Phenobarbital is a long-acting barbiturate. It depresses the sensory cortex, reduces motor activity, changes cerebellar function and produces drowsiness, sedation and hypnosis. Its anticonvulsant property is exhibited at high doses.
Phenobarbital acts on GABAA receptors, increasing synaptic inhibition. This has the effect of elevating seizure threshold and reducing the spread of seizure activity from a seizure focus. Phenobarbital may also inhibit calcium channels, resulting in a decrease in excitatory transmitter release. The sedative-hypnotic effects of phenobarbital are likely the result of its effect on the polysynaptic midbrain reticular formation, which controls CNS arousal.