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Secobarbital ball-and-stick.png
Systematic (IUPAC) name
Clinical data
Trade names Seconal
AHFS/ Consumer Drug Information
MedlinePlus a682386
  • D (United States)
Legal status
  • DE: Anlage III
  • US: Schedule II, except when combined in a dosage unit with another active drug (in which case Schedule III)
Routes of
Pharmacokinetic data
Bioavailability ?
Protein binding 45-60%[1]
Metabolism Hepatic
Biological half-life 15-40 hours[1]
Excretion Renal
CAS Number 76-73-3 YesY
ATC code N05CA06 QN51AA02
PubChem CID 5193
DrugBank DB00418 YesY
ChemSpider 5005 YesY
UNII 1P7H87IN75 YesY
KEGG D00430 YesY
Chemical data
Formula C12H18N2O3
Molar mass 238.283

Secobarbital sodium (marketed by Eli Lilly and Company, and subsequently by other companies as described below, under the brand name Seconal) is a barbiturate derivative drug that was patented in 1934 in the US.[2] It possesses anaesthetic, anticonvulsant, anxiolytic, sedative, and hypnotic properties. In the United Kingdom, it was known as quinalbarbitone.


Secobarbital is indicated for:

  • Treatment of epilepsy
  • Temporary treatment of insomnia
  • Use as a preoperative medication to produce anaesthesia and anxiolysis in short surgical, diagnostic, or therapeutic procedures which are minimally painful.


Secobarbital DOJ.jpg

Ranbaxy Pharmaceuticals, an India-based company now predominantly owned by the Japanese company Daiichi Sankyo, obtained the rights to market and to use the trade name "Seconal" from Eli Lilly in 1998, and did so until September 18, 2008. The actual manufacturer of Seconal subsequent to the time Eli Lilly manufactured the drug was Ohm Pharmaceuticals, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ranbaxy. The rights to market Seconal were then sold to Marathon Pharmaceuticals,[3] the current marketer and trade-name holder. However Seconal is still manufactured by Ohm. In the United States, Seconal is available only in 100 mg capsules, as a sodium salt. The salt is a white hygroscopic powder that is soluble in water and ethanol.

Secobarbital sodium[edit]

The sodium salt of secobarbital is classified separately from the free acid, as follows:

  • CAS number: 309-43-3
  • Chemical formula: C12H18N2NaO3
  • Molecular weight: 260.265

Side effects[edit]

Possible side effects of secobarbital include:


Secobarbital may produce psychological addiction and produces physical dependence if used for an extended period of time. Withdrawal symptoms may occur if long-term usage is abruptly ended, and can include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Lack of appetite
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Possible death as a result of withdrawal

Recreational use[edit]

Secobarbital was widely misused in the 1960s and 1970s, and accidental overdose was associated with the drug. It was linked with the death of Judy Garland, where the postmortem found that her blood contained the equivalent of ten 1.5-grain (97 mg) Seconal capsules. Additionally the drug played a key role in the suicide of Charles Boyer in 1978. Consequently the prescription of Seconal decreased greatly, beginning in the early 1980s by which time benzodiazepines had become increasingly common. Secobarbital has acquired many nicknames, the most common being "reds", "red devils", or "red dillies" (because of the color of the capsules). Other common nicknames are "seccies" and, according to the Wegman's School of Pharmacy curriculum, "red hearts". A less common nickname is "dolls"; this was partly responsible for the title of Jacqueline Susann's novel Valley of the Dolls, whose main characters use secobarbital and other such drugs.

Another celebrity death attributed to secobarbital was that of Anissa Jones (a child star who played Buffy on Family Affair) on August 28, 1976. It was detected in her system, along with cocaine, PCP and methaqualone, but it was the only pharmaceutical in her toxicology report which led to homicide charges against a vendor, that being Dr. Don Carlos Moshos, who dispensed it without a proper cause or examination (as well as for Jones' recreational use), according to a postmortem criminal investigation.

Actress Lupe Velez's death was also reportedly caused by an overdose of the drug.

Secobarbital was implicated in the death of Dinah Washington. Early on the morning of December 14, 1963 Washington's seventh husband, football great Dick "Night Train" Lane, went to sleep with his wife and awoke later to find her slumped over and not responsive. Doctor B. C. Ross came to the scene and pronounced her dead. An autopsy later showed a lethal combination of secobarbital and amobarbital, which contributed to her death at the age of 39. She is buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.

Use in animal and human euthanasia[edit]

Secobarbital and pentobarbital are the most common drugs prescribed under physician-assisted dying laws in Oregon since 1998, Washington since 2008, Vermont since 2013, and New Mexico since 2014.[4][5][6] Ranbaxy Laboratories Limited previously experienced various issues in their attempts to produce 100 mg secobarbital capsules. Currently, Marathon Pharmaceuticals is the sole marketer of the drug in the United States, although the drug remains manufactured by Ohm Laboratories.

It is a component in the veterinary drug Somulose, used for euthanasia of horses and cattle.

Popular culture[edit]

In the movie Tootsie, at the end of Michael Dorsey's (Dustin Hoffman) birthday party his friend Sandy (Teri Garr) asks him "I really had a good time tonight. Do you have any seconal?"[7]

In the season five episode "Mystery Date" of the AMC television drama Mad Men, Sally (Kiernan Shipka) is given Seconal by her step-grandmother.

In the movie The Watcher, guilt-ridden FBI agent Joel Campbell (James Spader) tells his therapist he takes Seconal just to get a couple hours of sleep each night.

In season two of "How to get away with murder" it is used by the owner of a sex club to induce a heart attack, and accidentally kill, her lover.

In the movie Fletch, drug dealer 'Fat Sam' tells Fletch (Chevy Chase) that he's "got some reds." Fletch responds, "you mean communists"?

In the movie "It's My Party" , Nick (Eric Roberts) commits suicide by taking Seconal.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Lexi-Comp. "Secobarbital". 
  2. ^ US patent 1954429, Shonle, H. A., "Propyl-Methyl Carbinyl Allyl Barbituric Acid and its Salts", issued 1934-04-10, assigned to Eli Lilly 
  3. ^ "» Seconal Sodium®". 2013-07-31. Retrieved 2014-03-05. 
  4. ^ Elizabeth Trice Loggers, M.D., Ph.D; et al. (April 11, 2013). "Implementing a Death with Dignity Program at a Comprehensive Cancer Center". New England Journal of Medicine. 
  5. ^ "Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act 2013 Report" (PDF). Oregon Health Authority. January 28, 2014. 
  6. ^ Katrina Hedberg, M.D., M.P.H.; et al. (March 6, 2003). "Five Years of Legal Physician-Assisted Suicide in Oregon". New England Journal of Medicine. 
  7. ^ Sydney Pollack (Director) (Dec 1, 1982). Tootsie (Motion picture). Manhattan, NY: Warner Bros, Columbia Pictures. 

External links[edit]