A barbiturate[a] is a drug that acts as a central nervous system depressant. Barbiturates are effective as anxiolytics, hypnotics, and anticonvulsants, but have physical and psychological addiction potential as well as overdose potential among other possible adverse effects. They have largely been replaced by benzodiazepines and nonbenzodiazepines (“Z-drugs”) in routine medical practice, particularly in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia, due to the significantly lower risk of addiction and overdose and the lack of an antidote for barbiturate overdose. Despite this, barbiturates are still in use for various purposes: in general anesthesia, epilepsy, treatment of acute migraines or cluster headaches, acute tension headaches, euthanasia, capital punishment, and assisted suicide.
The name barbiturate originates from the fact that they are all chemical derivatives of barbituric acid.