thin line between the effective and toxic dose.
When a patient takes large doses of Barbiturates, one may develop one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteadiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Excessive tiredness
  • Facial changes
  • Changes in perception
  • Disinhibition
  • Erratic behavior

What are Toxic Barbiturates Effects?

Barbiturates have a very low safety margin. That way, it can cause severe toxicities even with a slightly increased dose. At higher doses, they also block the activity of a major brain chemical. They call it Glutamate.

Paradoxically, they have a dual action. They will increase the GABA activity and cut down on Glutamate activity. As a result, this may cause death. This is more probable if one does not get an immediate medical care.

Actually, the fatal results occur as an exaggeration of the sedative effects.

What are Long-term Barbiturates Effects?

The long-term use of Barbiturates may result in a number of other health problems. This is apart from an increased risk of addiction.

Of the Barbiturates Effects, a weakened heart and liver failure are likely life-threatening. Other effects may include:

  • Memory or concentration problems
  • Mental depression
  • Irritability
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Speech problems

Barbiturates Warnings

Barbiturates are not safe medication even a normal doses. Now, it is possible to imagine what could be the consequences of an abuse or barbiturates overdose.

Barbiturates can be very addictive. Notably, the addiction may develop with a normal dose too. Therefore, watch for the physical and psychological signs of addiction. Then, consult a doctor right away.

Regular use may result in tolerance. That is when one needs more to experience the effects. This can be fatal considering the deaths overdoses have caused. Barbiturates account for about 33% of all drug-related deaths in the US.

There are so many things one can do to get out of the addiction. Remember, the road to recovery starts with one’s desire to get rid of the drug. Therefore, do not think anymore, take the first step and good changes will usually follow. Seek professional help as the solo efforts may not be enough to defeat urges.
Addiction is a chronic disorder that requires a team effort. One will need to get it from family, friends and concerned healthcare staffs. A combination of medications and a strong support system often works wonders. Presumably, they will help live a drug-free life.
Addiction centers should have a qualified team. Some of them more than others. They will dedicate themselves to provide all kinds of necessary services. They will help to get back to normal life from these Barbiturates withdrawal effects. The team comprises of well trained and qualified personnel. They include physicians, counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and auxiliary health care staff. Notably, they all work together to design addiction treatment plans. These will be specific to personal needs of a patient.

Page Sources

  1. Marek Majdan, Walter Mauritz, Ingrid Wilbacher, Alexandra Brazinova, Martin Rusnak, Johannes Leitgeb. Barbiturates Use and Its Effects in Patients with Severe Traumatic Brain Injury in Five European Countries. J Neurotrauma. 2013 Jan 1; 30(1): 23–29.
  2. Report on the Behavioral Side Effects of Barbiturate Antiepileptic Drugs. State Of Minnesota Office Of The Ombudsman For Mental Health And Mental Retardation.

Published on: April 7th, 2017

Updated on: June 24th, 2020

About Author

Sharon Levy, MD, MPH

After successful graduation from Boston University, MA, Sharon gained a Master’s degree in Public Health. Since then, Sharon devoted herself entirely to the medical niche. Sharon Levy is also a certified addiction recovery coach.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.


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  • J.M.
    Medicated with barbiturates because of my anxiety, their effects destroyed my life from the age of 12 on, as my performance at school in sports and academic pursuits diminished. With a slower brain and body, I became clumsy, falling and injuring myself, unable to win sprints any more, struggling to cope with complex thought and not remembering things, being disorganised and not thinking ahead. From a high performer who used to top the class, I couldn’t face school as I couldn’t keep up and I dropped out at 15, never knowing why I couldn’t cope. As I took my Amytal tablets each day as prescribed, it never occurred to me that they were the problem. It clearly never occurred to my parents either. They just assumed the problem was me. As a result, my life spiralled out of control, with unplanned pregnancy at 15, periods of incarceration and disconnection from my family. The family connection has never been healed, as no-one will talk about it with me. However, I have since studied successfully to become a psychologist and have been practicing for 25 years, have my own family and successful relationships which sustain me. The only medication I take now are hormones and when needed (very rare) the occasional pain-killer. If only I’d had a psychologist to teach me skills to manage my anxiety, instead of drugs to sedate my brain.
    • MG
      I am seldom as moved by a narrative as I was by yours. I took very large quantities of Barbituates for non-compulsive seizures after a brain bleed at 18. They built up slowly so b4 I knew it I was on massive amounts! People told me I was not the same as I had been and I lost many friends due to ups and downs of trying & failing at different anti-seizure drugs. Ultimately, the “success” of the Barbituates led me to keep taking them. I was able to complete my education & went into the mental health field, such as yourself. As an advocate, tho, I never had the “spark” I once had. Then I developed Megloblastic Anemia (No folic Acid & barely any B12 left in my body) as a result of one of the drugs & stopped producing DNA & came w/in days of dying. I stopped (slowly cut back) on the Barbituates totally against my Neuro’s advise. It was HELL esp on the people around me BUT they loved the person who emerged out of my fog! I was FINALLY able to act as MYSELF who was surprisingly, quite animated! Haha! I live w/the seizures now & wonder how Neurologists ever could have thought the meds were better then the seizures. But they know more then I, although I am glad I made the decision to stop. Due to a related painful Neuro disease I have been taking a low dose of Methadone for pain for many years. I don’t ‘crave’ more & hate having to take anything at all but we don’t always have control over somethings. People wonder how I function on pain meds & I just laugh cuz they have NO idea what Barbituates do to your head! (And body) & this is nothing in comparison! I’m SO happy you were able to do what you did with your life & so sad that your family won’t talk about something that wasn’t their fault! Many meds we give kids we do to HELP them and make them comfortable. We never expect them to ruin their life! Acknowledging what you went thru would go a long way I imagine! Continued good luck to you and again, congratulations! I’m sure many parents will learn from your horrible experience & generous willingness to talk about it!