List of Barbiturates

Barbiturates or barbituates are in the same classification as benzodiazepines (Valium, Librium and more) and act as depressants on the central nervous system, which basically means that barbiturates decrease excitability in the brain to produce a calming and sedative effect. They are not as widely prescribed today as they once were, but they play a role in medical processes such as anesthesia in hospitals. Moreover, these drugs have been used to euthanize animals. Barbiturates are addictive, and also, continued use tends to produce a plateau so that one has to keep increasing the dosage in order to achieve the desired results.

An overhead view of an open pill bottle and a prescription. Credit: miflippo/iStock/Getty Images

Very Short Duration

Barbiturates are categorized in terms of the length of time that the effects last. The duration classification, therefore, is based on three categories: very short duration, short duration, and long duration. Examples of this quick effect include thiamylal (Surital), methohexital (Brevital), and sodium thiopental (Pentothal). The effects of this class of drugs occur within 20 minutes of administration. Their short and quick results make this type of barbiturate an effective and efficient drug for pre-surgical induction of patients for general anesthesia in the operating room.


Short-acting barbiturates take longer (up to 40 minutes) than the very short types to be activated, but they then last for an extended period of time (five to six hours) in contrast to the drugs of very short duration. Such short duration drugs are: amobarbital (Amytal), apropbarbital (Alurate), butobarbital (Butisol), phentoarbital (Nembutal), and secobarbital (Seconal). Phentobarbital is the substance that is used in certain cases by veterinarians to euthanize or "put down" an animal. Additionally, these substances have been abused for recreational purposes.


Barbiturates that are long-acting are typically used for sedation as well as to decrease seizure activity, Examples of the long duration types include mephobarbital (Mebaral), methylophenobarbital (Prominal), phenobarbital (Luminal). These drugs can last from several hours to several days, which magnifies the need for monitoring this type of substance. Abuse of barbiturates can result in respiratory arrest and even death, thus, it is crucial that they are taken under the supervision of a physician.

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