What Is Glutethimide?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 04 November 2019
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Glutethimide is a sedative medication originally introduced to the market in the 1950s to treat patients with insomnia. Doctors initially considered the drug a good alternative to barbiturates, but later determined that glutethimide came with significant risks for patients. The drug is rarely used today and is classified as a highly controlled substance in many regions due to recreational use; it can be difficult to obtain for patients with legitimate prescriptions, as pharmacies may not regularly stock it.

The drug acts as a central nervous system depressant, and is usually taken in tablet form. The dosage can vary depending on the patient. Patients will build up a tolerance to glutethimide, requiring higher doses to make it effective in the long term. They can also be at risk of withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking the drug, and these may be severe. It is usually necessary to stop use under the supervision of a doctor who can taper the dosage and treat the patient's withdrawal.

Patients taking glutethimide are also at risk of overdose. Like other drugs that act on the central nervous system, this drug can depress breathing and heart rate if it is taken in high concentrations. Patients may become comatose while on the medication and could develop brain damage and other complications. This can be particularly dangerous with a sleep aid, as other people may not realize a patient is in distress because they attribute shallow breathing or deep unconsciousness to normal sleep.


This medication also has potentially addictive tendencies. It can create euphoric effects, especially when mixed with some other drugs, leading patients to seek it out for recreational purposes even when they do not actively need it. Because of the potential for withdrawal effects, patients can become dependent on the drug and will keep taking glutethimide to avoid unpleasant drug withdrawal experiences.

Numerous other drugs are available for the treatment of sleep disorders, and a doctor may prefer to use these, as they can be safer and more reliable. Addictiveness and the risks of recreational use can be common with medications in this class, as many act on the brain and can produce a variety of psychoactive effects as unintentional side effects. Doctors may control access to these medications to limit the risk of abuse, and usually prescribe them in the short term only, encouraging patients to control their insomnia in other ways, like adjusting sleep habits.


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