You are here:

Got a relationships question?

worried girl

Get expert help on mates, dating, being in a couple and family life.

Next Steps

  • Talk to Frank - Free information and advice about drugs.
    Tel: 0800 776600
  • Release - Advice on drugs and legal problems
    Tel: 020 7749 4034

Related articles

Sleeping disorders

Counting sheep isn't going to cure this little lot, but there are other treatments.

Pharmaceutical misuse

Find out the facts before you start abusing that prescription.

Drugs and the law

Know the score before a brush with the law.

Connect with us on

  • connect with us on facebook
  • connect with us on twitter
  • connect with us on youtube
Are you prepared for the Morning After?

Find out about your hazy relationship with drink and sex.

Our Community

Girl thinking

Need someone to talk to? Check out our message boards - a safe space to talk about whatever's on your mind :)

Local advice finder

Search our database of more than 16,500 local, regional and national organisations which offer advice and support.

Latest articles



These drugs used to be widely prescribed for insomnia, but dangerous misuse changed that. So what are the effects and the risks of taking barbiturates and are they legal?

Barbiturates were once commonly prescribed by doctors for anxiety, depression or insomnia. However, the difference between a standard dose and a fatal dose is small, and deaths due to misuse or deliberate suicides led to their being largely replaced by tranquillisers.  Barbiturates are usually available in tablet form, or, alternatively, as ampoules, suppositories or syrup.

What effects do barbiturates have?

  • Barbiturates have a strong sedative effect. They work by depressing the central nervous system.
  • In small doses barbiturates help people relax and some people report feelings of euphoria.
  • Larger doses can give rise to a drunken feeling (slurred speech, clumsiness, and unconsciousness).

What are the risks of taking barbiturates?

  • Tolerance can quickly develop, which means regular users need more to get the effects they want.
  • There is serious risk of overdose. This can kill.
  • Mixing barbiturates with even small amounts of alcohol, heroin or tranquillisers can also be fatal.
  • Repeated use can lead to psychological and physical dependency.
  • Withdrawal from barbiturates can be difficult. Symptoms include irritability, nervousness, inability to sleep, nausea, and even convulsions.
  • Sudden withdrawal from high doses can be fatal.
  • Heavy users are also liable to bronchitis and pneumonia (because the cough reflex is suppressed) as well as hypothermia.

The law and barbiturates:

Barbiturates are a Class B drug and only legally available on prescription.

Barbiturates are also known as:

Barbs, barbies, blue bullets, blue devils, dolls, gorillas, nembies, pink ladies, red devils, sleepers, seccies and downers. Specific brand names are also sometimes used, such as Seconal and Tuinal.  

If you are planning on taking barbiturates:

  • You place yourself at greater risk of accidents, either to yourself or other people.
  • There is a high risk of overdose because the lethal dose is quite close to the standard dose. Ten tablets may be fatal and this risk is greater if barbiturate use is combined with the use of other downer drugs such as alcohol, heroin or tranquillisers.

Updated: 16/10/2009

  • Print this page
  • Share/Bookmark

We use cookies to make your experience of better. To accept cookies use 'continue', to find out how to get rid of them use 'manage cookies'.

continue manage cookies