Overload

Barbiturates

Category: Medicines

Type

Involuntary and voluntary

Introduction and description

Marilyn Monroe was addicted to barbiturates
and died from an overdose

Barbiturates are drugs that act as central nervous system depressants, and can therefore produce a wide spectrum of effects, from mild sedation to total anaesthesia. They are also used as “anxiolytics, hypnotics, and anticonvulsants”.   

They have been used and in some cases are still used, to treat insomnia, depression, migraine, stomach cramps, anxiety, 'psychosis', headache,  cluster headaches (in the compound drug fioricet and fiorinal), occasionally for the treatment of recurrent migraines and cluster headaches, muscle cramps, malaise and any other illness the doctor has decided you could have.  In other words, they were used and occasionally still are used in a somewhat cavalier fashion by the medical profession.

Jimi Hendrix, 27, was found dead in his girlfriend’s
London hotel room. The cause of death noted on the
coroner’s report was “inhalation of vomit” after
“barbiturate intoxication (quinalbarbitone)”.
Quinalbarbitone is the British term for secobarbital;
His death was 'believed to have been accidental'

They are addictive,  as Wikipedia says “they were found to be addictive both physically and psychologically and barbiturates have now largely been replaced by benzodiazepines in routine medical practice”, which is somewhat ironic as benzodiazepines are also addictive - very addictive.

Barbiturates are still widely used in general anaesthesia, for epilepsy,  and (where legal) assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Researchers have discovered a few more unwelcome side-effects of barbiturates over the last few years, besides addiction

Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was prescribed
barbiturates when he had a nervous breakdown
he is still alive - just

Phenobarbital has been in use for a century. Because of its low cost and ease of use as a broad spectrum antiepileptic drug, it is often used in low-cost situations.

It has significant adverse effects and can produce learning and behavior problems in children.

In addition it is a major inducer of the hepatic Cytochrome P450 system producing many interactions. Because of these issues, the usage of this drug has declined substantially over the past few decades although it remains a therapeutic option in difficult to treat epilepsy patients.  PMID:  24818329

 

 

 

 Abbie Hoffman died  from an overdose of phenobarbital

Barbiturates are derivatives of barbituric acid.

Barbituric acid itself does not have any direct effect on the central nervous system and chemists have derived over 2,500 compounds from it that possess pharmacologically active qualities.

The broad class of barbiturates is further broken down and classified according to speed of onset and duration of action.

  • Keneth Williams the comedian died from
    a barbiturates overdose
    Ultrashort-acting barbiturates  - are commonly used for anaesthesia. 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.
  • Short/intermediate-acting - The middle two classes of barbiturates are often combined under the title "short/intermediate-acting." These barbiturates are also employed for anaesthetic purposes, and are also sometimes prescribed for anxiety or insomnia. This in theory should not be a common practice anymore owing to the dangers of long-term use of barbiturates; but it is clear from the observations that they still are being used.
  • Jean Seberg died from a barbiturate overdose
    Long-acting barbiturates - The final class of barbiturates are known as long-acting barbiturates (the most notable one being 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 prescribed for daytime sedation. Barbiturates in this class should not be used for insomnia, because, "owing to their extremely long half-life, patients awake with a residual "hang-over" effect and feel groggy".  But they are.
Margaux Hemingway, Ernest hemimgway's
daughter died from a Phenobarbital
overdose
 

Barbiturates can in most cases be used either as the free acid or as salts of sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium, lithium, etc. Codeine- and Dionine-based salts of barbituric acid have been developed.

In 1912, Bayer introduced another barbituric acid derivative, phenobarbital, under the trade name Luminal, as a sedative-hypnotic.

The following is in theory an old paper, but it may help to explain a lot

Margaret Sullavan died from an overdose of 
barbiturates in 1960

A survey of 390 patients aged over 65 with fractured femurs showed that nearly all the fractures that had been caused by nocturnal falls had occurred among the many patients who were still taking barbiturate hypnotics.

Barbiturates were also strongly associated with a history of frequent falls.

Barbiturates are still prescribed surprisingly often for the elderly.

