top of page



Barbiturates were first introduced for medical use in the early 1900s. More than 2,500 barbiturates have been synthesized, and at the height of their popularity, about 50 were marketed for human use. Today, about a dozen are in medical use. Barbiturates produce a wide spectrum of central nervous system depression, from mild sedation to coma, and have been used as sedatives, hypnotics, anesthetics, and anticonvulsants. The primary differences among many of these products are how fast they produce an effect and how long those effects last. Barbiturates are classified as ultrashort, short, intermediate, and long-acting.


The ultrashort-acting barbiturates produce anesthesia within about one minute after intravenous administration.


Those in current medical use are:


Schedule IV drug

  • methohexital (Brevital®)

  • phenobarbital (Luminal®)

  • mephobarbital (Mebaral®


Schedule III drugs

  • thiamyl (Surital®) 

  • thiopental (Pentothal®)

  • butalbital (Fiorina®)

  • butabarbital (Butisol®)

  • talbutal (Lotusate®)

  • aprobarbital (Alurate®)


Barbiturate abusers prefer the Schedule II short-acting and intermediate-acting barbiturates that include

  • amobarbital (Amyta®) 

  • pentobarbital (Nembutal®)

  • secobarbital (Seconal®)

  • Tuinal (an amobarbital/secobarbital combination product)


After oral administration, the onset of action is from 15 to 60 minutes, and the effects last up to twelve hours. These drugs are primarily used for insomnia and preoperative sedation. Veterinarians use pentobarbital for anesthesia and euthanasia.


Information from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.



bottom of page