How Long Do Barbiturates Stay in Your System?

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Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotic drugs that may be prescribed for controlling seizures, acute migraine, and in medical anesthesia. They are very hazardous when interacting with alcohol, opiates, and other sedating drugs. If you are prescribed barbiturates, you need to know how to avoid interactions and overdoses.

How Long Barbiturates Remain in Your System

If you have been prescribed barbiturates and you will be having a toxicology screen for employment or other purposes, be sure to disclose to the testing authority which medications you are taking. Barbiturates are often part of the typical screening panel. By disclosing your prescriptions the lab and pathologist will be able to better interpret the results.

Several factors are involved in determining how long barbiturates are detectable in the body, including which kind drug test is being used.

Detection Windows

Depending on the type of test used, barbiturates can be detected for as long as:

  • Blood: 72 hours
  • Saliva: 3 days
  • Urine: 6 weeks
  • Hair follicle: 3 months

There are a number of factors that play a role in how long barbiturates can be detected in your system, including your body mass index, hydration levels, age, food intake, sex, metabolism, the amount taken, and the frequency of use.

How Long Barbiturates Affect You

Because barbiturates come in many different formulations, they vary quite a bit in how long they stay in your system. Barbiturates come in ultra-short acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting formulations. Amobarbital and butalbital are intermediate-acting while pentobarbital and secobarbital are short-acting. This influences how long they stay in your system. The shorter-acting varieties have a short half-life and are eliminated from the body faster. Discuss the time frames of the specific drug with your doctor.

Other medications and substances can influence the effect that barbiturates have. Tell your doctor about any other prescriptions or other substances you are taking so your dosage can be adjusted.

Never start or stop taking any medication without discussing it with your doctor. Substances that may interact with barbiturates include medications for anxiety, depression, pain, asthma, colds, or allergies, blood thinners, hormone replacement therapy, oral steroids, and any sleeping pills.

Do not drink alcohol while taking barbiturates until your doctor has said it is allowable and it what ways and amounts. There is a large danger of overdose when you drink alcohol while any barbiturates are still in your system.

When taking a prescription of a barbiturate such as phenobarbital, do not suddenly stop taking it or you may go through withdrawal. It is important that you work with your doctor for an appropriate dosing schedule if the medication is going to be discontinued.

Types of Barbiturates

Common types are Amytal (amobarbital), Fiorinal (butalbital), Nembutal (pentobarbital), Donnatal (phenobarbital), and Seconal (Secobarbital). 

Besides appropriate medical uses, they are also diverted as drugs of abuse, either by themselves or mixed with other drugs. Street names for barbiturates include downers, blue heavens, yellow jackets, purple hearts, reds, and rainbows.

You can look up the specific drug you are taking to see the precautions for that medication on the Medication Guide on the FDA website.

Preventing Barbiturate Intoxication or Overdose

Barbiturates work by slowing activity in the brain. They cause relaxation and sleepiness. Because Barbiturates are depressants, even low doses can cause someone to seem like they are drunk or intoxicated.

The risk of overdose is great, especially when combined with alcohol or opiates. Mixing with those substances can result in overdose, coma, and death. If you are prescribed barbiturates, discuss this with your doctor.

Symptoms of Barbiturate Intoxication and Overdose

Symptoms of barbiturate intoxication and overdose can include:

  • Altered level of consciousness
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Drowsiness or coma
  • Faulty judgment
  • Incoordination
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slowness of speech
  • Sluggishness
  • Slurred speech
  • Staggering

If someone you know has taken an overdose and seems extremely tired or has breathing problems, call 9-1-1 or the National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222).

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Skibiski J, Abdijadid M. Barbiturates.

  2. Toxicology Screen. National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus.

  3. Fritch D, Blum K, Nonnemacher S, Kardos K, Buchhalter AR, Cone EJ. Barbiturate detection in oral fluid, plasma, and urine. Ther Drug Monit. 2011;33(1):72-9. doi:10.1097/FTD.0b013e3182018151

  4. Barbiturate Intoxication and Overdose. National Institutes of Health. MedlinePlus.

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.