List Of Barbiturates From Strongest To Weakest

Medically Reviewed by Johnelle Smith, M.D. on August 1, 2023

Some barbiturates can take effect in seconds, others take over an hour. They are most commonly prescribed as a sleep aid, or to treat anxiety or seizures. However, barbiturates are highly addictive, and abusing them can have dire consequence.

List Of Barbiturates From Strongest To Weakest

List Of Barbiturates From Strongest To Weakest

Listing barbiturates and other prescription drugs from strongest to weakest is a little complex, but brand name barbiturates can generally be listed from strongest to weakest in the following order.

  • Penthothal (thiopental sodium)
  • Brevital (methohexital)
  • Surital (thiamylal)
  • Seconal (secobarbital)
  • Nembutal (pentobarbital)
  • Amytal (amobarbital)
  • Butisol
  • Burabarb
  • Butalan
  • Sarisol
  • Alurate
  • Allonal
  • Oramon
  • Somnifaine
  • Butalbital
  • Luminal (phenobarbital)
  • Mebaral (mephobarbital)
  • Mysoline (primidone)
  • Prominol
  • Phemiton (methylphenobarbital)

Classes Of Barbiturates

Barbiturates are typically broken into four classifications according to how quickly and strongly they affect the brain and body.

The core classifications are:

  • ultra short acting
  • short acting
  • intermediate acting
  • long acting

Ultra short acting barbiturates are injected intravenously and used in anesthesia. These drugs are effective within a minute and last a short time.

Short and intermediate acting barbiturates are helpful for sleep disorders and last between three to eight hours.

Long acting barbiturates take about an hour before they take effect and last approximately twelve hours, which make them useful for treating seizures disorders.

Ultra Short-Acting Barbiturates

The sedative effects of ultra short-acting barbiturates are almost immediate and render the individual unconscious for 5 to 25 minutes, on average.

These drugs have also be used in lethal injection and assisted suicide.

Ultra short-acting barbiturates include:

  • methohexital (Brevital)
  • thiopental sodium (Pentothal)
  • thiamylal (Surital)

Short-Acting Barbiturates

Short acting barbiturates usually take ten to fifteen minutes to take effect and can last approximately three to four hours.

These medications are used for short term sleeping problems and sometimes as a sedative paired with anesthetic during hospitalization for inpatient surgery.

Short-acting barbiturates include:

  • pentobarbital (Nembutal)
  • secobarbital (Seconal)

Intermediate-Acting Barbiturates

These intermediate-acting barbiturates take about an hour to reach therapeutic levels and typically maintain effectiveness for six to eight hours.

These barbiturates are primarily used for treating sleeping disorders, like insomnia, for short periods of time. They may also be used for sedative purposes.

Intermediate-acting barbiturates include:

  • amobarbital (Amytal)
  • aprobarbital (Alurate, Allonal, Oramon, Somnifaine)
  • butabarbital (Butisol, Butabarb, Butalan, Sarisol)
  • butalbital (combined with acetaminophen to treat migraines)

Butabarbital and butalbital have a significantly longer half-life than other barbiturates. It takes between 34 and 42 hours for just half the initial dose to leave the body. The strength and duration of these drugs can cause excessive sleepiness lasting into the next day.

Butabarbital is also not for new patients, this medication is only recommended for use in individuals who are already taking another barbiturate, so it can be exceedingly dangerous to take it without a prescription.

Long-Acting Barbiturates

These types of barbiturates are used for mental health treatment and other healthcare purposes, including anxiety, insomnia, and seizures.

They may also be combined with other medications to treat migraines.

Because these medications can last up to twelve hours, they can also be used to treat the withdrawal symptoms of barbiturate addiction during a medically supervised detox program.

Long-acting barbiturates include:

  • phenobarbital (Luminal)
  • mephobarbital (Mebaral)
  • primidone (Mysoline)
  • methylphenobarbital (Prominal, Mephyltaletten, Phemiton)
  • metharbital

Ultra short acting barbiturates, in general, could be considered the strongest barbiturates, as they take effect quickly and result in unconsciousness.

The weakest could be considered the long acting barbiturates because they take an hour to take effect and typically do not cause unconsciousness.

Barbiturate Abuse

Abusing barbiturates can result in dangerous consequences, as depressing the CNS can cause automatic body functions, such as your breathing or heartbeat, to stop.

There is no antidote to a barbiturate overdose, and reversing the effects of a barbiturate overdose are quite difficult.

Most individuals who abuse barbiturates take the drug in pill form. However, injecting barbiturates is not unheard of. This form of intravenous abuse can be more noticeable due to larger “track marks.”

Side Effects Of Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturate abuse comes with a list of side effects, many of which are similar to the effects of alcohol abuse.

Side effects of barbiturate abuse may include:

  • altered judgment
  • speech becomes incoherent
  • decreased inhibitions
  • inability to focus
  • difficulty concentrating
  • problems with coordination
  • vomiting
  • slowed reflexes
  • problems with sleep
  • depression
  • sexual dysfunction
  • potentially fatal overdose

Barbiturate Overdose

Small increases in barbiturate drug use can easily result in an overdose. As this type of overdose is essentially poisoning the body, it is sometimes referred to as barbiturate toxicity.

Knowing what a person who may be overdosing on barbiturates looks like could save their life.

If someone who is taking barbiturates shows any of the following symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately:

  • excessive confusion
  • memory loss
  • irritability
  • impaired alertness
  • overall inability to function

Treatment For Barbiturate Abuse Or Addiction

Substance abuse treatment centers are equipped to help individuals struggling with barbiturate abuse. These programs can assess and determine what services are necessary to achieve sobriety.

Addiction treatment programs may use intervention techniques like medically assisted detoxification programs to help the person safely adjust to functioning without drugs.

Stopping barbiturates cold turkey is not advisable, and medical detox is often necessary to prevent potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms.

Detoxification is typically followed by several months of behavioral therapy as well as continuing aftercare.

People who were using barbiturates for a medical condition can work with their doctor to find an alternative therapy while in treatment for a drug abuse disorder.

Barbiturate Frequently Asked Questions

If you would like to know more about barbiturates, including what they are and how they work, review the following FAQs.

Barbiturates are a class of sedative-hypnotic drug that acts as a central nervous system depressants.

This class of drugs was commonly used by American doctors to treat conditions like anxiety, insomnia, and seizures in the 1960s and 1970s.

Given the connection between these drugs and drug addiction, barbiturates are only applied for medical use as a last resort when other treatments fail.

Barbiturates work by binding with the GABA receptors in the brain.

These neurotransmitters have an inhibitory function, which slows down activity in the brain.

In people with anxiety and other conditions marked by increased neural activity, barbiturates help to calm those processes.

However, in high doses the inhibitory effects of barbiturates can cause drowsiness, while also slowing a person’s breathing and heart rate to dangerous levels.

General street names for barbiturates include: barbs, downers, phennies, sleepers, christmas trees, and blockbusters.

The following are some of the more common names associated with specific illicit drugs:

  • pentobarbital (Mexican yellows, yellow jackets, nembies, abbots)
  • amobarbital (blue velvet, downers, blue heaven, blue devil)
  • secobarbital (lilys, pinks, reds, red devil, seggy F-40s, pink ladies)
  • phenobarbital (goofballs, purplehearts)

Find An Addiction Recovery Program Today

Struggling with barbiturate abuse or a related substance use disorder does not have to be a life sentence. Contact us today if you or a loved one is suffering with barbiturate addiction.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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Medically Reviewed by
Johnelle Smith, M.D. on August 1, 2023


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