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Guide to Nembutal

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

July 8, 2022

Table of Contents

Nembutal (pentobarbital) belongs to barbiturate class of drugs.

Barbiturates are CNS depressants also known as sedative-hypnotic drugs. At low doses, it helps to induce sleep (sedative effects) while at higher doses, Nembutal can alleviate the symptoms of anxiety (hypnotic effects).

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What Is Nembutal?

Nembutal was a branded version of pentobarbital manufactured by Abbott Pharmaceutical. Manufacture of Nembutal was discontinued in 1999 as barbiturates were largely replaced by benzodiazepines.

A short-acting barbiturate, the drug is typically used for the following applications:

  • Sedative
  • Pre-anesthetic
  • Anticonvulsive
  • Insomnia

Pentobarbital in the form of Nembutal was widely abused, nicknamed yellow jackets for the color of the capsules.

Beyond these applications, pentobarbital is used:

  • To reduce pressure inside the skull following TBI (traumatic brain injury).
  • As a euthanasia drug in humans and animals.
  • In the state executions of criminals.

Nembutal drug is fatal in high doses and classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. Like all drugs under this schedule, Nembutal has some important medical utility while also having a strong potential for abuse, physical dependence, and addiction.

How Does it Work?

Pentobarbital use is never recommended without a prescription. While this barbiturate has some medical benefits, it is also highly addictive.

Acting as both a sedative and a hypnotic, pentobarbital can be prescribed for the short-term treatment of insomnia. This drug is not normally a first-line treatment for insomnia as the drug becomes ineffective after two weeks. It is also not safe to take the drug long-term due to its addictive properties.

Beyond this, Nembutal can be used in emergency interventions for seizure and to induce sleep in patients undergoing surgery.

Side Effects

You should seek immediate medical assistance in the event of an allergic reaction following the use of Nembutal. Look for signs of:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling of face, tongue, lips, or throat
  • Hives

Nembutal can trigger the following serious side effects requiring medical attention:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Shallow breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Slow heart rate
  • Lightheadedness

Older adults or those with chronic medical conditions may experience depression, confusion, or excitement after taking the drug.

Additional common side effects include:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of coordination and balance
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Overactive reflexes
  • Restlessness
  • Overexcitement

The Dangers of Nembutal Abuse

The federal government placed restrictions on the use of barbiturates in 1970 due to their high potential for abuse and physical dependence. At the time, benzodiazepines were a new class of drug believed to have less abuse potential. Resultantly, most uses previously assigned to barbiturates were reassigned to benzos.

Many cases of barbiturate abuse occur among those who do not have a supporting prescription.

When barbiturates like Nembutal are abused, they are not usually the primary drug of abuse. Like benzos, sedative-hypnotics are most abused in combination with other drugs.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance among those also abusing barbiturates. It is also abused in conjunction with:

  • Marijuana
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Other barbiturates
  • Narcotic opioid painkillers

These forms of combined abuse can lead to complications with substance use disorders and subsequent treatment.

What Are the Effects of Nembutal Abuse?

Abusing this drug can trigger the following adverse outcomes:

  • Development of tolerance, physical dependence, and withdrawal.
  • Slow and slurred speech
  • Impaired motor coordination
  • Unsteady gait
  • Problems with balance
  • Slowed breathing rate
  • Issues with logic and reasoning
  • Aggression
  • Lethargy
  • Sedation
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma
  • Chronic respiratory suppression
  • Damage to central nervous system
  • Brain damage
  • Life-threatening overdose
  • Significant problems in personal and professional life
  • Development of substance use disorder

Is It Possible to Overdose on Nembutal?

Nembutal overdose can be fatal as too much of the drug can shut down the areas of the brain that govern heart rate and breathing.

Taking high doses of the drug can lead you to fall into a coma with potentially deadly consequences. In the event of surviving this type of coma, you may incur severe brain damage due to the reduced oxygen delivery to key areas of the brain.

Nembutal overdose brings on the following effects:

  • Confusion
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Decreased breathing rate
  • Unconsciousness
  • Coma

A Nembutal overdose delivers the same effects as a dose of pentobarbital used for the purposes of euthanasia.

The risk of overdose is significantly heightened when Nembutal is taken in combination with other depressants of the central nervous system.

Nembutal Withdrawal

During detox from Nembutal abuse, the withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous due to the potential onset of DTs (delirium tremens). This is similar to the delirium tremens that occurs as the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. Symptoms include:

  • Visual hallucinations
  • Severe confusion
  • Tremors
  • Seizure

If you have been abusing substances long-term, a tapered withdrawal can be effective. This involves administering a long-acting benzodiazepine or barbiturate to mitigate withdrawal symptoms. Next, the dosage of Nembutal is gradually tapered, allowing you to become accustomed to lower doses without withdrawal symptoms presenting. Nembutal use can eventually be discontinued.

Treatment for Addiction

Detox and withdrawal is the first step in treatment for addiction.

With your body purged of the toxins and toxic metabolites left behind by abuse, you should engage with an inpatient or outpatient treatment program. This will allow you to address the powerful psychological component of substance use disorder.

For those with mild or moderate addictions and a stable, supportive home environment, outpatient rehab would likely make the best fit.

If you are struggling with a severe substance use disorder, or if you have a co-occurring mental health disorder, you may find inpatient treatment offers the most favorable outcomes.

Either way, take action by detoxing from substances at a medical detox center then commit to ongoing recovery barbiturate-free.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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