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What Are The Different Types Of Controlled Substances?

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 17, 2019

Controlled substances are any type of chemical that can alter a person’s physical or mental state. While many of these substances are medically useful, they can also be very addicting. The government has broken down the different types of controlled substances into various categories to make them easier to understand and gauge the seriousness of addiction.

The Breakdown Of Controlled Substances

In 1970, Richard Nixon signed the “Controlled Substances Act” into law. This law was designed to help regulate the use and sale of harmful and potentially harmful drugs. One of its chief tenets was breaking all known controlled substances into various “schedules” or classifications. Since then, new drugs have been sorted according to the criteria set down in the act.

The act has been modified a handful of times since its debut, but it has always consisted of five different schedules. The most harmful drugs are classified as “Schedule I” type drugs. These drugs are considered as having “high abuse potential.” They also have no medical use and are considered unsafe to use.

The other schedules break down as followed:

  • Schedule II: high abuse and dependency potential, but with medical uses
  • Schedule III: medicines with a much lower chance of abuse, but with a moderate to low risk of dependency
  • Schedule IV: medicines with low risk of potential and dependency
  • Schedule V: cough medicines with codeine

Even medicines that fall into Schedule V classification have the potential for abuse or dependency. That’s why it’s important to know all five schedules: to understand the dangers of abuse that may await you when using a controlled substance.

It’s important to know that physically harmful and highly addictive substances such as tobacco and alcohol have been exempt from classification in the “Controlled Substances Act.”

Types Of Schedule I Substances

When you hear the term “illegal drugs,” you are almost certainly thinking of a Schedule I controlled substance. These are generally considered to have no accepted medical use. This is true even of marijuana, a substance which many believe does have some medical benefits of its use. Other types of Schedule I substances include:

  • LSD
  • Heroin
  • Opium
  • Methaqualone
  • Crack

These substances have been proven, time and time again, to be incredibly addictive. And since they offer no health benefits (like Schedule II drugs), they should be avoided at all costs.

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Types Of Schedule II Substances

Schedule II substances are often as addictive as Schedule I substances, but they do have some medical use in very specific circumstances. Substances classified as Schedule II substances include:

Although these drugs do have some medical use, they are generally avoided when safer alternatives are available. And possessing any of them without a prescription is illegal.

Types Of Schedule III Substances

Schedule III substances have often been developed safer alternatives to Schedule II substances. As a result, there is a small chance of abuse or dependency, but that risk is much lower and more acceptable when compared to their benefits.

Common types of Schedule III substances include:

  • Codeine
  • Aspirin
  • Tylenol
  • Anabolic steroids

Remember: just because these substances are relatively safe, they may still pose some risk of dependency or abuse. These substances also have potentially harmful side effects if used improperly, such as nausea and confusion.

Types Of Schedule IV Substances

Schedule IV substances are almost completely non-addictive and abuse of them is almost very rare. Typical Schedule IV substances include:

  • Equanil
  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Darvon

These substances have a very low risk of dependency only if they are abused. This is especially true in the case of sleeping aids such as Valium. However, weaning off of these drugs is much easier than the higher Schedule drugs.

Types Of Schedule V Substances

Although Schedule IV substances offer a very low risk of dependency or abuse, there is one level just below them: Schedule V substances. These are essentially limited to cough medicines that contain codeine, such as:

Abuse of these cough syrups can lead to a mild type of “high,” but can cause serious health problems, including damage to your liver.

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