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Tuinal was a popular barbiturate in the 1960s through to the 1980s and familiar to many people from Generation X. Although it was celebrated for recreational use and prescribed by doctors, it is highly addictive. Sometimes misspelled as Tuinol, production of the drug was discontinued in most of Europe and the USA because of its addictive properties. It is rarely used, but it is sometimes used as an anesthetic in a hospital setting. A person can buy Tuinal illegally. The drug is also known as rainbows, blue tips or Christmas trees. Some movies, such as Taxi Driver, have also promoted the use of Tuinal. However, taking Tuinal illegally is very dangerous and can lead to several medical problems.

What Is Tuinal?

Tuinal is the trade name for a barbiturate that comprises two chemicals: amobarbital sodium and secobarbital sodium. The drug was developed in the 1940s by Eli Lilly and was initially marketed as a sedative medication. In the following years, some doctors prescribed Tuinal to help with insomnia. People also started using the drug for recreational purposes, as it created a strong sense of relaxation.

How Tuinal Works

Tuinal is similar to most other barbiturates and works as a central nervous system depressant. The drug interacts with a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in the body called gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA). GABA calms the body by reducing excitability in the brain cells. Barbiturates like Tuinal enhance the effects of GABA, which calms, relaxes and sedates the person taking it. Veterinarians sometimes use barbiturates to put animals to sleep.

People who have problems with anxiety or trouble sleeping will find drugs like Tuinal helpful as they ease their symptoms. However, there are significant risks to taking Tuinal, especially on a long-term basis. Tuinal is listed as a Schedule II substance by the United States Drug Enforcement Agency1 (DEA). These types of drugs have a high tendency for illicit use or physical and psychological dependency. As they are considered dangerous, they should only be used with a prescription and on a short-term basis. Other examples of Schedule II substances include cocaine, fentanyl and Buprenorphine/Naltrexone. It is illegal to take these drugs without a medical prescription.

Common Side Effects of Tuinal Usage

Many modern physicians no longer use Tuinal, but it is used in specific circumstances. Doctors usually prescribe Tuinal on a short-term basis only, such as sedating a patient before surgery or supporting someone with chronic insomnia. The main issue is that if someone is prescribed Tuinal, they need to be closely monitored for side effects and usage. It should only be prescribed by a medical practitioner and never obtained without a legal prescription. If Tuinal is used excessively or long term, it can cause significant side effects. Doctors who have patients on barbiturate type sedatives need to monitor the numbers of prescriptions made and the frequency of requests. They also need to review these patients regularly to check for signs of dependence.

Commonly observed side effects of Tuinal include:

  • Muscle and joint pain.
  • Depression or other mood disorders.
  • Stomach upsets such as diarrhea or nausea.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Bruising on parts of the body due to the effects the drug has on the blood.
  • Physical dependence on the drug.

Of all the side effects, physical dependence causes the most concern among clinicians because it leads to other complications and problems. Tuinal usage may also lead to other forms of addiction and abuse of drugs. The effects of Tuinal start taking place within 15 minutes and last from four to six hours. People taking Tuinal may be unable to operate machinery or drive a vehicle, as their judgment will be impaired by the effects of the drug.

How to Recognize Signs of Tuinal Abuse

Anyone, regardless of their lifestyle or age, can experience prescription drug abuse. It is believed that almost nine million American adults take some form of prescribed sleeping aid. The percentage2 of people taking sleeping aids increases with age and education and is more common in white females. The type of drugs prescribed for insomnia includes barbiturates like Tuinal but also z-drugs and benzodiazepines.

Because Tuinal influences the brain and nervous system, it can create a physical dependence on the drug. It is also likely that with prolonged usage, a person will develop an increased tolerance and need to take more to achieve the same effect. Naturally, this creates a vicious circle of feeding a habit that is hard to break. This problem can quickly descend into abuse and addiction, even though the person taking the drug never intended that. And, it can happen to anyone.

That’s why it is really important for doctors, as well as concerned family members and loved ones, to monitor people taking medication like Tuinal closely for signs that problems are occurring. Typical signs that someone is heading for trouble when taking Tuinal include:

  • Excessive shaking and feeling nervous or agitated.
  • Difficulty walking. Older people, in particular, are susceptible to falls and may present with a fracture.
  • Hallucinations and imagining things.
  • Sweating excessively.
  • A loss of connection with the real world.
  • Lying about using the drug and even hiding evidence they have taken a substance.
  • Feeling sensitive to noise. They may get irritated at loud music, machinery or crowded areas, for example.
  • Using more prescriptions than anticipated. This is a strong indicator they are using more medication and are becoming dependent.

Why Illicit Use of Tuinal Is Dangerous

Since Eli Lilly stopped manufacturing Tuinal in the USA, recreational usage has decreased. However, there are still people out there who sell old pills to give people a high. Using any medication without a prescription is very dangerous. You can never be sure the substance is Tuinal, and there’s no guarantee of the age of the capsule. That means that if you take an illicit substance, you can end up with serious side effects, especially if the medication is out of date as the chemical compounds will have started to break down.

Tuinal is known to interact with over 500 different drugs used to treat clinical problems. These include amlodipine, atorvastatin and citalopram. If someone is taking Tuinal illicitly, they may experience significant side effects, which can make them very sick and can even lead to hospitalization or death. Barbiturates should never be taken if someone is pregnant, as they can damage the developing fetus.

There are other reasons why taking illicit Tuinal is dangerous. If they take too much, they may experience shallow breathing, which can lead to a medical emergency. The drowsiness can lead to a serious lack of judgment too. Suppose a person was driving a car or operating heavy machinery. If they are not fully alert, they can cause injury to others very easily. People under the influence of illicit Tuinal may be completely unaware of their limitations, which can result in them doing something dangerous or placing others in danger.

When someone is influenced by Tuinal, the signs and symptoms include:

  • Shallow breathing, and even respiratory arrest, especially if a person has taken a significant amount of Tuinal.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Impaired judgment. They may think they can do something when the reality is that they are not.
  • Dilated pupils.

A further problem that compounds this situation is when people take a substance besides Tuinal. Polydrug abuse is when two illicit substances are combined to create an enhanced effect. The problem is prolific in people who take Tuinal illicitly, and it is particularly problematic in those who take alcohol and barbiturates together. Because alcohol is a depressant or sedative, it enhances the effects of barbiturates like Tuinal. Anyone using alcohol and barbiturates in combination is placing themselves at serious risk of physical illness and injury. Taking marijuana at the same time as a barbiturate is dangerous too because it reduces the effects of sedatives. This may mean that someone unwittingly takes even more barbiturates to get the same effect which can lead to a fatal overdose.

If someone has been on Tuinal for a significant amount of time, there are additional side effects that develop because of prolonged use. For the person taking Tuinal, these effects cause significant damage to health and are a major reason for getting help as early as possible. Signs that someone is having problems with prolonged dependence include:

  • A decrease in blood platelets can affect clotting and lead to bleeding and bruising.
  • Memory loss as the drug slows down the activity in the brain.
  • Megaloblastic anemia. Very large red blood cells develop, which are too large to enter the bone marrow and transport oxygen around the body. As a result, someone with megaloblastic anemia can develop fatigue, shortness of breath and fast heart rates.
  • Decreased bone density. People with weakened bone density are at risk of developing a fracture and are more at risk of breaking a limb if they fall.

A further side effect of prolonged use of Tuinal is a fatal overdose. Medical research suggests that just over a third3 of drug deaths are barbiturate related. Further fatalities from barbiturates are because of accidents while under the influence of the drug. Sadly, many of these overdoses were not deliberate but were simply a result of the person not realizing the amount of drug they had already got in their body. And where barbiturates have caused accidents, the actions of the person dying under the influence of Tuinal have sometimes resulted in others being killed as a direct effect of the accident.

Withdrawal From Tuinal

When someone wants to withdraw from Tuinal, their motivation is a positive step to recovery. However, withdrawing from barbiturates is not as easy as simply stopping the tablets. Tuinal, like so many other barbiturates, is very habit forming, so it is vital people are weaned off the drug gradually. Ideally, this is done in a treatment center under the supervision of specialists in addiction and medical professionals. Withdrawing from barbiturates alone and without support is not recommended because the patient does not need just physical support for the withdrawal but psychological care as well.

When someone begins the process of withdrawal from Tuinal, it is an unpleasant experience with side effects. Therefore it is important that people going through the process have support from a specialist treatment center and do not attempt it on their own. Withdrawal symptoms usually start around five hours after the last dose of Tuinal was taken and can last for up to 15 days. Many of the side effects are relatively easy to deal with and include nausea and muscle tremors. But others are more serious and can be fatal. Some of the more life-threatening side effects of barbiturate withdrawal include:

  • Coma.
  • Unconsciousness.
  • Slowed breathing rate.
  • Respiratory arrest.
  • Cardiac arrest.

Barbiturates affect the brain, so many people withdrawing from the drug have psychological effects. Some people also experience a rebound effect during withdrawal where they have heightened anxiety or are unable to sleep. When someone starts out by taking Tuinal for insomnia, for example, this can be really frustrating. It also highlights why people need to get help from qualified practitioners so their withdrawal is managed appropriately and they get the support they need.

When someone undergoes a medical detox, they are usually given a long-acting benzodiazepine to support the withdrawal process. It may seem counterintuitive, but it helps stabilize the individual. Once they are free of barbiturates, they wean off the benzodiazepines off until they are completely free of drugs. This type of approach should never be done by an individual without medical support. The input from a treatment center will help with the management of serious side effects and will help prevent a life-threatening situation.

How to Get Help With Tuinal Withdrawal

The treatment for a Tuinal addiction is similar to other barbiturates. The starting point for anyone is that the individual has to want to come off the drug and be treated. Without that positive affirmation, it is almost impossible to withdraw successfully. Taking this major first step is hard for anyone to do, so friends and family should do everything they can to support loved ones. The journey is uncomfortable and can be hard for individuals and their families, but with the support of medical specialists, people addicted to Tuinal can and will recover.

One of the important aspects of rehabilitation is to establish the root cause of their addiction. This could have been caused by prescription drugs or by obtaining them illicitly. Regardless of where they came from, the person got into this state for a reason. Did it start with insomnia caused by chronic pain, or is there an underlying anxiety disorder, for example? Perhaps they are also experiencing alcoholism. Part of the rehab program involves both one-to-one and group sessions to explore the root causes of addiction. Once a person is aware of the actual cause behind their situation, they can work with a psychologist to recover from their dependency on the drug. This is another reason why entering a structured program of withdrawal from barbiturates will not only help the person recover from their addiction but will also reduce the likelihood of getting into that situation again.

Next Steps

Taking the first step to recovery from drug addiction is not easy and requires courage. There are teams of people in treatment centers ready to help you make the next move. Reach out today to us at Windward Way Recovery to see what support you can get to help you withdraw from drugs like Tuinal. Before you know it, you will be able to live a healthy lifestyle in the community once more. Start your journey by contacting us today.

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