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Sunday, 26 February 2012


A Barbiturate is a Hypnosedative drug, commonly known as a ‘sleeping pill’, consisting of any salt or ester of barbituric acid C4H4O3N2. It works by depressing brain activity.

In 1864 the German chemist Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Adolf von Baeyer succeeded in synthesising a new organic compound. The date, December 4th coincided with the feast of Saint Barbara, and so the German name given to the substance was called “Barbitursäure” or barbituric acid.

In 1887 a powerful hypnotic (to produce sleep) called sulphonal came into medical use. Sulphonal was the first really popular drug of the Bayer Company's laboratories in Germany, and helped finance research on further hypnotics.

In 1903 the German chemist Emil Fischer and pathologist Joseph Freiherr Von Mering  introduced new hypnotics and sedatives (to produce a calming effect), that became known as barbiturates. These are derived from barbituric acid with the addition of several small hydrocarbon sidechains and they took the place of the earlier drugs such as Sulphonal.

Tolerance develops quickly in the user so that increasingly large doses are required to induce sleep. A barbiturate's action persists for hours or days, and can cause confused, aggressive behaviour or disorientation.

Overdosing causes death by inhibiting the breathing centre in the brain.

Most barbiturates, being highly addictive, are no longer prescribed and are listed as controlled substances.

Source Hutchinson Encyclopedia © RM 2012. Helicon Publishing is division of RM.

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