Barbiturates are hypnotic drugs that work as central nervous system depressants. They are basically sold in capsules with white odorless powder inside that are usually prescribed by doctors to calm people who are suffering from panic disorders and trauma. Like tranquilizers, barbiturates also induce sleep especially when taken at a larger dose. Barbiturates are also used as anticonvulsants and anesthetics.

Barbiturates belong to the most commonly misused prescription drugs due to their hypnotic effects. Along the streets, people furtively buy them as barbs, Barbies, red devils, or sleepers. A person who undergoes barbiturate medication and misuses the drug may lead him to a positive drug test result using the barbiturate drug test kits.

History of Barbiturates

Barbiturates came from the Barbituric acid which was first synthesized by a German scientist known as Adolf von Baeyer. According to history, it was formed by mixing urea with the malonic acid of the apple juice.

Although there have been many stories about how barbiturates got its name, it became a very popular drug for inducing sleep in 1903 when two scientists discovered its effects on dogs. By then, it was sold under brand names Veronal and Nembutal where almost 10 million people were recorded to use the drug as sleepers.

It was not until, 1950 when authorities discovered its tendency to cause tolerance and drug dependence in people.

Forms of Barbiturates

Barbiturates are only a few of the 2, 500 active compounds from Barbituric acid. Although Barbituric acid has no direct effect on the central nervous system at all, its derivatives have continued to be used medically due to their pharmacological benefits. For instance, they are used to reduce anxiety, decrease inhibitions, and treat unwanted effects of illicit drug abuse.

By then, barbiturates are broken down into different forms of drugs which are well classified by their level of effectiveness and speed of the beginning of action or effect in the body. Despite this, the different levels of barbiturate potency have continued to be used medically. For instance, the ultrashort-acting barbiturates were used to immediately put patients who need surgery into sleep. On the other hand, long-acting barbiturates were used to treat convulsions.

Ultrashort-Acting Barbiturates

The ultrashort-acting barbiturates are commonly used to immediately put patients who need surgery into sleep. An example of this is the Pentobarbital which is also used to treat insomnia and sleep inducers plus anesthetics to surgical operations.

This type of barbiturate is also considered as an emergency treatment for seizures. Unlike other drugs or pure anesthesia, barbiturates act on the GABA receptor of the brain and spinal which cause neuronal activity to decrease. This is why patients fall asleep aside from not feeling the pain at all. Larger doses of this form of barbiturates; for instance, Sodium Pentothal and Thiopental are used in the administration of lethal injection and euthanasia in the United States.

Long-Acting Barbiturates

Long-acting barbiturate works differently from the short-acting barbiturate. It is basically used as anticonvulsants which treat epileptic seizures, mood stabilizers for bipolar disorders, and as a treatment for neuropathic pain. Phenobarbital sold in brand name Luminal is actually an example of this type of barbiturate with a half-life of roughly 92 hours. Although it is also used as a sedative, Phenobarbital is given at a larger dose during emergencies to treat a selective type of convulsions such as those that resulted from tetanus, eclampsia, status, epileptics, cerebral hemorrhage, and poisoning.

The effects of long-acting barbiturates are usually realized within an hour and can last for 12 hours and beyond. Some barbiturates, aside from being as anticonvulsants are also used as daytime sedatives like Mephobarbital which is sold under brand name Mebaral. Sleep induced through barbiturates resembles normal sleep in many ways, however; there some significant difference that people should take note of. For instance, it actually reduces the amount of time spent for a REM sleep while patients may wake up bleary as an effect of residual drowsiness for its extremely strong half-life. At times, this effect can also impair a person’s judgment and distorts mood.

Uses of Barbiturates

Barbiturates have many uses aside from its medical importance as sedative and hypnotic. The following are some instances were barbiturates are used.

