What Is Nembutal, and How Is It Abused?

Nembutal (pentobarbital) belongs to the class of drugs known as the barbiturates.

Barbiturates are central nervous system depressant drugs that are often referred to as sedative-hypnotic. because, at small doses, they help to initiate sleep (like sedatives ), and at higher doses, they can treat issues with anxiety .

The major uses of Nembutal are as a short-term treatment for sleeplessness (most often used to help people fall asleep but not as useful in helping people stay asleep), in the treatment of anxiety, as an pharmacological agents used in the treatment of epileptic seizures in emergency situations, and as a preanesthetic before to surgery. The drug has also been used to reduce damages within the skull in cases of terrible brain injury and as a hastening of death drug for both animals and humans, including use in state executions of criminals. Any drug that can be used to euthanize animals or people is obviously potentially dangerous in high doses.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration classifies Nembutal as a Schedule II controlled substance, recognizing that the drug has some important medical uses but is also a major candidate for the development of abuse and physical dependence.



The federal government put restrictions on the use of barbiturates in 1970 due to their extreme potential for abuse and physical dependence. Benzodiazepines, which at that time were a newer class of drugs that were believed to be less prone to abuse, have assumed most of the uses that were assigned to barbiturates prior to 1970.  

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) estimates for 2015, only about 452,000 individuals over the age of 12 in the United States used barbiturate drugs, and an estimated 46,000 of these individuals may have misused a barbiturate at least once. Misuse of a drug is not the same thing as abuse. The type of drug abuse that occurs in individuals with substance use disorders represents a chronic and longstanding misuse of a drug that leads to significant distress and/or impairment in the person’s ability to function normally. Simple misuse often only occurs a few times or on an occasional basis when an individual uses a drug in a manner that is inconsistent with its intended purposes. 

SAMHSA also reports that barbiturates are most commonly used in hospital settings or clinics. When they are prescribed, barbiturates are more commonly prescribed to elderly people or women.

Abuse of barbiturates most often occurs in individuals who do not have a prescription for the drug, but get it illegally. Younger people, such as adolescents, demonstrated a minor trend of increasing barbiturate abuse previously, but this trend has leveled off. Adolescents most likely get barbiturate drugs like Nembutal from their parents, a friend with a prescription, or an elderly relative with a prescription (most often by stealing it).  

Barbiturates are not normally the primary drug of abuse for individuals who abuse these substances. Instead, barbiturates and even benzodiazepines are more commonly abused in conjunction with other drugs. The most common drug that is abused with barbiturates is alcohol, although it is not uncommon for abusers to mix barbiturates with other barbiturates, benzodiazepines, narcotic pain medications, or nonprescription drugs including cannabis products. Because these drugs are often abused in conjunction with other drugs, the potential to develop very complicated issues with substance use disorders is increased.

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