Alere is now Abbott



Barbiturates are sedatives that can produce a wide spectrum of effects, from mild sedation to total anaesthesia that have historically been used as anxiolytics and hypnotics.

Today they have been largely replaced by benzodiazepines in routine medical practice because barbiturates are extremely toxic in overdose and have a high risk of addiction and abuse. However, barbiturates are still used as anticonvulsants, as para-operative sedatives and analgesics for cluster headaches and migraines.

Barbiturates used to be a regular feature of the UK drugs scene, but because there is very little prescribing and no illicitly made varieties around, fortunately little is seen of them these days.



Usually taken as tablets but they also exist as powder or gel in capsules, or in a liquid form suitable for oral use.



Barbiturates can come in a liquid form suitable for injection. Some people also crush or melt tablets or capsules, so that they can be injected.

Small or medium doses:

  • Lowers anxiety and makes the person calm and relaxed
  • Makes you sociable and good humoured
  • Assists sleep by depressing the central nervous system

Large doses:

  • Increased hostility
  • Anxiety
  • Slurred speech
  • May affect co-ordination
  • Lethargy

There is a high risk of overdose because the lethal dose is quite close to the 'normal' dose level. Further increased if used in combination with other depressants such as alcohol, heroin or other tranquillisers.

Dependence with severe withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Seizures
  • Low blood pressure
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia


  • Injecting tablets is a major cause of collapsed veins which can lead to infection and abscess
  • Contracting a blood borne virus (if sharing needles)
Barbiturate tablets


Molecular structure of phenobarbital

Street Names

sleepers, barbies, barbs, downers, blue devils, red devils, gorillas, nembies, pink ladies

Legal Status

Class B Substance

Possession of the drug can lead to up to five years in jail, an unlimited fine or both. Supplying the drug can lead to up to 14 years in jail, an unlimited fine or both.

For more information about drug classifications and the associated penalties visit the Home Office website.