Luminal, the brand name for phenobarbital, is one of the oldest anti-seizure medications in existence. After the first barbiturate was developed in 1902, phenobarbital was brought to market in 1912 by German scientists. For the first half of the 20th century, it remained the predominant drug doctors prescribed to treat seizures, insomnia, and epilepsy.
When the detrimental effects of Luminal and other barbiturates became widely known in the 1960s, the medical establishment opted for benzodiazepines. Still, this old-guard medication retained utility as doctors and veterinarians continued to use it to treat epilepsy in humans and animals.
It is even included on the World Health Organization’s List of Essential Medicines, which details the most effective and safest medicines needed in a health system.
However, the medication has gained notoriety as an end-of-life option for terminally ill patients in physician-assisted suicides. In fact, the drug was often employed by Nazi scientists to enact alarming euthanasia crimes. When 39 members of the UFO religious cult Heaven’s Gate committed mass suicide in 1997, authorities concluded that they consumed phenobarbital mixed with applesauce before washing it down with vodka.
Luminal is a paradox. On the one hand, it has a demonstrated ability to treat a variety of conditions, but it also, when taken in large doses or combined with alcohol or other drugs, possesses a chilling lethality. What’s more, it is also highly addictive. Recreational users flock to Luminal to experience its sedative and euphoric effects.
Ultimately, Luminal addiction could prove fatal.
What Is Luminal?
As the brand name for phenobarbital, Luminal is a barbiturate anticonvulsant hypnotic. It is a utilitarian medication primarily prescribed to curtail control seizure disorders. Luminal is also used to treat people with anxiety, fear, or insomnia, and it is administered to people in addiction treatment for benzodiazepine or alcohol abuse. Doctors also prescribe it to sedate patients before surgery.
Luminal can be taken in capsule, tablet or elixir form. It can also be injected into a muscle. Like other central nervous system (CNS) depressants, Luminal slows down brain and nervous system activity. And, like other barbiturates, it acts on the brain’s gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors to produce feelings of calm.
What’s more, it is considered one of the longest-acting barbiturates because of its ability to remain in the body for a long time. Phenobarbital has a half-life of two to seven days.
What Are the Signs of Luminal Addiction?
Luminal is generally prescribed for short-term use, which is usually no longer than two weeks. A physician should review any use that exceeds that span. When someone takes Luminal longer than necessary or at exceedingly high doses, its addictive properties take hold.
When Luminal is misused in this fashion, it produces calming and euphoric effects. Chronic misuse of the drug will cause the brain to stop producing GABA on its own, which causes users to “crash” and experience rebound symptoms.
Someone Who Is Addicted to Luminal Will Exhibit Discernible Signs and Symptoms That Come with Barbiturate Abuse. Those Include:
- Intoxication (similar to that of alcohol)
- Shallow breathing
- Slurred speech
- Chronic fatigue
- Memory loss
- Poor judgment
- Mood swings
- Motor control problems
- Physical coordination problems, such as clumsiness
- Cloudy thinking
- Reduced emotional reactions
- Impotence in men
As with any substance misuse disorder, users will build up a tolerance to Luminal and require larger doses to experience that euphoria. Addiction presents itself when people use in the face of dangers such as health or legal troubles. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that addiction is “characterized by an inability to stop using a drug; failure to meet work, social, or family obligations; and, sometimes (depending on the drug), tolerance and withdrawal.”
People Struggling With a Luminal Addiction Will Display Some If Not Most Of These Signs:
- Strong cravings for Luminal
- Taking Luminal for longer periods than prescribed
- Feeling unable to quit despite repeated attempts
- Taking Luminal to avoid withdrawal symptoms
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when Luminal is not taken
- Hiding Luminal use from family, friends, and/or colleagues
- Compulsive desire to obtain Luminal, like participating in “doctor shopping”
- Using Luminal with alcohol or other drugs
- Continued use despite professional, academic, health, and/or legal consequences
- Financial troubles due to buying and using Luminal
When someone stops using Luminal, they will experience withdrawal symptoms common with all barbiturates including anxiety, muscle twitching, uncontrollable shaking of a part of the body, weakness, and dizziness.
They can also experience changes in vision, confusion, nausea, vomiting, difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, seizures, dizziness, or fainting when getting up from a lying position. Withdrawal symptoms can be experienced within 24 hours after the last use. Such conditions will cause someone to resume Luminal use, which puts them at risk for accidental barbiturate overdose, and that can be fatal.
If you or a loved one has a Luminal addiction, then it is imperative that you seek professional addiction treatment to stop use. As with other barbiturate addictions, attempting to go “cold turkey” by quitting on your own can be life-threatening.
How Is Luminal Addiction Treated?
Barbiturates such as Luminal pack unpredictable, life-threatening withdrawal symptoms like hallucinations, seizures, delirium, and suicidal behavior. The first and most effective step in treating your Luminal addiction is to undergo medical detoxification.
A medically supervised detox will ensure that Luminal is safely and comfortably removed from your body. Once the barbiturate is cleared from your system, you will be carefully monitored by an experienced team of clinicians who will help you determine the next steps of your recovery journey.
Because addiction is a disorder of the brain, it is essential that the next step of your recovery address the root cause of your addiction. For severe cases, a stay at a facility where you can receive therapy and counseling is highly recommended. This phase of treatment is referred to as residential treatment.
A stay at a residential treatment facility typically lasts between 30 days and 90 days. However, NIDA recommends that the treatment process take the full 90 days from detox to completion. This time frame has been shown to produce the best results.
If your recovery can be managed while you fulfill family, work, or school obligations, then you will be directed toward an outpatient treatment program. In either scenario, you will be linked to a healing community and gain access to an array of treatment modalities, which include:
- Individual and group therapy
- Stress management
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Behavioral therapy
- Addiction education workshops
- Relapse prevention planning
The goal is to provide you with a holistic treatment program that addresses your mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. Our staff will provide you with strategies to maintain your sobriety and avoid relapse.
How Dangerous Is Luminal Abuse?
The fact that Luminal is used as an end-of-life medication in physician-assisted suicides illuminates its lethal nature. As with all barbiturates, it does not take much to suffer a Luminal overdose.
If You or Someone You Know Is Using the Drug Excessively, Then You Should Look For These Overdose Signs:
- Cold, clammy skin
- Changes in pupil size
- Slowed breathing
- Fast or rapid breathing
- Coordination loss
- Uncontrolled eye movements
- Body temperature drops
Overdose can be fatal when you use Luminal with alcohol or other depressants. Again, barbiturate overdoses can be fatal in general, so it is critical that you seek prompt medical attention. Call 911 for help or get the affected person to the nearest emergency room.
Luminal Abuse Statistics
- Phenobarbital overdose resulted in 1,493 emergency room admissions in the U.S. in 2010; that same year barbiturates were responsible for 396 deaths.
- In the U.S., there are 3,000-plus deaths every year from barbiturate overdose, with 42% of those deaths classified as suicides. The others that occurred were deemed accidental, either by exceeding a prescribed dose or mixing barbiturates with other depressant drugs or alcohol.
- Barbiturates like Luminal account for about one-third of all reported drug-related deaths, including suicides and accidental drug poisonings.