An analysis of 1622 elderly patients referred to a geriatric clinic in Nottingham showed that 41% were taking barbiturates in 1973. By 1976 this fugure had actually increased to 51%, despite the substantial campaign against barbiturate prescribing. This campaign thus appears to have made little or no impact on prescriptions for the elderly in at least one large town. The dangers of barbiturates may well need constant reemphasis.  PMID:  890361

 

Perhaps those still being prescribed Fioricet, Fiorinal, Phenobarbital, Seconal, Nembutal, [pentobarbital], Primidone, Butabarbital (trade name Butisol), Donnatal, need to be told this.

To quote one of my observations "I woke up shortly after 10 the next day - feeling like I'd been hit with a concrete block in the head. I know now that this is a common experience to barbiturate users, sort of like the drinking hangover.  My psychiatrist laughed, and told me that if I had a problem with it, he would write me for something to fix it. 'Fixing it' resulted in a prescription from my psychiatrist for 10 mg dextroamphetamine (time release spansules).  Oh hah ha.

  Side-effects in more detail

The names given to the drugs when sold
as 'street drugs'

The high risk of addiction and abuse associated with barbiturates, their extreme toxicity, and their potentiation of other gabaminergic and sedative drugs (including alcohol) are all reasons for never prescribing them outside the field of anaesthetics.

  If we are taken in an emergency to hospital and have taken these drugs, the risk of being anaesthetised is enormous. 

It does not appear to be understood how many other pharmaceuticals interact with barbiturates. 

Many a so called ‘suicide’ is probably not a suicide at all, it is an unwanted drug interaction.

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

 

Carole Landis died from an overdose
of barbiturates

It is also worth pointing out that Sodium Amytal was used as a means of interrogation in communist, fascist and other countries as well as the USA “The memory impairing effects and cognitive impairments induced by the drug are thought to reduce a subjects ability to invent and remember lies. This practice is no longer considered legally admissible in court due to findings that subjects undergoing such interrogations may form false memories, putting the reliability of all information obtained through such methods into question”.

This may be little comfort to the children who are sold these drugs on the street. 

Slang terms for barbiturates on the street when sold as so-called ‘recreational drugs’ include barbs, bluebirds, dolls, downers, goofballs, sleepers, 'reds & blues' and tooties.  Rather unbelievably, in the 1940s, military personnel were given "Goofballs" during WWII in the South Pacific region to allow soldiers to tolerate the heat and humidity of daily working conditions.. Many soldiers returned with addictions that required several months of rehabilitation before discharge. This led to addiction problems through the 1950s and 1960s.

Judy Garland died from a
barbituate overdose

Many states in the USA have mandatory protocols for barbiturate prescription to assure patient compliance with usage instructions, but of course they are rarely monitored or followed.  “Doctors often use these practices even when not legally required, as they limit physician liability in the event of abuse or overdose”.[sic]

There are special risks to consider for older adults, women who are pregnant, and babies. 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.

How it works

Barbiturates are Toxins.  One could I suppose arguably call them Poisons, but they act like Toxins, as such the way they give you hallucinations, visions, near death and the apparently very frequent death experience, is via Toxic action.  Follow the link to get an explanation.

If you do have anxiety, insomnia, depression or any of the other problems for which Barbiturates are mis-prescribed, I suggest you go to appropriate page on this website to get some more helpful suggestions as to what to do.  Go to activity, overload, illnesses and you will find a list to choose from, or use the search facility.

 

References and further reading

  •  
    Can Med Assoc J. 1941 Feb;44(2):176-8. Dangers from the Indiscriminate use of the Barbiturates.  PMID: 20322002
  • Dangers of barbiturates.  Aitken RC, Proudfoot AT.  Br Med J. 1970 May 2;2(5704):295..  PMID: 5420184
  • Dangers of barbiturates. McQueen EG.  Br Med J. 1970 May 2;2(5704):295. PMID: 5420183
  • Dangers of barbiturates.  Tylden E, Saville C.  Br Med J. 1970 Apr 4;2(5700):49.   PMID:  5440580
  • [Pentothal and the dangers of intravenous anesthesia with barbiturates].  PREZIOSI P.  Riforma Med. 1953 Jun 6;67(23):648-9.   PMID:  13089405
  • Br Med J. 1977 Aug 20;2(6085):483-5.  Nocturnal femoral fracture and continuing widespread use of barbiturate hypnotics.  MacDonald JB, MacDonald ET.
 

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