Barbiturates are medications that work as depressant of the central nervous system. This group of medications is derived for barbituric acid and includes drugs such as: amobarbital, allobarbital, secobarbital, barbital, pentobarbital and Phenobarbital.
These drugs are known for the effects they cause on the brain (central nervous system), the heart and both types of the muscles (skeletal and smooth). The effects on the brain depend on the dose of the medications, and can vary from mild sedation to comatose state. Also, barbiturates in low doses can ease the tension and anxiety, and decrease blood pressure, heart rate and rapid eye movement.
Higher doses of these drugs are known to affect the behavior and suppress all inhibitions, while barbiturate overdose can cause sedation, anesthesia and coma, and in some cases even fatal consequences.
The exact mechanism of the effects barbiturates have on the brain is still unknown. Scientists believe that these drugs affect both sodium and chloride ions channels, reducing the action potential and depressing the brain activity.
Medical Use of Barbiturates
These medications have been used as anxiolytics and hypnotics, especially pentobarbital and Phenobarbital. These days, barbiturates are replaced with much safer drugs for the same purpose, usually benzodiazepines. Barbiturate overdose is proven to have potential to be lethal for the patients and overdose of benzodiazepines have less chances to be fatal.
Ultrashort-acting and sometimes intermediate-acting barbiturates are used for anesthetic purposes, when a patient experiences a medical emergency and needs to be immediately anesthetized for the surgery. Long acting barbiturates like Phenobarbital are used to treat different convulsions, such as epileptic or febrile seizures, status epilepticus or eclampsia.
Barbiturates have several problems associated with their use. These drugs are known to provoke tolerance, dependence and withdrawal symptoms, and there are a lot of people abusing barbiturates to treat their sleeping problems. Doctors never recommend barbiturates for the treatment of insomnia and other sleep-related issues, since they have extremely long half life and tendency for developing addiction.
Person that stopped using barbiturates can experience withdrawal signs and symptoms, which might include insomnia, nausea, stomach problems, anxiety, seizures or even hallucinations.
Beside the use for sleeping problems, people may abuse barbiturates for relaxed feeling, euphoria and ecstasy they experience during the use. Short and intermediate-acting barbiturates, especially secobarbital, amobarbital and pentobarbital are the most commonly abused drugs. These people could suffer from some severe side effects. Depression, respiratory problems, dependence, vision and speech problems and drowsiness are just some of the potential problems associated with the abuse of barbiturates.
These medications are also found less safe and less selective than some other drugs, and have some possibly dangerous interactions with other medications.