  • Barbiturates are used along with other drugs such as heroin and alcohol to increase and speed up their effects.
  • As downers, they are used to counteract overstimulation with stimulant-induced intoxication like continued euphoria and disturbance in the motor skills as a result of prolonged abuse of cocaine and amphetamines. This is common by stimulant abusers.
  • The drug is also used to minimize the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol.

Routes of Administration

Barbiturates are usually taken in two ways: oral and intravenous injection. Its dose may depend on the administration. Self-administration of barbiturate can be extremely dangerous for its dosage must be set by medical doctors.

Meanwhile, intravenous administration of barbiturates is usually done during physician-assisted suicide in combination with muscle relaxants. Intravenous administration is common with Thiopental also as a treatment for insomnia. Sometimes, the drug is dissolved in water and injected to interviewees during an investigation as a “truth serum” and allow the person to tell truth instead of lies by decreasing the inhibitions. Barbiturates such as Pentobarbital are usually taken orally to induce sleep while larger dose may be administered intravenously to treat convulsion.

Effects of Barbiturates Abuse

Unlike other drugs, barbiturates basically act in the central nervous system particularly to the GABA receptors which consequently affect the significant organs in the body. The two main effects of barbiturates mainly focus on analgesia and sedation. Taking the drug at lower dosage induces sedation and hypnosis. The sedative and hypnotic effects of barbiturate are described as the reduction in restlessness and emotional symptoms as the drug works to depress the central nervous system. The following are the actions involved in the administration of barbiturates for sedation and hypnosis.

  • Changes in ion movements across the cell membrane
  • Interaction with the cholinergic and non-cholinergic receptor sites
  • Impairment of the biochemical reactions
  • Depression of the selected areas of the brain

Barbiturates also cause analgesia; however, this effect is poor which is why it has to be administered with some other analgesics. Barbiturates are also habit-forming. A person who takes in barbiturates for several days may not be able to stop it immediately which is why most patients get addicted to the drug. Furthermore, the sedative-hypnotic effect of barbiturate which can be compared to that of alcohols lures teenagers to abuse barbiturate for self-vested interests. A person who takes barbiturate medication may cause positive drug test results; however, recreational use may be subject to different levels of penalty.

Symptoms of Barbiturates Abuse

There are many signs that immediately show after a person abuses barbiturates. According to research, the symptoms of barbiturate abuse are similar to that of taking prescription opiates, sleeping pills, and antihistamines which is why the need for a BAR drug test may be necessary.

The following are referred to as short-term effects of barbiturates:

  • Relief of tension and anxiety
  • Sleepiness
  • Intoxication such that of an alcohol
  • Slurred speech
  • Inability to control simply bodily functions such as walking
  • Memory loss
  • Emotional Instability

The following are considered as the long-term effects of abusing barbiturate:

  • Chronic tiredness
  • Loss of coordination in terms of body function and balance
  • Vision problems
  • Dizziness
  • Slowed reflexes and response
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Shallow breathing

A person who is forced to stop from abusing barbiturate may result in withdrawal symptoms such as the following:

  • Vivid dreams
  • Hallucination
  • Mental impairment
  • Eating disorders
  • Physical and mental disorientation
  • Nausea
  • Sleeping disorders

Dangers of Barbiturates Abuse

Barbiturates are good medicines, however; further abuse of the drug can be very dangerous. Mixing with barbiturates with other drugs likewise is very dangerous although it has been a common routine with some abusers. Aside from it causing positive barbiturate drug testing, long-term association with barbiturate can cause addiction and severe withdrawal symptoms.

Mixing with other Drugs

Abusers usually mix barbiturates with other drugs to intensify their effects as in the case of some other CNS depressants like Demerol, heroin, morphine, and codeine. Since the drug basically depresses the central nervous, combining it with other drugs that produce the same result can cause respiratory arrest. Barbiturates can also be fatal when taken together with antihistamines. It should be noted that persons who have allergies are required to observe proper precaution when drinking barbiturates.

