Along with the original Veronal, there was Barbital, Amytal, Seconal, Soneryl, Nembutal and several others.
While these barbiturates were highly effective sleeping tablets, a significant problem was the very serious side-effect associated with their overdose - death. This was found to be especially true if the pills were taken with alcohol. Many famous people have died - some deliberately, some inadvertently - from an overdose of barbiturates. Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Jimmy Hendrix are a few.
Fig 16.3: Amylobarbital (Amytal) sleeping tablets
Barbiturates as Drugs of Abuse
In the 1960s, the image of barbiturates suffered further when they were found to be useful mood-altering drugs. At this time, the depressant effect of the drugs was exploited. By carefully adjusting the dose, a desirable soporific and tranquil state could be achieved and they became known as ‘downers.’ As downers, barbiturates would often be intermixed with ‘uppers’ - drugs like amphetamines. This type of usage led to a set of slang street terms for these drugs such as ‘Pink Ladies’, ‘Yellow Bullets’, ‘Peanuts’ and ‘Dolls’ (from Barbie dolls) (Mendelson, 1980).