Understanding Drug Scheduling in the United States

The United States tends to regulate substances that affect the body and mind due to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This act created five different schedules, or classifications, for drugs in the US. Depending on the danger level of the drugs compared with their medical benefit, the drugs are placed into different Schedules.

In some cases, homeopathic remedies and substances will fall into the Schedule classification from the Drug Enforcement Agency. Other times, those homeopathic remedies will not be on any schedule. Since these types of remedies and substances are not seen as medicine in many cases, they are not regulated in the same way.

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970

Before this act was passed, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 regulated addictive drugs in the United States. The act created the Food and Drug Administration, which is meant to protect consumers regarding the food and medicines they used. Labels were required to list the substances included in the product that were considered to be dangerous or addictive by the government.

With the passing of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, the government received more power for regulating substances in the US. The act created the five Schedules, discussed below. It also created laws regarding importing and exporting controlled substances. The Drug Enforcement Agency, created in 1973, enforces these laws. A range of different agencies helps to determine how a substance will be classified. These include the FDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

Drug Schedules

Below are the five different Schedules in descending order. The least dangerous drugs are placed in Schedule V, while the most dangerous drugs are placed in Schedule I.

Schedule V

Drugs will be classified in this Schedule when:

  • The potential for abuse of the drug is low
  • The drug has accepted medical uses in the United States
  • Abusing the drug could lead to limited psychological or physical dependence

Some of the drugs that fall into this category include pyrovalerone, a stimulant, and cannabidiol. Cannabidiol is a derivative of cannabis. Even though these will still require a prescription, they are considered to be safe.

Schedule IV

Drugs fall into this category when:

  • The potential for abuse is low, but it is higher than Schedule V
  • The drug has accepted medical uses in the US
  • Abusing the drug could cause limited physical or psychological addition but is more addictive than Schedule V drugs.

Some of the well-known drugs that fall into this Schedule include valium, Restoril, and Xanax.

Schedule III

Drugs will be considered Schedule III when:

  • The drug has the potential for abuse, but less than Schedule I and Schedule II drugs
  • The drug has accepted medical uses in the United States
  • Abuse can lead to low to moderate dependence at a physical level or high psychological dependence

Drugs that are included in this Schedule include caffeine, high amounts of codeine, and Vicodin.

Schedule II

Drugs are classified as Schedule II when:

  • The potential to abuse the drug is high
  • The drug has accepted medical uses in the United States, or there are accepted medical uses for certain highly limited conditions
  • Abusing the drug could cause severe dependence psychologically or physically

OxyContin and Percocet are painkillers that fall into this category. Other drugs that are included in Schedule II include morphine and Adderall. These drugs tend to be quite dangerous, but they still have some use in the medical field when applied properly.

Schedule I

Drugs can be put into the Schedule I category if:

  • The drug has a high potential for abuse
  • The drug does not have any accepted medical uses in the United States
  • Using the drug is unsafe

Some of the drugs that fall into Schedule I include LSD, heroin, and marijuana.

There is a drastic difference between Schedule II through V and Schedule I. the drugs that fall into the Schedule I category are banned and are not prescribed by doctors. Of course, many will be wondering why a drug like marijuana is in this category when it is legal in many states and there is medical marijuana. Other substances like kratom are federally legal, but not legal in some states.

Federal and State Law

Many states have indeed passed laws that allow the use of marijuana in medical and/or recreational capacities. Although it is still a Schedule I drug, guidelines were issued during the Obama administration saying that criminal actions would not be sought against users in states where marijuana has been legalized. Typically, the federal government will not try to step on the rights of the states. However, federal law does still supersede state laws, and it could enforce those laws if it chose to.

Interestingly, the state and federal laws can work in a reverse manner as mentioned above. For example, kratom has been banned in several states and cities, even though there is no federal ban. It is not allowed in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Tennessee, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Some of the cities where the drug is banned include Denver and San Diego, which means even though it is allowed in Colorado and California, the city laws control the kratom.

Because there is not a ban at the federal level, most people will be able to buy kratom from a quality supplier. 

Many people wonder why kratom is banned in some states and whether the federal government will eventually follow suit. Kratom is highly popular, but there has been little research done in this field. With more research, it may be possible to learn more about the plant along with the benefits it offers and the potential dangers it might hold. When this happens, the laws at the federal and state levels may change.

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