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Barbiturate usage during the 1930s and 1940s

“It was during the 1930s and 1940s that barbiturates attained their greatest popularity and were most widely used, putting them in a position that could be compared to that currently held by benzodiazepines.

The barbiturates most commonly used at that time were phenobarbital, sodium amobarbital, sodium secobarbital, sodium pentobarbital, and sodium thiopental. Despite their widespread use during the first half of the 20th century, no barbiturate succeeded in eliminating the main drawbacks of these drugs, which were the phenomena of dependence and death by overdose.

To reduce these problems, from a legal perspective, a series of laws were passed aimed at regulating the distribution and sale of barbiturates. The first of these came into force in California in 1929. However, its effects were limited, if we consider, for example, that the production of barbiturates in the USA increased by more than 400% from 1933, with some 70 tons of these drugs sold in 1936.

Barbiturate use in the pre-benzodiazepine period was such that, in the USA alone, production of these drugs reached, in 1955, the quantity necessary for the treatment of 10 million people throughout an entire year. shows the industrial production of barbiturates and their derivatives in the USA during the 1940s and 1950s.” (edited for length: see site)


The poison I suggested was a barbiturate or a soluble hypnotic“. Dr. John Matthew Dwyer, government pathologist.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. gordon1552 #

    In the inquest document, there is a page that mentions a series of books/articles. One of which discusses addiction to barbiturates and how it can affect the outcome of an autopsy, essentially it increases the likelihood of no trace being found.

    November 12, 2019
  2. “The evaluation of barbiturate intoxication as the cause of death is often difficult when the concentration in body fluids and organs is not extremely high.

    The problem arises because of the great capacity of barbiturates to produce tolerance after chronic use, a property that is often unknown. Therefore, the most abused barbiturates were studied to assess whether chronic intake causes morphological liver changes or not.

    It was found that the chronic abuse of drugs containing seco-, cyclo-, brallo-, and/or pentobarbital produces hypertrophy of the smooth endoplasmic reticulum of hepatocytes corresponding to that of phenobarbital.

    Neither acute barbiturate overdose (without a history of abuse) nor chronic abuse of opiates causes similar liver changes.

    In conclusion, barbiturate tolerance can be evaluated postmortem by light microscopic examination of the liver.”

    November 12, 2019

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