Barbiturates are depressants that produce a wide spectrum of central nervous system depression from mild sedation to coma. They have also been used as sedatives, hypnotics, anesthetics and anticonvulsants. Barbiturates are classified as ultra-short, short, intermediate or long-acting. Street names include Barbs, Block Busters, Christmas Trees, Goof Balls, Pinks, Red Devils, Reds & Blues and Yellow Jackets. Barbiturates come in a variety of multicolored pills and tablets.

Abusers prefer the short-acting and intermediate barbiturates such as Amytal® and Seconal®. Barbiturates are abused by swallowing a pill or injecting a liquid. Barbiturates are generally abused to reduce anxiety, decrease inhibitions and treat unwanted effects of illicit drugs. Barbiturates can be extremely dangerous because overdoses can occur easily and lead to death. Barbiturates cause mild euphoria, lack of inhibition, relief of anxiety and sleepiness.

Higher doses cause impairment of memory, judgment and coordination, irritability, paranoia and suicidal ideation. Tolerance develops quickly and larger doses are then needed to produce the same effect, increasing the danger of an overdose. Barbiturates slow down the central nervous system and cause sleepiness. Drugs with similar effects include alcohol, benzodiazepines like Valium® and Xanax®, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, Rohypnol® and GHB.

Effects of overdose include shallow respiration, clammy skin, dilated pupils, weak and rapid pulse, coma and possible death. Barbiturates are Schedule II, III, and IV depressants under the Controlled Substances Act. Barbiturates were first introduced for medical use in the 1900s and today about 12 substances are in medical use.