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Depressants are drugs that inhibit the function of the central nervous system and are among the most widely used drugs in the world. These drugs operate by affecting neurons in the central nervous system, which leads to symptoms such as drowsiness, relaxation, decreased inhibition, anesthesia, sleep, coma, and even death. Many depressants also have the potential to be addictive.
While depressants all share an ability to reduce activity in the central nervous system and lower levels of awareness in the brain, there are significant differences among substances within this drug class. Some are safer than others and several are routinely prescribed for medicinal purposes.
Alchohol, Barbiturates (downers), and Benzodiazepines are the three types.
Depressants will put you to sleep, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and prevent seizures.
Barbiturates are older drugs and include butalbital (Fiorina), phenobarbital, Pentothal, Seconal, and Nembutal. A person can rapidly develop dependence on and tolerance to barbiturates, meaning a person needs more and more of them to feel and function normally. This makes them unsafe, increasing the likelihood of coma or death.
Benzodiazepines were developed to replace barbiturates, though they still share many of the undesirable side effects including tolerance and dependence. Some examples are Valium, Xanax, Halcion, Ativan, Klonopin, and Restoril. Rohypnol is a benzodiazepine that is not manufactured or legally marketed in the United States, but it is used illegally.
Lunesta, Ambien, and Sonata are sedative-hypnotic medications approved for the short-term treatment of insomnia that share many of the properties of benzodiazepines. Other central nervous system depressants include meprobamate, methaqualone (Quaalude), and the illicit drug GHB.
Legitimate pharmaceutical products are diverted to the illicit market. Depressants come from the family medicine cabinet, friends, family members, the Internet, doctors, and hospitals. They come in the form of pills, syrups, and injectable liquids.
Depressants are abused to experience euphoria. Depressants are also used with other drugs to add to the other drugs' high or to deal with their side effects. Users take higher doses than people taking the drugs under a doctor's supervision for therapeutic purposes.
Depressants like GHB and Rohypnol are also misused to facilitate sexual assault.
Prolonged use of depressants can lead to physical dependence even at doses recommended for medical treatment. Unlike barbiturates, large doses of benzodiazepines are rarely fatal unless combined with other drugs or alcohol. But unlike the withdrawal syndrome seen with most other drugs of abuse, withdrawal from depressants can be life threatening.
Barbiturates are classified as:
Barbiturates were first introduced for medical use in the 1900s, and today about 12 substances are in medical use.
Barbiturates come in a variety of multicolored pills and tablets. Users prefer the short-acting and intermediate barbiturates such as Amytal and Seconal.
Barbiturates are Schedule II, III, and IV depressants
Common street names include Benzos and Downers.
The most common benzodiazepines are the prescription drugs Valium, Xanax, Halcion, Ativan, and Klonopin. Tolerance can develop, although at variable rates and to different degrees.
Shorter-acting benzodiazepines used to manage insomnia include estazolam (ProSom), flurazepam (Dalmane), temazepam (Restoril), and triazolam (Halcion). Midazolam (Versed), a short-acting benzodiazepine, is utilized for sedation, anxiety, and amnesia in critical care settings and prior to anesthesia.
Benzodiazepines with a longer duration of action are utilized to treat insomnia in patients with daytime anxiety. These benzodiazepines include alprazolam (Xanax), chlordiazepoxide (Librium), clorazepate (Tranxene), diazepam (Valium), halazepam (Paxipam), lorzepam (Ativan), oxazepam (Serax), prazepam (Centrax), and quazepam (Doral). Clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam, and clorazepate are also used as anticonvulsants.
Abuse is frequently associated with adolescents and young adults who take the drug orally or crush it up and snort it to get high. Abuse is particularly high among heroin and cocaine users.
Benzodiazepines are Schedule IV
DEA resource guide (PDF page 56 of 94):
Benzodiazepine to Diazepam Equivalence: