Luminal is a potent prescription drug that’s used to treat seizures and epilepsy.
It was once more popular, but it’s since been replaced by other drugs in medical use because of its potential dangers. Luminal can cause dependence, addiction, and potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms.
Learn more about Luminol withdrawal, its symptoms, and how it can be treated.
Table of Contents
What Is Luminal?
Luminal is a brand name for a drug called phenobarbital, which used to treat epilepsy and other disorders that cause seizures, particularly in young children. Luminal is in a class of drugs called barbiturates, which were once more widely used in the United States but have since been replaced by other options.
Barbiturates were once used to treat insomnia, anxiety disorder, and seizures in the United States, but they have since been replaced by benzodiazepines as the first line of defense. Barbiturates are central nervous system depressants that work by affecting a chemical messenger in the brain called GABA (or gamma-aminobutyric acid).
GABA is designed to regulate nervous system excitability in the brain. When the GABA receptor is activated, it can help you relax and ease anxiety when it’s time to rest. Luminal, like other depressants, increase the potency of GABA, leading to more intense effects.
Barbiturates can cause drowsiness, sedation, dizziness, confusion, and a loss of motor control. In high doses, barbiturates can cause intoxication that’s similar to being drunk with slurred speech, extreme drowsiness, and impaired decision-making skills.
Barbiturates like Luminal became unpopular when it was realized that they could lead to harmful side effects like dependence, addiction, and dangerous overdoses. Barbiturate abuse can lead to deadly overdose symptoms like respiratory depression, loss of consciousness, coma, hypothermia, and hypotension.
Benzodiazepines replaced barbiturates as common prescription remedies because they were seen as less dangerous. Though they can still cause some of the same side effects and dangerous overdose symptoms, it typically takes a higher dose of the drug to be dangerous than it does for a barbiturate.
Luminal is still used in some cases to treat seizures because it offers a few clinical advantages over alternatives. The main factor is its long half-life. It can remain active in your system for 53 to 118 hours. For that reason, medication doesn’t have to be taken every day to be effective. Phenobarbital used to treat insomnia, but that increased the risk of addiction. When abused, Luminal can cause dependence, addiction, and other harmful side effects.
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Luminal Withdrawal Symptoms
Luminal withdrawal can cause symptoms that can range from uncomfortable to dangerous. The symptoms you experience will depend on several factors, but the severity of your symptoms may be unpredictable.
Unlike other common drugs of abuse like opioids or stimulants, depressants can cause life-threatening symptoms, especially when you quit abruptly. Luminal suppressed nervous system excitability, but as your brain adapts to the drug in your system, it may build up excitatory chemicals to counteract the drug. When you quit abruptly, your brain goes into overdrive, causing overexcitability in your nervous system.
Luminal withdrawal can cause the following symptoms:
- Muscle weakness
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in vision
- Delirium tremens
Seizure and changes in vision are the most dangerous symptoms. They don’t occur in everyone one, but they are more likely in people who took very high doses and then quit cold turkey. You are also at greater risk of experiencing severe symptoms if you’ve gone through withdrawal or detox before. A phenomenon called kindling causes more severe symptoms in people who’ve gone through a cycle of dependence and withdrawal in the past, because of lasting changes in the brain and nervous system.
Luminal Withdrawal Timeline
The stages of your Luminal withdrawal symptoms will depend on several factors including the amount of time you’ve been dependent on the drug, the size of your normal dose, the size of your most recent dose, and your size and weight relative to your last dose.
If you’ve been using the drug for a long time and you’re used to a large dose, quitting abruptly will lead to an earlier onset of symptoms. Luminal has an extremely long elimination half-life. That means that it takes a long time (up to several days) before it’s reduced to half of its original concentration in your blood. Because of this, it may take longer than other benzodiazepines before you start feeling symptoms. Luminal withdrawal symptoms can also last longer than other benzos.
Though your own timeline may vary, here’s a general Luminal withdrawal timeline that your symptoms may follow:
- 16 hours. You will most likely start to feel your first symptoms within 16 hours of your last dose of Luminal. Small doses may cause you to feel symptoms in as little as eight hours. Symptoms may start with anxiety, low blood pressure, muscle twitching, insomnia, tremors, and nausea.
- Five days. Major Luminal symptoms will occur between 16 hours and within the first five days. During this period is when you might experience the most intense symptoms, including seizures, convulsions, and delirium tremens. However, extreme symptoms don’t happen to everyone, and most people will just feel more intense anxiety, muscle twitching, physical discomfort, nausea, and insomnia. Still, this is the most dangerous period of Luminal withdrawal.
- 15 days. Most drugs cause withdrawal symptoms that last for about five to ten days. However, since Luminal stays in your system for so long, symptoms can last for up to 15 days. Post-acute withdrawal symptoms can also cause sudden seizures after your symptoms have already peaked.
- One month or more. After most of your symptoms have passed, you may still have some lingering symptoms, especially psychological ones. Common lingering symptoms include anxiety, depression, and insomnia. You may also have drug cravings that last longer than your detox phase. In many cases, it may be necessary to go through treatment to learn to cope with cravings and triggers without relapsing.
How Is Luminal Withdrawal Treated?
Luminal withdrawal can be life-threatening, so the safest way to get through it is to consult with a medical professional. Medical detox or detox in a hospital is your safest option. Medical detox is designed to treat people that are going through or likely to go through acute withdrawal symptoms, especially ones that may be dangerous. Medical detox can also help address other medical needs, like secondary conditions and complications. A detox program typically lasts for about a week to ten days. However, it may last longer if there is a medical need.
After you complete detox and your symptoms start to subside, you may move onto the next phase in addiction treatment. Detox is an important part of recovery, but it’s usually not enough for someone who’s become addicted to a psychoactive substance. Addiction treatment can help address underlying issues like mental health problems. It can also help you form a relapse prevention strategy to safeguard your sobriety for years to come.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
RxList. (2019, March 5). Phenobarbital (Phenobarbital): Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. from https://www.rxlist.com/phenobarbital-drug.htm
WebMD. (2017, March 20). What is GABA? from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/qa/what-is-gaba
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (n,d) Phenobarbital. Retrieved from from https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Phenobarbital#section=Structures