Tolerance and dependence

The habit-forming characteristics of barbiturates cause prolonged barbiturate users to get addicted to the drug. Barbiturates cause tissue and metabolic tolerance where a person requires larger dose to get the desired effect. When the dose is continuously increased due to physical dependence, a person may be in real jeopardy for barbiturate toxicity or drug poisoning.

Adverse Effects to Health

One of the reasons why barbiturates need to be taken with proper precautions is their adverse effects on the health. Most abusers, who undergo barbiturate drug testing, are at risk for these side effects.

Pneumonia and Bronchitis

Barbiturates can cause severe respiratory depression especially when a person has an underlying chronic obstructive disease (COPD). When barbiturates depress the medullary respiratory center, a person may suffer from pneumonia and bronchitis even with the administration supposed to be a therapeutic dose.

Cardiovascular Depression

Persons with coronary heart disease (CHD) and congestive heart failure (CHF) are at risk for cardiac arrest as barbiturates depress the medullary vasomotor centers.


Although the lethal dose of barbiturates depends on the level of tolerance from person to another, medical study shows that oral dose at 1 g is already poisonous while dosages beyond 2 g are generally lethal. Death may also occur with barbiturate complications such as pneumonia, shock, hypoxia, and coma.

Dependence Medication

Treatment for barbiturate addiction is administered carefully. A good barbiturate addiction treatment includes a combination of psychiatric and behavioral therapies which will help addicts achieve drug abstinence by completing the tools needed to overcome triggers and cravings, or best prevent relapse.

In some cases, hospitals administer barbiturate detox but do it with proper withdrawal supervision. In this case, the patient is treated with smaller dosage until they are drug-free along with a 24-hour medical, psychiatric, and clinical care. After a successful supervised detox method, a drug rehab could immediately follow to assist full recovery from relapse and drug addiction.

Drug rehabilitation centers provide the adequate training programs to treat behavioral disorders as a result of barbiturate abuse and aid patients from forgetting the old habits of drug addiction. In this case, parents should decide on the best and most reliable rehab centers that offer effective programs.

Top rehabilitation programs include periodic drug testing to keep track of recovery. One of the most popular drug tests to monitor Barbiturate abuse is the Alere Urine Drug Test 10 BAR Urine Cup.

Barbiturate Addiction Facts

The recommended dosage of barbiturates strongly depends on the type of barbiturates and other factors like patients’ age and medical condition. However, for some reasons, people smuggle barbiturates for recreational use.

Addiction with barbiturates basically starts when the person taking barbiturate medication gets dependent on the drug. Dependence with barbiturate entails the patient to take larger dosage than usual until he can no longer live without it.

According to the 2009 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 16 million Americans under age 12 and beyond admit having taken prescription drugs including barbiturates for recreational use. Although the number of teens who abuses barbiturates since 1983, from 300, 000 per year to only 250, 000 in 2005, authorities are still on the watch for illicit drug use.

Legal Status

Because of the drug’s tendency to cause addiction among those who use it either medically or non-medically, the United States was designated to put the drug as a controlled substance by 1970 through the Controlled Substance Act of 1970.

The following table shows the scheduling of Barbiturates:

Classification of Schedules

Types of Barbiturates

Schedule II

Pentobarbital, secobarbital, amobarbital

Schedule III

Butabarbital, secobarbital, amobarbital, butalbital, cyclobarbital, and pentobarbital

Schedule IV

Barbital, Phenobarbital, allobarbital, methylphenobarbital, and vinylbital

A person who is caught with a positive barbiturate drug test will be subject to some penalties. Although it may vary from one state another, the maximum penalty for abusing barbiturates through injection is seven years with unlimited fine while for the capsule is five to 14 years.

Barbiturates Drug Testing

Drug testing on barbiturates can be administered in three ways: urine drug test, hair follicle test, and saliva test. While there are many types of barbiturates and each has different detection period, such that short-acting barbiturates can only be detected in 1 to 4 days and the long-acting barbiturates is 2 to 3 weeks, the barbiturate drug test kits will help assist an accurate drug test result and determination of the kind of barbiturate through its metabolites.

