Home Culture Taking a Closer Look at the Controlled Substances Act

Taking a Closer Look at the Controlled Substances Act


Introduced in 1969 by President Richard Nixon and Attorney General John N. Mitchel, the Controlled Substances Act would change the way the United States looked at drug policies for decades to come – into our present day reality. Enacted in 1970, the Controlled Substances Act was meant to take the array of miscellaneous laws outlawing certain drugs and combine them into one provision.

The way the Controlled Substances Act is designed, there are five different classifications of drug, with Schedule I being the most dangerous drug and Schedule V being the least restricted and the drugs with the least potential for abuse. Unfortunately, while there have been changes to the CSA over the years, we’re all well aware of the number one controversial controlled substance, which is marijuana – but we will get back to that.

Three years after the CSA was enacted, President Nixon created the Drug Enforcement Administration, which was created specifically in order to effectively “control” the controlled substances. It is the job of the DEA to oversee any and all manufacturing of controlled substances, any substances being imported or exported, and enforcing federal law when it comes to illegal substances.

The DEA is meant to work alongside local law enforcement in order to keep controlled substances off the streets in hopes of stopping drug trafficking and gang related violence. It is also up to the DEA to take initiative in ensuring that the list is accurate, with the power to add and erase substances from the Act as well as reschedule them. This is a power that they do not often use – at least, not unless it includes scheduling a new drug.

Now, we’re going to take a look at a couple of different drugs listed in each category, starting with the so-called safest Schedule V drugs and working our way up to what are supposed to be the most dangerous drugs. In some cases, it’s clear that this list was made in a different time and needs to be updated now that new medical and scientific studies can disprove outdated theories – but whether or not they are all in the right place on this list can be somewhat of a personal opinion.

Schedule V

This is the lowest level of classification on the Controlled Substances Act – and as such the drugs you will find here are relatively low on peoples list of drugs to worry about. Actually, you’ve probably had one or more of these at one point in your life or another if you’ve ever been prescribed say, cough syrup with codeine in it, for example.

The actual drugs listed in this category are previously listed on the Schedule IV list and include substances with low risk for abuse and can be mixed with very small amounts of other narcotics as well. Along with the codeine cough syrup, other examples would be Motofen (a diarrhea medicine) and Lyrica (an anti-epileptic drug used to treat seizures and fibromyalgia).

Side effects for Motofen, for example, include drowsiness, dizziness, headache, tiredness and blurred vision on the less frightening end. However, some people have experienced reactions such as abdominal pain or swelling, severe nausea and vomiting, numbness in the arms and a very small number of people experience swelling of the tongue or throat and difficulty breathing.

Schedule IV

Drugs that are under schedule IV are considered to have a low potential for physical and psychological abuse and dependence. These drugs contain a mixture of narcotics and anti-psychotic medicines, all of which do help a number of people each year – but some are also the downfall of many people each and every year. Ensuring that a patient takes their medicine as prescribed and does not change dosage against doctors’ orders is imperative to being safe with these medicines.

Examples of Schedule IV drugs include Valium (used to treat anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal symptoms and muscle spasms), Soma (a muscle relaxer that blocks pain sensations between the nerves and brain) and Xanax (treats anxiety and panic disorders) and Tramadol (used to treat moderate to severe pain).

Any of these can be bought illegally on the streets and many states (such as my own, Florida) have seen prescription pill epidemics, (here they were caused by “pill mills”) which left addicts turning to any medication they could get their hands on. The side effects for Xanax, which is widely prescribed, include constipation, weight gain, insomnia, cognitive dysfunction, drowsiness and even hypotension, sexual disorder and muscle twitching.

Schedule III

Getting further up on the list of dangerous drugs, Schedule III is reserved for drugs with moderate to low risk potential when it comes to physical and psychological abuse and dependence. Schedule III is made up of stimulants, depressants, some narcotics which aren’t scheduled under I or II as well as anabolic steroids. There are also specific amounts of narcotics which are scheduled elsewhere in the CSA which are allowed to be in in a mixture that creates a schedule III substance.

Some examples of schedule III drugs include ketamine (an anesthetic used prior to surgeries that do not require skeletal muscle relaxation) and anabolic steroids (a synthetic version of testosterone, often abused by athletes and used medically to treat muscle loss, cancer and delayed puberty) as well as any medication containing less than 90 milligrams of codeine per dosage unit (Tylenol with codeine is the example given by the DEA).

When it comes to the side effects for any of these drugs, it is definitely entering a new world as the main side effects of anabolic steroids include paranoid jealousy (to the extreme and unreasonable), extreme irritability (also known as roid-rage), delusions or false beliefs and impaired judgement. Possible side effects of ketamine include convulsions, chest pain, blurred visions, irregular heartbeat, hives and holding false beliefs that cannot be changed by fact among many more things.

