summer slump sale Save up to 40% today
Medicine (MD/DO)
Substance Use Disorders

Master Barbiturates with Picmonic for Medicine

With Picmonic, facts become pictures. We've taken what the science shows - image mnemonics work - but we've boosted the effectiveness by building and associating memorable characters, interesting audio stories, and built-in quizzing.


Recommended Picmonics

picmonic thumbnail
Phenobarbital (Barbiturates)
picmonic thumbnail
Benzodiazepines Overview
picmonic thumbnail
Short-acting Benzodiazepines
picmonic thumbnail
Benzodiazepine Antidote
picmonic thumbnail
Opioids Overview


Barbiturates are medications with a wide range of use and side effects. They can be remembered by having "barb" in their names, such as phenobarbital and pentobarbital. They are indicated for seizure treatment, and are effective against simple and complex partial seizures, as well as generalized tonic-clonic seizures. The barbiturate thiopental is a very fast acting medication used for anesthesia induction. These drugs work by potentiating GABAA, leading to increased chloride channel opening duration. This increased chloride channel opening duration leads to decreased neuronal firing. It should be remembered that barbiturates increase the duration of chloride channel opening, whereas benzodiazepines increase the frequency of chloride channel opening. Side effects of this class of drug include sedation and grogginess. A severe side effect is respiratory and cardiac depression, which can progress to respiratory arrest and low blood pressure in patients who overdose or recreationally use barbiturates. CNS depression may also occur, and abuse with ethanol can cause additive adverse effects, as barbiturates and ethanol both act on GABAA receptors. Finally, these drugs induce the cytochrome P450 enzyme complex and may affect the metabolism of other medications.
Barb- Drug Names
Barb-wire Barbara-dolls

Barbiturates can be remembered for having "barb" in their names. Common examples are phenobarbital, pentobarbital, and secobarbital, with the anesthetic thiopental being the exception.

Seizure Treatment

Barbiturates such as phenobarbital are indicated for seizures. They are used to treat epilepsy and are effective against simple and complex partial seizures as well as generalized tonic-clonic seizures..

Anesthesia Induction
A-nest Induction-duck

Ultra-short-acting barbiturates can be used for anesthesia induction, exemplified by thiopental. Thiopental is administered intravenously and has been nicknamed the "truth serum" as it may influence patients to divulge sensitive information.

Increased Duration of Cl- Channel Opening
Up-arrow Open-late-clock on Chlorine-dispenser Channel

Barbiturates work by allosterically modulating GABAA receptors. This modulation leads to increased efficacy of GABA, causing an increase in the duration of Cl- channel opening. In contrast to these drugs, benzodiazepines increase the frequency of Cl- channel opening.
"Barb opens her chloride channel for a long duration, nice and slow."

Decrease Neuron Firing
Throwing out Down-arrow Nerve on Fire

By increasing Cl- channel opening duration, neuronal firing is decreased.


Barbiturates, in the past, were used to treat insomnia and anxiety. They are no longer for these purposes, as patients were left sedated and groggy. Patients often complain of feeling "hungover."

Cardiovascular and Respiratory Depression
Deflated Heart and Lungs

Barbiturates often mimic ethanol and can lead to severe respiratory and cardiovascular depression. This effect is often displayed as respiratory arrest and low blood pressure in patients who abuse these drugs.

CNS Depression
Deflated CNS-brain

This side effect occurs with overdose and can also be seen with concurrent ethanol use. Barbiturates bind to GABAA, as does ethanol, explaining their additive effects. Patients can display ataxia, dizziness, impaired judgment, and can progress to death.

P450 inducer
Pea-450 Inducer-rocket

These medications induce cytochrome P450. P450 enzymes assist in removing many drugs from the bloodstream. When these enzymes are increased, the clearance of such drugs from the blood is also increased. Therefore, barbiturates can shorten the effects of other administered drugs, making them less effective.


Take the Barbiturates Quiz

Picmonic's rapid review multiple-choice quiz allows you to assess your knowledge.

It's worth every penny

Our Story Mnemonics Increase Mastery and Retention

Memorize facts with phonetic mnemonics

Unforgettable characters with concise but impactful videos (2-4 min each)

Memorize facts with phonetic mnemonics

Ace Your Medicine (MD/DO) Classes & Exams with Picmonic:

Over 1,900,000 students use Picmonic’s picture mnemonics to improve knowledge, retention, and exam performance.

Choose the #1 Medicine (MD/DO) student study app.

Picmonic for Medicine (MD/DO) covers information that is relevant to your entire Medicine (MD/DO) education. Whether you’re studying for your classes or getting ready to conquer the USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2 CK, COMLEX Level 1, or COMLEX Level 2, we’re here to help.

Works better than traditional Medicine (MD/DO) flashcards.

Research shows that students who use Picmonic see a 331% improvement in memory retention and a 50% improvement in test scores.