Urine Drug Testing

Urine drug testing follows two processes which include the immune assay (IA), and the gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC/MS). Urine drug testing basically takes a urine sample from the subject and screen the specimen for barbiturate metabolites. The cut-off level for the initial urine test is 300 ng/ml and the confirmation test for a clinical panel is 80 ng/ml. For the forensic investigation or in the workplace, the initial urine test cut off level is 300 ng/ml while confirmation test requires 200 ng/ml.

Hair Follicle Test

An extended drug testing for barbiturate may be also done using the hair follicle drug test kits. Hair follicle test, however; extremely depends on the drug detection period in the person’s hair. Some people lose hair immediately which may cause hair follicle test to result in negative. The test basically requires a hair sample nearest to the scalp where drug metabolites are usually absorbed from the bloodstream to test for the presence of phenobarbital, butalbital, and secobarbital.

Saliva Drug Test

The saliva drug test basically screens for barbiturate metabolites within 23 to 36 hours by using the saliva test kits. In the process, the saliva swab is placed in the person’s mouth to gather saliva samples. A standard saliva drug test performs microscopic screening to determine the formation of barbiturate metabolite, however; as the saliva test kits come in many forms, some test kits are buffed with antigen dyes which change in color if a barbiturate metabolite is detected.

Which Prescription Drugs Can Cause a Positive Drug Test Result for Barbiturates?

Were you aware that your prescription drugs could give you a positive result for barbiturates? If you are not aware that your prescriptions are legal barbiturates, you could find yourself dealing with an enormous mess when a positive drug test result comes back, and you have no idea why it occurred. To evade this issue or have a better idea of why it might occur, it helps to understand what barbiturates do and how they come to be a part of prescription medications.

Barbiturates, which are derivatives of barbituric acid, depress the central nervous system and were used in hypnotic and anxiolytic drugs such as Seconal and Phenobarbital. Today, most of these barbiturate drugs have been replaced with benzodiazepines to reduce the risk of lethal overdose and addiction that had become so common with barbiturates.

However, barbiturates are still prescribed for those who suffer from seizures, headaches and other gastrointestinal issues. Barbiturates are notorious for the physical as well as the psychological dependency symptoms that they elicit. Generally, it is the psychological dependence that leads to physical dependence on these drugs.

The prescription barbiturates you are most likely to find being used are Secobarbital for insomnia and Phenobarbital, which is used for disorders that cause seizures. Some drugs for a headache also contain caffeine, acetaminophen, Butalbital and Aspirin in various combinations. Donnatal Extendtabs (which are used for gastrointestinal conditions such as spastic colon and irritable bowel syndrome) contains Phenobarbital and Primidone (aka Mysoline), which metabolizes to Phenobarbital. All of these prescriptions will bring back a positive test result.

If you take any of these drugs, you should know results from a urine drug test can detect their use very accurately. Even though the prescription medications above are legal, they are also known to impair the user’s ability to concentrate and can leave them impaired. This means that you may still be judged to be unable to complete the job that you were being tested for and could face losing that job.

This is especially true of jobs where other lives could be put in danger, such as a driver of a large truck or a specialized vehicle like a forklift. Roles under the Department of Transportation should use a specific DOT drug testing panel to identify substance abuse among employees.If you do not have full control or aren’t able to concentrate enough to operate the machinery or keep a look out for dangers, that could a huge safety hazard.

Decisions on how to handle this situation are different in different cases; it depends upon the employers, the testing lab and any other technicians or experts involved in your case. When you come under review for the drug test results, be sure to be clear about what drugs you take, what is the recommended dose and for conditions you take it for.

If you have any of the documentation on the drugs you take and the conditions by which you’ve come to take them, it can make your use clearer. This will also prove helpful if presented before the drug test is conducted.