Analeptic use in clinical toxicology: A historical appraisal

Paul M. Wax

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Background: The introduction and increasing popularity of the barbiturates during the first two decades of the 20th century was associated with a new life threatening toxicological problem: the barbiturate overdose. Methods: This paper reviews the four major phases of analeptic use. As interest in the principles of physiologic antagonism between stimulants and depressants grew, analeptic agents were increasingly used to treat the obtundation and respiratory depression of barbiturate overdose. At first, naturally occurring stimulants such. as camphor, strychnine, picrotoxin, and caffeine were used in desperate attempts to awaken patients. During the 1930s, and continuing at some centers into the 1960s, an increasing number of synthetic analeptics agents such as nikethamide, pentylenetetrazol, bemegride, amphetamine, and methylphenidate were enthusiastically recommended as barbiturate antidotes, often at very high doses. Unfortunately, utilizing generous amounts of multiple convulsants was not without its share of complications. Using this analeptic strategy the mortality rate after moderate to severe barbiturate overdose remained as high as 45%. Beginning in the mid-1940s a group of Scandinavian physicians pioneered a revolutionary approach to sedative-hypnotic overdose that rejected the use of analeptics and relied on respiratory ventilation and supportive care. Conclusions: Although barbiturate overdose mortality decreased to less than 1% using this strategy, it would take another 20 years before this technique was universally adapted. While analeptic therapies for the treatment of drug overdose have now been abandoned, one of these analeptics, methylphenidate, currently enjoys wide use in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-209
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Toxicology - Clinical Toxicology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


Dive into the research topics of 'Analeptic use in clinical toxicology: A historical appraisal'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this