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The Difference Between an Illegal and a Controlled Substance

The Difference Between an Illegal and a Controlled Substance

The group into which a drug is scheduled determines how that drug is controlled by the DEA

In 1970 the US Government passed the Controlled Substances Act. This bill, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, provided the structure for the nation’s fight against substance abuse and the problems it presents to society at large. There had been other drug enforcement laws, policies and treaties, but the CSA organized and formalized the laws related to drug use and the structure under which those laws would be enforced.

One of the most important aspects of the CSA was the list of schedules that broke substances into five categories based on their potential for abuse and their medical viability. The group into which a drug is scheduled determines how the use of that drug is to be controlled by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) of the federal government. Under this system some drugs are considered to be legal as long as the user has a legitimate prescription from a doctor while others are never legal. Thus there are some controlled substances that can be legally used while there are others that are always illegal. If you’re a Louisville resident with questions about the classification and risks of a drug you’ve been prescribed, the below breakdown presents further information on the different schedules, but your doctor is the best source for any specific questions you might have.

Drug Schedules within the CSA

Drugs are placed into one of five schedules based on the following criteria:

  • The potential the drug has for abuse
  • The acceptance of the drug for any recognized medical use
  • The safety of the drug when used as directed

The most tightly controlled and strictly enforced of these schedules is schedule I. According to the DEA the drugs in schedule I meet the following definitions:

  • They have a high potential for abuse
  • They have no recognized medical value
  • They are not safe to use

The following drugs are classified as schedule I:

  • Tryptamine antidepressants
  • Heroin
  • Marijuana
  • Most psychedelic hallucinogens (LSD, peyote, DMT, mescaline, psilocybin, psilocin, etc)
  • MDMA (ecstasy)
  • Quaalude

Based on this classification there is no federally recognized legitimate use of any of these drugs. The recent legalization of marijuana in some states is challenging that substance’s inclusion in this schedule.

The drugs in schedule II, including cocaine, amphetamine salts, prescription painkillers and some barbiturates, have a slightly lower potential for abuse than schedule I drugs, are somewhat safer to use and have at least some recognized medical value. Schedule III drugs, including steroids, buprenorphine, ketamine and some milder narcotic painkillers, are slightly less addictive and dangerous than schedule II drugs, and so on. Schedule IV drugs include benzodiazepines (antidepressants and antianxiety drugs) and some sleeping aids, while schedule V drugs include certain cough suppressants, anticonvulsants and anti-diarrhea medications.

The use of any substance in one of these schedules requires a prescription – with the exception of schedule I drugs, which are never legal.

Addiction and Treatment

Most addictive drugs create both physical and psychological dependence. While the withdrawal symptoms associated with physical addiction can be quite miserable, the real power of addiction is the psychological grip it gets on a person. Complete and lasting recovery from addiction usually requires focused, professional help. The most successful treatment programs offer the following services:

  • Individual and group counseling
  • Education
  • Coping skill development
  • Relaxation and mindfulness training
  • Family and relationship counseling
  • Ongoing aftercare

The psychological component to addiction requires life-long maintenance so recovering addicts in Louisville should be sure to research and stay in contact with their recovery community to ensure long-term sobriety.

24-Hour Addiction Recovery Helpline

Regardless of the drug you are wrestling with, we can help. Even the legal use of many of these substances can be life threatening. Call our toll-free helpline any time of night or day for immediate, caring, free answers to all of your questions and instant connection to the most successful recovery programs available. Call now.


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