Other historians have speculated that the discovery may have been named after the chemist’s favourite barmaid, Barbara. Either way, the name stuck and barbituric acid has enjoyed an infamous history ever since (Mendelson, 1980). Barbituric acid was found to have no physiological effect and it took another 40 years before chemists, Emil Fischer and Joseph von Mering, discovered that the introduction of two additional side-arms onto the molecule produced a range of compounds with marked physiological activity. It was only then that it became known that the nature of the sedative, hypnotic, or anaesthetic properties of the substance were determined by the characteristics of the side-arms attached.
The first of these di-substituted barbiturates was Veronal. Here two ethyl side-arms were added to produce diethyl-barbituric acid a weak hypnotic/ depressant which was marketed by the Bayer company as ‘Veronal’ in 1904. This was followed by phenobarbital (Luminal) in 1913. While barbituric acid is a German discovery, during the First World War when German shipping was blockaded, American chemists made use of the ‘Trading with the Enemy Act,’ to copy the work of the Germans and manufacture their own modifications of barbituric acid.
Barbiturate Sleeping Pills
In the first half of the 20th Century, barbiturates were manufactured around the world, with production peaking in the 1950s. By then there were more than 20 marketed forms of barbiturates, with most sold as sleeping tablets.