Primarily hypnotic drugs, barbiturates like tranquillizers work by depressing the nervous system. In small amounts they calm you down and in higher amounts make you sleep. They belong to a 19th-century group of drugs and, until the 1950s, when safer alternatives were found, were prescribed for people who couldn't sleep or who had nervous disorders. Barbiturates are not without risks: they are highly addictive and can suppress the function of the brain to such an extent that breathing stops. The medical use of barbiturates is now limited.



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