Barbiturates Effects On The Body

Barbiturates are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. They’re commonly called sedatives, depressants, barbs, and downers. Barbiturates, though legal in the US when prescribed by a doctor, are frequently abused, and users face a substantial risk of addiction. Keep reading to learn more about the effects of barbiturates.

Barbiturate Effects

Effects of Barbiturates on the Body

  • Depressed smooth muscle nerves—lowering of heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure
  • Depressed skeletal muscle nerves—problems with balance and locomotion
  • Diminished brain function—slurred speech, impaired judgement
  • Altered emotional responses—erratic and unpredictable behavior

In low doses, barbiturates initially produce a pleasantly relaxed state of body and mind. Symptoms can resemble drunkenness: slurred speech, erratic behavior, locomotion problems, and lowered inhibitions. In fact, “truth serum” is a barbiturate called sodium pentothal, which lowers inhibitions and makes the user more talkative. In higher doses they can cause nausea, vomiting, fainting, and cause complications that can lead to death.

Dangers of Barbiturate Use and Abuse

Common Complications with Barbiturate Abuse

  • Inflamed airways—lungs are unable to clear out contaminants and are susceptible to pneumonia.
  • Brain damage and respiratory failure—caused by high doses.
  • Accidental overdose—barbiturate abusers react differently to barbiturates at different times, and can easily become confused and lose track of how many tablets they’ve taken.

Long-term Health Problems

  • Liver damage—barbiturates can both cause liver problems, as well as worsen existing liver conditions. Side effects such as hepatitis, liver failure, and bile obstruction have been reported as effects of long-term use.
  • Heart damage—pulmonary vessel dilation, weakened heart contractions, and blood pooling are likely to occur from long-term use.
  • Central Nervous System damage—Barbiturates often produce a hangover-like effect. Users may feel “fuzzy” and dizzy after taking them. There may be depression, irritability, and memory problems. Users have reported impotence, tics, decreased attention span, and an inability to complete tasks that require sustained performance. There may be a loss of physical coordination, slurred speech, and irregular reflexes.


One of the most dangerous aspects of barbiturate abuse and addiction is that when combined with other substances, such as, heroin or alcohol, the depressive effects are greater than either substance would produce if taken alone. This can result in unintentional overdose and death.

Treatment for Barbiturate Addiction

Barbiturate Detox and Withdrawal

Over time, barbiturates cause dependence, which means detoxing from barbiturates is particularly challenging. Barbiturate detox should be done gradually under professional care, ideally in a residential facility. Withdrawal can cause seizures, hallucinations, hostility, aggression, and psychosis—without adequate treatment, hypothermia can also occur, as well as circulatory failure, and death.

Treatment for Barbiturate Addiction

Continued recovery from barbiturate addiction also involves psychological and spiritual healing. Long-term barbiturate users don’t only develop a physical dependence, but psychological dependence as well. Residential addiction treatment for barbiturates, including psychological treatment and counseling, ensures the best chance for long-term abstinence.