Trends and Statistics - Drug and Alcohol

Drug Scheduling: How the DEA Classes Various Drugs

How Does the DEA Schedule Drugs?

Do you know how the DEA schedules drugs? They group controlled substances into 5 distinct schedules. Learn how and why in our blog!

Written by

brian-mooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

jeremy-arztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

Trends and Statistics

Drug and Alcohol

March 25, 2023

If you've been reading drug rehab blogs for any length of time, you've likely seen certain controlled substances described as "Schedule I," "Schedule II" and so on.

What does that mean? And what is a "drug schedule," anyway?

Drug scheduling is how the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies various drugs. Chiefly it determines if a particular drug is freely available (like aspirin) or a controlled substance (like many prescription drugs). Their classification is based on medical value, the likelihood of being abused, and other criteria. Let's use cannabis as an example.

A few years ago, there was a lot of debate over placing cannabis on the same drug schedule as heroin, Schedule II. Many people protested, as cannabis is less harmful than heroin and is not equally hazardous to health (although to be clear, we're not calling cannabis a safe drug to use). Indeed, alcohol is an incredibly addictive drug with numerous social and medical problems behind its use, and it's not even scheduled by the DEA. This debate contributed to cannabis increasingly becoming legal across the US.

So, let's look into the DEA's drug classification system.

What Are Controlled Substances?

Controlled substances are generally referred to as any drug or chemical substance whose use is regulated by the government. Also, there are regulations on drug use, manufacturing, possessing, and selling. All of this is designated according to the created for controlled use.

Various international conventions, like the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, have offered various internationally agreed schedules for controlled substances. But this does not mean every national law will be exactly like it. Many national policies and laws have expanded upon it to create a more nuanced approach. Let's now talk about controlled substances in the US.

Controlled substances are basically prescribed or illegal drugs regulated by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 in the United States of America. These drugs are regulated by government law because they have been recognized as a substance with potential misuse and abuse.

Also, the categorization of these substances is not random or careless. There is a lot of research and thought put in for classifying it as it is found today. In our country, the Controlled Substances Act was enforced by the DEA. They are responsible for enacting this act and regulating the illegal use and trafficking of controlled substances. Many states in the country have also instated additional laws and restrictions which are covered or not covered by the federal government.

For instance, in the regions where people were complying with state law during the Obama presidency, federal laws restricting marijuana were suspended. In such cases, states can enact their own state laws. Let's talk more about the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) 

The Controlled Substances Act, or CSA, is a regulatory law that establishes the use, manufacturing, possession, distribution, and importation of certain types of substances that have been regulated under this drug policy. If we track down its history, this law was passed as the Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970. It became a national drug policy after President Richard Nixon's signatures.

This legislation has classified substances into five schedules. These schedules are based on various criteria including medical value, their likelihood of abuse, how addictive they may be, and so on. Two federal agencies, the DEA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are responsible for adding or removing drugs from the schedules. But this does not mean there is no way to add substances to the schedules.

In the past, Congress has scheduled drugs and substances via the passing of legislation. This happened when adding gamma hydroxybutyrate (GHB) to Schedule I of the controlled substances. Hence, to classify any drug or substance, it must fulfill criteria based on the potential for misuse and abuse. 

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What Drugs Are Controlled Substances?

As mentioned above, there are many drugs under regulation. Some examples of controlled substances are:

And more.

What Are the 5 Types of Controlled Substances?

First of all, there is a stark difference between the five schedules and five classes of controlled substances. The first one represents the regulatory statute of the drug, and the latter is more about the classification of the drug according to its main properties. Before jumping into the five types of schedules of controlled drugs, let's talk about the classes of drugs.

There are five classes of stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, narcotics, and anabolic steroids. Returning to the scheduling of controlled substances, there are five schedules of a controlled substance, and you will find various types of substances under each classification. 

Schedule I

As you may have guessed, Schedule I substances are the most dangerous ones. They have a high potential for abuse without any federally approved medicinal use.

Some common examples of controlled substances in Schedule I are:

Schedule II

Similar to Schedule I substances, here also drugs have a high potential for abuse and developing an addiction. The only difference is these drugs have medicinal use and can only be procured via prescription.

