For decades, the Controlled Substances Act, or more specifically, the Federal Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, has served as the foundation for the campaign against narcotics and drug abuse in the United States. The legislation addresses both illicit and prescribed drugs misused by individuals. 

Taking effect in 1971, the legislation centralized many regulations relating to drugs. It covers the manufacture and the distribution of stimulants, steroids, narcotics, opioids, opiates, and the raw materials used in the production of these products.

Although people may not know it, the Controlled Substances Act was part of the U.S. federal government’s commitment to the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971 and the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961.

Also, the law led to the formation of the U,S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which has spearheaded the country’s war on drugs on both the domestic and global front. Before the DEA, organizations such as the now-defunct Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) carried out this mandate.

Schedules and Classifications

Admittedly, few people read the whole text of the Controlled Substances Act, or the full text of any legislation, really. And that is normal unless you are studying to be a lawyer or have plans of working for the DEA.

What concerns most people are the classifications of narcotics, drugs, and chemicals. The DEA classifies substances into groups known as schedules.

DEA schedules have wide implications in the way the drugs and substances are manufactured, traded, sold, distributed, and transported. The schedules influence how authorities create regulations and prosecute people for their dealings with such substances.

Here are the different drug schedules, according to the 1970 Controlled Substances Act:

Schedule I

According to the DEA, items in this group are substances or drugs with no accepted medical value but present a high potential for abuse.

Examples of items in this schedule include:

  1. Marijuana (cannabis)

  2. Heroin

  3. Ecstasy

  4. Peyote

  5. Methaqualone

  6. LSD

Schedule II

Schedule II items are chemicals, substances, or drugs that have medical uses but still pose a high potential for abuse. Misuse can lead to physical and mental dependence.

Examples of items in this schedule include:

  1. Cocaine

  2. Methamphetamine (meth)

  3. Methadone

  4. Hydromorphone

  5. Hydrocodone

  6. Oxycodone

  7. Fentanyl

  8. Adderall

  9. Demerol

  10. Ritalin

Schedule III

Schedule III items are chemicals, substances, or drugs with a medical value that pose a low to moderate potential for abuse and cause physical or mental dependence. The potential for abuse is more than items in schedule IV but fewer items than items in both schedules I and II.

Examples of items in this schedule include:

  1. Substances with 90 milligrams of codeine of fewer

  2. Ketamine

  3. Anabolic steroids

  4. Testosterone

Schedule IV

Schedule IV items are chemicals, substances, or drugs that pose a low risk of mental and physical dependence. They have also a low potential to be misused. Many of the items on this list are prescription medications.

Examples of items in this schedule include:

  1. Darvon

  2. Valium

  3. Xanax

  4. Ambien

  5. Tramadol

  6. Darvocet

  7. Talwin

  8. Ativan

  9. Soma

Schedule V

Schedule V items are chemicals, drugs, or substances with less potential to be misused compared to the items on schedule IV. The drugs on this list are typically used to treat allergies, diarrhea, and cough.

Examples of items in this schedule include:

  1. Lomotil

  2. Lyrica

  3. Motofen

  4. Parepectolin

  5. Cough syrup (should include less than 200 milligrams of codeine)

It should be noted that even if narcotics are not included in these schedules, you can still be held criminally liable. That is because of the all-encompassing nature of U.S. federal drug laws.

As long as illicit substances share similar characteristics with drugs listed in Schedule I, for example, you may still face penalties as prescribed by law.

Is It Time to Revisit the Controlled Substances Act?

Although it has been decades since it was enacted, the Controlled Substances Act has not been amended a great deal. Some critics have argued that the legislation is no longer relevant to the times.

Among the most prominent opponents of the Controlled Substances Act are scientists, cannabis advocates, and others who want the substance removed from schedule I. They cite various studies that point to the medical value of substances in cannabis known as cannabinoids to treat certain ailments such as dementia, cancer, Crohn’s disease, glaucoma, and epilepsy, among others.

Back in the 1970s, there was considerably less research on cannabis and other substances listed on schedule I. After the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act, its strict regulations made it more difficult for researchers to conduct scientific studies that could change such DEA classifications.

Another example is LSD.

Critics say that the government enacted the Controlled Substances Act because it feared the drug-addled generation of the 1960s. To the policymakers, LSD and marijuana symbolized what was wrong with the generation.

Recent research studies show the potential medical use of LSD to help individuals suffering from anxiety and depression. But changing the DEA schedules is not easy.

There are two ways to amend the Controlled Substances Act. In one, Congress may downgrade or upgrade a substance from the list of classifications or remove it entirely. Another way to amend the act is to petition the U.S. Attorney General’s Office and show a list of scientific studies to prove one’s case.

Proponents of changing the law have already filed various petitions, but they have yet to find success in moving marijuana from schedule I. The petitions may exist years before the U.S. attorney general’s office acts on them.

One wonders if Congress will revisit the Controlled Substances Act and whether the legislation is truly relevant to the times. Until then, given the penalties and the danger of substance abuse, people should still comply with the law.