Sedatives are a class of drugs that are central nervous system depressants. These CNDs include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, methaqualone, as well as meprobamate. All of these medications when used at usual dosage depress the central nervous system and cause a mild analgesic effect. All drugs in this class can become both psychologically and physically addictive. They also demonstrate a cross-tolerance and potentiation of one another as well as with alcohol which is also a central nervous system depressant.
Barbiturates include drugs such as Seconal, Tuinal, Nembutal and Phenobarbital. These drugs are used medically for anesthetic, and anti-convulsant effects, as well as for sleep aids and anti-anxiety effects. They are sedative hypnotics that can be administered as recreational drugs orally or by injection and produce an intoxication similar to that of alcohol.
Barbiturate intoxication signs include:
- Lowering of inhibitions
- Elevated mood
- Increase in one's sense of self
- Increase in confidence
- Unsteady gait
- Slurred speech
- Eye twitching
- Poor judgment
Additional signs of barbiturate use include:
- Skin rashes
- Circulatory collapse
Withdrawal symptoms from these highly addictive drugs usually begin twelve to sixteen hours after abstinence.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Muscle cramps and twitching
Symptoms of acute toxicity are characterized by respiratory depression, vascular collapse, feeble rapid pulse, pulmonary edema, decreased body temperature, cyanotic skin, depressed reflexes, stupor and coma. After initial constriction of the pupils, they become dilated and death results from respiratory failure or arrest followed by cardiac arrest.
Non-barbiturate sedative hypnotics include drugs such as qualude, chloryl hydrate, methaqualone. These drugs are infrequently used medically and are seen as very dangerous because they cause a significant reduction in heart rate, respiration, and muscular coordination. Like all sedative hypnotic drugs, both barbiturates and non-barbiturates, sedative hypnotics, can create a tolerance with even a single dose. The issues with overdose and withdrawal are very similar with these two classes of drugs.
Benzodiazepines are also central nervous system depressants. These are the most widely prescribed group of drugs in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia, and include medications such as Valium, Atavan, Librium, Zanax, Lorazapam, etc. They are considered to be less dangerous than barbiturates because they are less lethal and tend to be shorter acting in nature. The peak effect tends to occur within two to four hours. They are physically addicting and upon withdrawal there may be prolonged experiences of problems with sleep, high anxiety, panic attacks and frightening dreams. They tend to be used for an anti-anxiety medication and therefore create a sense of relaxation or detachment in the user. These drugs do not produce a "high" that is often sought after by recreational drug users. They are most frequently abused by people who are addicted to other drugs, such as heroin, as a drug to minimize or reduce symptoms of withdrawal from the main drug of addiction. Addicts have also used benzodiazapine to enhance the effects of heroin, alcohol and marijuana. Benzodiazapines, when mixed with any other central nervous system depressant, including alcohol, can be toxic.