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Under the Controlled Substances Act, what are the Five Classes of Controlled Substances?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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The Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970 to help the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) enforce drugs which could pose a risk to society if used improperly. Under the CSA, a controlled substance is any drug with a potential for abuse;drugs which do not pose an addiction risk are not regulated by the CSA, although they are by other agencies. The CSA was one of the early building blocks in the “war on drugs,” as it gave a law enforcement agency specific powers when it came to the issue of drug abuse.

Under the CSA, a controlled substance falls into one of five schedules, depending on how addictive it is. Drugs are also grouped in five classes: narcotics, depressants, stimulants, anabolic steroids, and hallucinogens are all regulated under the CSA. The DEA also monitors the growth, sale, and use of Cannabis sativa, or marijuana. When a new drug is released on the market, part of the testing involves a determination of how potentially addictive it is, so that it can be classified and regulated under the CSA, if necessary. A drug which is listed as a controlled substance has to be handled with care in a clinical environment, and usually requires a prescription for use outside a clinic.

The schedule that a controlled substance falls into depends upon how addictive it is. Schedule I drugs are defined as drugs which the DEA has determined have no valid medical use, in addition to a high potential for addiction. Examples include heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and many other hallucinogens. A schedule II drug is a drug with a high potential for addiction, but a valid medical use, such as some opiates, methadone, morphine, and amphetamine. A schedule III controlled substance has a low to moderate potential for drug addiction, and this category includes combined narcotics such as Tylenol-Codeine, along with steroids. Schedule IV drugs have a much lower addiction potential relative to the other schedules, and include benzodiazepines and mild narcotics. At the bottom of the scale, a schedule V controlled substance has the lowest potential for addiction.

The narcotics class of controlled substances primarily includes opiates. These drugs are used for therapeutic pain relief, but many also have a high potential for addiction. Most are schedule II or III drugs, due to the risk of addiction, and they are heavily regulated by the government. The next class, depressants, is used to relieve tension, address sleep issues, and provide sedation. Depressants can be extremely hazardous to the health, as many also have effects on the central nervous system. Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are both considered depressants.

Stimulants are used therapeutically for a number of purposes, including weight loss, attention deficit disorders, and to treat narcolepsy. Amphetamines and other similar drugs are considered a controlled substance under this class: users can experience a state of euphoria which is highly addictive. Anabolic steroids are also considered a controlled substance, due to the high potential for abuse. This drug abuse is growing in the United States, especially among youth. While steroids do have medical value, they are also heavily abused as performance enhancers by athletes at all levels of skill and competition.

The final class of controlled substances, hallucinogens, includes drugs that have the potential to alter the mind. Hallucinogens induce a state of euphoria which is often accompanied by visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations. Most of these drugs are lumped under schedule I, because they have no valid medical use, although ketamine is licensed for use in animals and in emergency situations for humans. Other hallucinogens include acid, toxic mushrooms, and Ecstasy.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon176393 — On May 15, 2011

you never name the drugs in the the five classes.

By aaaCookie — On Feb 21, 2011

I think the different rules by state might have to do with that state's preparedness to deal with the offenses. Stereotypically, a state like California might just deal with drug offenses way more often than a state like Minnesota, forcing them to be more lenient or to fill all of their prisons beyond capacity.

By cafe41 — On Feb 15, 2011

What I think is interesting is how the penalties for possession of a controlled substance vary from state to state.

For example, in the state of Florida if you are charged with possession of a controlled substance you can face a fine up to $500,000 along with up to twenty five years in prison.

In addition, there is no probation for this offense. In Minnesota, the fines can go as high as $1,000,000 and up to thirty years in jail with no probation as well.

However, in California, you can face up to $1,000 fine and up to three years in jail with possible probation for this offense.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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