The Controlled Substances Act of 1970

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 has 5 schedules used to classify drugs and regulates the manufacturing, importation, possession, use, and distribution of substances that can hurt long-term health and welfare. Controlled substances are drugs that the federal government regulates due to the adverse effects they may create.1

These laws were put in place to help prevent the misuse and abuse of these substances. Most illegal drugs are also controlled substances, but not all controlled substances are illegal. Even legal drugs can have the potential to be addictive. That is why some legal medications are regulated and labeled as controlled substances. These drugs can be dangerous if misused or abused, so it’s essential to take any controlled substances with caution and only when prescribed to you by a medical professional.

What Are The Drug Schedules?

Within the Controlled Substances Act, there are five schedules. These schedules are used to classify drugs based on their safety, accepted medical applications, and potential for abuse or addiction. Drug schedules help lawmakers, law enforcers, and medical professionals determine how to handle a particular substance best.2

Schedule I

Schedule I substances are considered the most dangerous by the DEA. These substances carry a high potential for addiction and abuse. The DEA and FDA also determined that substances in this schedule have no current medical use.3

Designer Drugs

Designer drugs are typically made in labs. These drugs have a slightly different chemical structure to a commonly controlled substance while still trying to mimic the same effects.

Synthetic stimulants, often known as bath salts, are a common designer drug. These designer drugs mimic the effects of more common stimulants such as cocaine, ecstasy, and methamphetamine.

To avoid violating the Controlled Substances Act, they are often bought and sold under different labels such as:

  • Bath salts
  • Glass cleaners
  • Research chemicals

Avoid these drugs because their consumption creates health hazards.

Common Drugs

Other common drugs that fall under schedule I are:

  • Heroin
  • Ecstasy
  • LSD

These are all substances that have the potential for abuse and addiction and have no current medicinal uses.


Marijuana is still considered a Schedule I substance even though it is now legal for recreational and medical use in some states. There have been many attempts and movements to try to remove marijuana from Schedule I. The DEA believes it belongs under schedule I classification, for now.

Schedule II and Schedule III

Schedule II

Schedule II substances are drugs that have a high potential for abuse. These are drugs that have an accepted medical use in the U.S. or an accepted medical use with serious restrictions. Misuse or abuse of these substances significantly increases the risk of becoming addicted to them. However, if used under prescription and within a medical professional’s guidelines, the risk of addiction is lowered.4 Common Schedule II drugs include:
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Cocaine
  • Morphine
  • Fentanyl
  • Methadone
  • Methamphetamine
  • Adderall
  • Ritalin
Schedule II drugs have driven two drug epidemics. Methamphetamine use and overdoses skyrocketed through most of the 2000s. It continues to be one of the top causes of overdose. Opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone became hazards because of shady sales tactics used by the manufacturers. The opioid epidemic takes too many lives every year. Fentanyl increases the risk of overdose death when mixed with opioids. For instance, fentanyl-laced opioids killed Prince and Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Schedule III

Schedule III drugs have less potential for abuse than Schedule I or II drugs. However, they can still have adverse effects and addictive properties. These are drugs that have currently accepted medical use in the United States. Abuse of these drugs can lead to some physical dependence and high psychological dependence. These are substances that can have harmful effects, especially if misused or abused. It is only recommended to use them under guidelines from a medical professional.5 Common Schedule III drugs include:
  • Ketamine
  • Anabolic steroids
  • Buprenorphine (Suboxone)
  • Codeine and hydrocodone products mixed with aspirin or acetaminophen

Schedule IV and Schedule V

Schedule IV

Schedule IV drugs have less risk of addiction than those in Schedule III. Drugs in Schedule IV have a currently accepted medical use in the United States. Doctors often prescribe these drugs. When taken under medical guidelines, there is a very low risk of developing a substance use disorder. However, if misused or abused in a binge-like pattern, these drugs can still become addictive.6 Common Schedule IV drugs include:
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

Schedule V

Out of the five schedules, Schedule V drugs have the lowest potential for abuse. These are drugs that have a current medical use in the United States. Misuse of these drugs may lead to physical or psychological dependence.7 Common Schedule V drugs include:
  • Robitussin AC
  • Phenergan with codeine
  • Ezogabine


The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 was established to regulate the manufacturing, possession, distribution, and use of certain substances that increase the risk of addiction or other adverse effects. Regulation of controlled substances protects people. Doctors prescribe controlled substances when needed. When using one of these medications, it’s important to take them with caution and use only as directed by a medical professional. Controlled substances are divided into five different schedules to help lawmakers, law enforcers, and medical professionals understand how best to handle these substances. Using these drug schedules helps provide safety and the right medical care to patients in need of various medical treatments. Lastly, the recreational use of controlled substances is not advised. If misused or abused, these substances can lead to addiction or dependence. Addiction has many adverse effects on mental and physical well-being, and it can affect life significantly. Often when living with addiction, it will take support and treatment for complete recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, there are resources available.8