Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Barbiturates: Brief history, Law


Barbiturates come either as tablets or as gel capsules for swallowing. The most common forms seen today are:

Sodium amytal Bright blue capsules containing 60 mg of barbiturate.
Seconal Orange capsules containing 50 mg of barbiturate.
Tuinal Blue and orange capsules containing 50 mg of amytal and 50 mg of seconal.

Barbiturates effect

In the short term and in small quantities barbiturates provide relief from insomnia, anxiety and tension, and may make the user appear drunk. The effects can last for 12 hours or more, depending on the type and amount of barbiturate taken, the individual's tolerance and the circumstances in which the drug is taken.

"Barb freaks" are looked down on even by heroin users because of the totally desperate state they get themselves into.

Primarily hypnotic drugs, barbiturates like tranquillizers work by depressing the nervous system. In small amounts they calm you down and in higher amounts make you sleep. They belong to a 19th-century group of drugs and, until the 1950s, when safer alternatives were found, were prescribed for people who couldn't sleep or who had nervous disorders. Barbiturates are not without risks: they are highly addictive and can suppress the function of the brain to such an extent that breathing stops. The medical use of barbiturates is now limited.

How they work

Barbiturates depress the central nervous system so three main things happen to your body:

  • the heartbeat slows down
  • breathing slows down and becomes shallow so you don't take in much oxygen
  • blood pressure falls.
It's the combination of these three things that makes barbiturates so dangerous.

Barbiturates are dangerous

There's a very fine line between the desired dose and the fatal one, which makes barbiturates very dangerous. Barbiturates give you an experience that is far from pleasurable:
  • barbiturates won't make you feel euphoric or deliriously happy
  • barbiturates won't make you chatty, sociable or sexy
  • barbiturates will make you a glazed-eyed zombie that no-one wants to know
  • barbiturates will give you a mind-numbing "hangover" the following day. You'll feel drowsy, unco-ordinated and slow.

  • Some heavy users are foolish enough to dissolve the powder in water and inject it. If the powder doesn't dissolve properly it can cause vein blockages, which can lead to gangrene and amputation.
  • The risk of overdosing on barbiturates is high anyway; if they're injected it's even higher.
  • There's a risk of becoming infected with HIV/AIDS and hepatitis B or C from sharing needles and other equipment (works).


Long term problems

You'll look awful Long-term use can lead to depression and intense tiredness, to the point where you can't feed or clean yourself properly.
Mood swings Heavy use may lead to unpredictable and extreme mood swings, often leading to violent or strange behaviour.
Bronchitis or pneumonia Both of these conditions may result from heavy use, and both can be fatal.
Hypothermia Barbiturates cause the blood vessels near the skin to dilate so you lose heat. With heavy use, your metabolism becomes so slow that your body is unable to respond to the cold. Hypothermia can be fatal.

The Law

Some barbiturates are Class B, but more are Class C. This means that unless you have a valid doctor's prescription it's illegal to have barbiturates. In any event, it's illegal to give them away or sell them. Unauthorized possession or supply of Class B or C drugs can lead to a fine, prison sentence - or both.

Yes, barbiturates are highly addictive, both physically and mentally. They're even more addictive than drugs like heroin. After only a few days' use, you may be unable to go to sleep without taking them.


Once you're addicted, withdrawal from the drug is horrible:

  • you suffer severe craving for barbiturates - you can't live without them
  • you suffer painful stomach cramps because your body needs barbiturates
  • you may suffer fits (convulsions)
  • you may suffer insomnia, depression, mental illness, panic attacks and hallucinations
  • you may even die, and not even heroin causes withdrawal deaths.

Keep away from alcohol

It's suicidal to mix alcohol and barbiturates. Alcohol increases the effects of barbiturates as it too is a depressant drug. Here's the scenario:
  • you've been out on the town, you've had a few drinks but decide it's time to wind down
  • you take a couple of barbs, pour yourself one for the road and settle down
  • half an hour later your brain is so fuzzy you can't even remember taking the pills, so you have a couple more
  • your heart-rate drops and your breathing gradually slows down until eventually you're not breathing at all - come the morning, you're dead.


Because your body quickly learns to adapt to barbiturates, your tolerance increases. This means you need more to feel the same effects. If you don't use barbiturates for a while, your tolerance falls. If you then take what was a "normal" dose when you were a regular user, you could easily overdose.

If something goes wrong

  • If your friend is breathing, place her in the recovery position. Call an ambulance. Tell the medical staff what your friend has taken - it could save her life. Be prepared to resuscitate your friend if she stops breathing.
  • If your friend vomits while unconscious, check that she's still breathing.

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