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The Controlled Substance Act and Drug Schedules

Brian J Smith Nov. 3, 2014

The United States began outlawing potentially harmful addictive drugs in the early 1900s. It wasn’t until 1970, however, that drug laws as we know them now were put into effect. The Controlled Substance Act (CSA), signed into law by President Richard Nixon, put many drugs into five categories (known as schedules). The higher a drug was placed on the classification scale, the more dangerous it is considered by law enforcement agencies. Schedule I drugs are considered the most harmful, and Schedule V are considered the least.

Schedule I

Schedule I substances are considered by the DEA to be the most dangerous of all. This variety of drugs is thought to have no accepted medical use, and a high potential for psychological and/or physical dependence. With the exception of marijuana, which has been legalized for various purposes in some states, no prescriptions may be written for these substances. Examples of Schedule I drugs include:

  • Heroin

  • LSD

  • marijuana

  • MDMA (ecstasy)

  • Peyote

Schedule II

Schedule II drugs are also thought to have a high potential for both psychological and physical dependence, although less so than that of Schedule I substances. They are also considered dangerous but the DEA, but to a lesser extent. Medical use is only permitted with severe restrictions. Examples of Schedule II drugs include:

  • cocaine

  • methamphetamine

  • methadone

  • oxycodone (OxyContin)

  • Adderall

  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

Schedule III

Schedule III drugs are considered to carry only a moderate potential for psychological and physical dependence, making them less likely to be abused than Schedule I and II drugs. These substances have accepted medical uses in the United States. Some examples of Schedule III drugs are:

  • Vicodin

  • Tylenol with codeine

  • ketamine

  • anabolic steroids

  • testosterone

Schedule IV

Schedule IV drugs are thought to have a low risk of dependence. These drugs have accepted medical uses in the United States. Some examples of Schedule IV drugs are:

  • Xanax,

  • Valium

  • Ativan

  • Ambien

Schedule V

According to the DEA, Schedule V drugs carry the lowest risk of dependence of all schedule drugs. They have a accepted medical use, and have a low potential for abuse. Some examples of Schedule V drugs are:

  • Robitussin AC

  • Lomotil

  • Motofen

  • Lyrica


Some drugs fall under the category of non-controlled, meaning that they currently do not have any restrictions imposed by the Controlled Substances Act. These medications include all over-the-counter medications and medications prescribed to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, and bacterial infections.

Legal implications

The more highly a drug is scheduled, the more severe punishment is likely to be. Manufacturing, distributing, or possessing even small amounts of Schedule I or II substances often results in felony charges, fines, and serious jail time. Since many of the substances classified under Schedule III, IV, and V are prescription medications, the punishment for unlawful distribution or possession is less severe. Offences more often result in misdemeanors, but also carry the potential for felony charges.

If you are facing criminal drug charges, be sure to contact a reputable defense attorney. If you are looking for an experienced drug lawyer in Las Vegas, contact Brian J. Smith today at (702) 380-8248 for a consultation.