Schedule II

This is where things start to get a little trickier – especially when you start hearing some of the medications that you’ve surely heard of at one point or another. Schedule II drugs are substances or chemicals that are defined as having a high potential for psychological and physical abuse and dependence. They are considered to be dangerous, though since they have medically accepted uses they remain Schedule II where more research may be conducted to further investigate its risk and potential.

Examples of schedule II substances include cocaine (a street drug and also used as a topical anesthetic), methamphetamine (another street drug also used to treat ADHD and even obesity), methadone (a pain reliever also used to reduce withdrawal symptoms from heroin and other narcotics), fentanyl (used as an anesthetic to prevent pain after surgery and has recently been mixed with heroin causing more overdoses than ever), Adderall (treats ADHD) and Ritalin (treats ADHD and narcolepsy).

By now, I doubt there are many people who are unaware of just how high the risk factor for addiction is with these medications – some of the side effects of just the cocaine topical include dizziness, nausea and nervousness with the unusual side effects being headache, fainting, tremors, seizures and trouble breathing. With methamphetamine side effects include agitation, delusions and hallucinations, blurred vision, irregular heartbeat, trembling or shaking, uncontrolled vocal outbursts and tics among many other things.

Even the more commonly prescribed substances in this category, Adderall and Ritalin, which are often prescribed to children with attention disorders, are unusually worrisome. For Adderall, some of the possible side effects include bladder pain, irregular heartbeat, convulsions, difficulty breathing, speaking and swallowing, seeing, hearing or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations) and even sudden loss of consciousness.

Schedule I

Finally, we’ve made it to the top of the list – substances in this category are supposed to have the highest risk potential when it comes to physical addiction and psychological dependence. These substances are also deemed to have no accepted medical value, leaving them very hard to study and under federal law never to be prescribed to a patient for any purpose. These are the substances that are supposed to be the most harmful known to us and are under strict regulation by the DEA when it comes to producing any quantity in a federally legal manner.

Examples of Schedule I controlled substances include heroin, LSD, peyote and marijuana (or marihuana or cannabis) – all of which are used illegally throughout the United States and the rest of the world in order to get high. However, there are quite a few differences between each of these substances and we’re going to take a quick look at a couple of these ones specifically.

Heroin for example has caused hundreds of thousands of people their lives because of addiction and accidental overdose. In 2002 barely 2000 people died from heroin overdose – but as recently as 2014 more than 10,000 people lost their life because of a needle. Sadly many of the people who have ended up addicted to heroin actually chose it as a cheaper alternative when expensive prescription pills were no longer easily available or simply when they weren’t strong enough anymore.

Looking at LSD is a bit different – there is no epidemic of deaths related to this drug, but the way it can warp your mind is the reason for its current status in the CSA. There are a lot of different factors that will play into how one individual will respond to LSD in comparison to another. Things like your mood and surroundings go into play when dealing with a hallucinogenic drug like LSD, which can twist what you see, hear and feel and make you unable to tell the difference between reality and your own illusions.

Now here’s the part you’ve been waiting for, I’m sure – marijuana, marihuana, cannabis, ganja, trees, bud and flower – whatever you choose to call it, we all know it’s a Schedule I drug under the CSA. However, this appears more due to the DEA being stubborn and unwilling to admit they have kept the plant in this category for no reason after all these years. When it comes to psychoactive effects they are extremely mild, generally consisting of euphoria, an uplifted feeling, a heavy or tired feeling, creative bursts and unplanned naps.

There are more and more potential medicinal uses for marijuana popping up every year, sometimes even every month or few weeks. It has been successfully used by patients to treat cancer, nausea, migraine headaches, pain due to fibromyalgia and/or arthritis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, ADHD, Crohn’s disease, MS and glaucoma – and that’s just to name a few. Though, since none of these studies were federally backed and they did not include a large enough number of people with a proper control group they have decided this medical evidence does not count.

Luckily, there is a chance that we will see marijuana rescheduled this year – but the chances of that are slimmer than they seem when you consider this is not the first time the DEA has announced preparing to make a determination on the scheduling of cannabis. However, with the ease of doctors and parents to allow their children to take medications like Adderall or Ritalin it’s amazing to see that an all-natural plant could pose such a frightening threat.

Now that you’ve got a good look at some of the substances listed and where they are classified in the Controlled Substances Act it will be easier for you to form your own opinion about how this Act was set up almost 50 years ago. Do you think there are a few things out of place or are you certain that most of it is in a fair and deserving order? While there isn’t much we can do about it right now, you can bet the White House hasn’t heard the end of erasing marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.