Some examples of substances in this Schedule include:

Schedule III

In this Schedule, the substances placed have low to moderate potential abuse levels. They are less addictive than Schedule I and II drugs and would primarily be obtained through precipitation. Therefore, it is hard to find them at the regular pharmacy counter.

A few examples of Schedule III drugs are:

Schedule IV

As you may tell, they have even lesser potential than Schedule III drugs. They have a low probability of addiction and misuse and have medicinal value. Examples of substances in this Schedule are Xanax, Equanil, Valium, Darvon, and more. Also, it is important to remember that just because they have a low potential for abuse does not mean they are not addictive.

Schedule V

According to the DEA, drugs under this category have the least potential of developing abuse and addiction. They also have accepted medical usage in the country. However, if taken frequently in a larger amount, one can develop a dependency on them. These substances include Ezogabine, Lomotil, Motofen, Lyrica, cough medicines with codeine, and more.

You can check the complete list of controlled substances in the DEA here

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How Drug Scheduling Works

You must be thinking about how federal agencies like the DEA and FDA figure out which drugs would be safe for human consumption and which are not. Well, various scientific research and studies are conducted for this purpose. They have to properly evaluate the given drug's uses, potential risks, and effectiveness.

The DEA is responsible for determining whether a drug has the potential for abuse. No matter the degree of the potential of abuse is low, they have to be classified as such. If any drug does not want to be classified as a Schedule I drug, it must undergo several clinical trials to prove its medical merit. 

Some important factors in determining the scheduling of the drug include the following:

  • The potential for abuse

  • Any risk to the public's health

  • If the drug has any physiological dependency

  • Scientific studies and knowledge of the drug or substance

  • If there is any evidence of pharmacological effects

  • If there is any scope and significance of abuse

The Importance of Drug Scheduling & Classification

Classifying and scheduling drugs is essential because any government's main property is public safety. The drug schedule helps set the basic layout and groundwork for federal controlled substance regulation. Based on this groundwork, every state can expand upon them.

Drug classification creates awareness among common people about the dangers of a particular drug and protects them from developing a debilitating addiction disorder. The main purpose behind scheduling these drugs and substances is to understand, limit and control the usage of these drugs. Regulation is a big part of these listings, based on vital factors such as the risk of abuse, therapeutic value, health hazards, and more.

Sometimes, drug schedules have interfered with the laws of the state. Marijuana has always been a source of contention in many areas. For instance, in states like Washington and Colorado, banks hesitate to open accounts associated with pot-related shops. 

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Other Drug Classifications

The DEA's drug classification is based on two things: how addictive a drug is, and whether or not it has legitimate medical use. When researchers classify drugs, they tend to use another system: one that's based on a drug's effects when used:

Can A Drug Be Unscheduled?

It is theoretically conceivable to unschedule a medicine; however, it is a complex undertaking. This is because our country is a signatory to several international treaties. As a result, if a drug must be unscheduled, it must adhere to the treaties established in international agreements. Marijuana, for example, must remain in Schedule I of the scheduling system. In addition, to unschedule an article, there must be scientific evidence that the drug has no abuse or addiction potential. This isn't going to be easy.

Tobacco and alcohol are the only two recreational drugs not included in the scheduling and categorization system.

Controlled Substances Are Addictive. Get Treated For Drug Addiction Today at The Edge Treatment Center

Everyone around a person struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is affected in some way. Why? Humans are social creatures, and drug addiction alters a person's physical and behavioral aspects. It affects how an individual thinks, feels, reacts, and acts.

So, addiction can turn an enthusiastic, social person can quickly turn into an isolated, suffering individual. In this whole process, the person slowly cuts off all the relations and becomes alone. This is why so many people get worse, as drug addiction is degenerative.

No one wants to become a drug addict. It is a developing disorder that can start from mere experimentation with controlled substances. Addiction can rapidly seem hopeless like there's no way out.

There is. The Edge Treatment Center offers evidence-based, effective care for drug and alcohol abuse. At our outpatient drug rehab, you'll have every tool and resource you need to leave controlled substances behind for good.

Want to learn more about how The Edge Treatment Center can treat addiction to controlled substances and more? Contact us today.

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