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Barbiturates and Tranquilizers
by Harl
Archived from

What are they ?

Tranquillisers and Barbiturates have two major effects. These are sedative (which decrease anxiety) and hypnotic (which help sleep). Many drugs have both effects, often having a sedative effect at low doses and a hypnotic effect at high doses.


Barbiturate sleeping pills include Tuinal, Seconal and Nembutal and are most often misused for their intoxicating effect. Becuase of this, there are less barbiturates being prescribed. Non-medically available barbiturates bought on the street originate from medical sources and are usually imported or sold by users with prescriptions. Misusers will normally take the pills orally, often taken with alcohol although they are sometimes injected. To do this the capsules are opened and the powder is added to water. The small particles of undissolved substance can cause damage to veins.

Like alcohol, barbiturates depress the central nervous system and have similar effects lasting from 3 to 8 hours depending on the dose. A small dose usually makes people feel relaxed as if they'd had one or two drinks. With larger doses the effects are more unpredictable and the sedative effects takes over. A user trying to stay awake after a moderate to large dose (several pills) will often become clumsy with poor control over speech and body, rendering them liable to accidental injury. There can be extreme and unpredictable emotional reactions and mental confusion.

Large doses can lead unconsciousness and eventually respiratory failure and death. Fatal overdose is an ever present danger as the required amount for overdose is not much more than the recommended normal dose. The effects and dangers are greatly increased if Barbiturates are taken with alcohol

Physical dependence is likely to develop with Barbiturates if a certain threshold value is exceeded. The dependence has a strong psychological as well as physical basis, and after high doses the withdrawal effects can include irritability, nervousness, inability to sleep, faintness and nausea, twitching, delirium and sometimes convulsions with may be associated with long term brain damage. Sudden withdrawl from high doses of Barbiturates can be fatal.

Heavy users are also liable to develop bronchitis and pneumonia (due to the cough reflex being depressed) and hypothermia (becuase the drug blocks normal responses to cold) and repeated accidental overdose. Most of these risks are increased if Barbiturates are injected, which is by far the most dangerous form of drug taking.


This family of drugs are used, like barbiturates to help control anxiety and tension and to help sleep. Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed of these drugs, which include Vallium, Librium and Ativan. Because they are seen to be much safer they have come to replace barbiturates for most medical purposes. These drugs are usually taken orally, although some misusers do inject, but this is usually only with Temazepam.

Benzodiazepines are the most commonly prescribed drugs in Britain. About 1 in 7 British adults take them at some time during a course of a year, and about 1 in 10 take them throughout the year. Two times as many women take them as men and many people are dependent upon them. Any of these drugs which find their way onto the black market are usually taken with alcohol to produce a greater effect.

Sedatives depress mental activity and alertness but do not generally make people as drowsy or as clumsy as Barbiturates. However, they do impair driving and similar skills involving concentration.

They can sometimes release aggression by lowering inhibitions. Any Benzodiazepines in a high enough dose can induce sleep and act as a hypnotic. The hypnotic effects can last for 3 to 6 hours but generally depend on the type of drug used.

A fatal overdose of pure Benzodiazepines is almost unheard of, but death has been reported when combined with another drug, usually alcohol. On their own sedatives produce a euphoria associated with barbiturates or alcohol, which is probably why they are not particularly popular as recreational drugs.

With benzodiazepines tolerance develops when being used for medical and non-medical use. Research has suggested that withdrawal occurs even with medical therapeutic doses, although they are not as serious as with Barbiturates. The effects of withdrawal can be unpleasant and long-lasting. They can include inability to sleep, anxiety, nausea and sometimes convulsions and mental confusion (usually after particularly high doses). Psychological dependence is common in long-term users and a life without the drug may seem very daunting. People sometimes confused, irritable and anxious and unable to carry on with their normal routine after discontinuing the drug.

For safety advice concerning injecting see below.

Legal Status

Barbiturates are mostly Schedule II in the U.S. and Class B in the U.K. Doctors can prescibe them and patients can possess them on prescription, but otherwise it is an offence to produce or possess them or to allow premises to be used for their production or supply.

Sedatives and hypnotics are Prescription Only drugs under the Medicines Act (1971), which means they can only be bought with a prescription. However, they may still be legally possessed without a prescription, although this may change in the near future due to increasing concerns about Tamazepam misuse.



Injecting drugs is a particularly dangerous way of taking substances, if at all possible it should be avoided. However if you are an injecting user the following advice should be taken:
  • Do not share needles or syringes as this can pass on HIV, Hepatitis and many other very dangerous or potentially lethal diseases. At the very least, if you do feel you have to share works make sure they are cleaned properly before someone else uses them.
  • Make sure needles and syringes are clean. Users can contract tetanus and dangerous infections from dirty syringes and needles.
  • You can never be sure what you are injecting. You may be injecting anything into your bloodstream which can cause massive damage to your veins and blood circulation system.
  • Join a needle exchange where you can get clean needles and syringes free of charge.
  • It is almost impossible to know how strong the drug is you are taking, or what your tolerance level is after you have stopped taking a drug for a while. It is very easy to overdose when injecting.

Dependence, physical and psychological

Psychological Dependence

This can happen with any substance, and for that matter with any experience which you enjoy. Psychological dependence occurs when a person feels they cannot cope with normal life without having a certain substance. However, there are no physical withdrawal symptoms if the user stops taking the drug. The craving for a substance is 'in the mind' and the substance does not produce biochemical changes in such that continued doses of the drug are needed for physical normality

Physical Dependence

This is a dependence produced by the altering of the bodies chemistry resulting from repeated administration of a drug. If a user discontinues a drug that produces physical dependence physical withdrawal symptoms will occur.