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Substance Use: Common drugs


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Barbiturates are a group of drugs that are sometimes used to treat people who have seizures or other health problems. Some examples are primidone and phenobarbital. ​Barbiturates are not prescribed often.

Barbiturates are “downers." They work by making your brain and body less active. This makes you feel sleepy or calm.

Barbiturates can affect your memory and judgment. They can also make you feel depressed, angry, very tired, and cause mood swings.​​

Dangers of barbiturates

Barbiturates are dangerous when they aren't used as prescribed.

If you take too much (overdose), barbiturates slow your breathing and heart rate. People have died from taking too much.​

Tolerance and dependence

When you use barbiturates often, you build up a tolerance, which means you need to use more to get the same effects.

If you stop using them suddenly, you can have problems sleeping, feel restless, or be irritable. The effects of suddenly stopping barbiturates may need to be treated in hospital.

Mixing with other substances​

Mixing substances is never a good idea.

It's very dangerous to take barbiturates with alcohol or heroin. Alcohol, heroin, and barbiturates all make your brain and nervous system less active. Your nervous system controls things like breathing, so if you mix substances, you are more likely to stop breathing and die.

Long-term use

Using barbiturates regularly, at higher doses, and for a long time can cause liver damage, muscle weakness, and bone pain. 


If you're concerned about your or someone else's barbiturate use, or you want to learn more about substance use, call the Addiction and Mental Health Helpline, any time of the day or night, at 1-866-332-2322 (Alberta only).​

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Current as of: June 1, 2023

Author: Poison & Drug Information Service, Alberta Health Services