- What Is a Controlled Substance?
- Controlled Substance Schedules: Which Drugs Can I Legally Possess?
- State and Federal Controlled Substances Laws — What Applies?
- Crimes Associated with Controlled Substances
- More Questions About Controlled Substances? Ask an Attorney
- Controlled Substance Schedules
- Defined Abbreviations
- Definition of Controlled Substance Schedules
- Schedule I Controlled Substances
- Schedule II/IIN Controlled Substances (2/2N)
- Schedule III/IIIN Controlled Substances (3/3N)
- Schedule IV Controlled Substances
- Schedule V Controlled Substances
What Is a Controlled Substance?
Generally, a controlled substance is an illegal drug that can have a detrimental effect on a person's health and welfare. As a result, federal and state governments have seen fit to regulate these substances. A person caught possessing a controlled substance can be fined and held in prison by local, state, and federal law enforcement.
Having answered the question «what is a controlled substance?», a natural follow up inquiry is whether possessing controlled substances is always unlawful.
The answer is that not all controlled substances are illegal in all circumstances — many are prescribed to the general public and sold through pharmacies and dispensaries for legitimate medical treatment.
To determine if a particular drug is legal, you should refer to the federal controlled substance schedules. Read on to learn more about the different controlled substances schedules and how state and federal governments enforce controlled substance laws.
Controlled Substance Schedules: Which Drugs Can I Legally Possess?
The federal government defines a controlled substance as any of the substances listed in the schedules of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA). The schedules are broken down into five categories:
- Schedule I – These substances have no accepted medical use, are unsafe, and hold a high potential for abuse. Examples include heroin, LSD, marijuana, peyote, and ecstasy.
- Schedule II – These narcotics and stimulants have a high potential for abuse and engender severe psychological or physical dependence. Examples include Dilaudid, hydrocodone, methadone, Demerol, OxyContin, Percocet, morphine, opium, codeine, amphetamine (Dexedrine, Adderall), and methamphetamine
- Schedule III – These are substances that have less potential for abuse but can still lead to moderate or low physical dependence and high psychological dependence. They include Tylenol with Codeine, Suboxone, ketamine, and anabolic steroids.
- Schedule IV – These ubstances have a lower potential for abuse than Schedule III drugs, and include Xanax, Soma, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan, Versed, Restoril, and Halcion.
- Schedule V – These are primarily preparations that contain limited quantities of narcotics, including cough syrups that contain codeine.
Technically, it’s illegal to possess any one of the drugs listed in the schedules. However, if you are properly prescribed and have lawfully purchased one of the substances, you have not violated the law and you are exempt from prosecution.
Penalties for drug offenses vary depending on the drug and the quantity of drug that was involved in the crime. For example, someone charged with 500-4999 grams mixture of cocaine, a schedule II drug, will receive between 5-40 years in prison and a fine of less than $5 million.
If the crime involved death or serious bodily injury, the punishment increases to between 20 years and life imprisonment, plus less than a $5 million fine. The same penalty applies to several other drugs/drug quantities, even though the drugs may be classified in different drug schedules. The U.S.
Drug Enforcement Division (DEA) provides charts illustrating drug trafficking penalties.
State and Federal Controlled Substances Laws — What Applies?
The Controlled Substances Act is a federal law, so any state laws that conflict with the CSA ly won't be upheld by a federal court. The Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution provides that if there's a conflict between a state and a federal law, the federal law preempts, or takes supremacy over, the state law.
However, the states are allowed flexibility in how they decide to enforce (or not enforce) the CSA, and some states have created even stricter laws. The vast majority of states have simply adopted the provisions of the CSA by adopting the Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1973.
Only thirty states have adopted the updated version that provides more authority for state governments to seize assets in criminal prosecutions.
In the case of marijuana regulation, the CSA trumps all state laws under the Supremacy Clause, so marijuana possession remains illegal in all fifty states. States wishing to allow for more leniency in marijuana use simply do not criminalize the possession and use of small amounts marijuana or pass «medical marijuana» regulations to allow possession and use for limited medical purposes.
Crimes Associated with Controlled Substances
Under the CSA, it’s unlawful to do the following with a controlled or counterfeit substance:
- Distribute (import, export, or traffic)
- Possess with intent to manufacture, distribute (import, export, or traffic), or dispense
- Attempt or conspire to do any of the above
The above terms are interpreted quite broadly, so the mere possession of any drug listed in the CSA schedules is subject to prosecution and punishable by a fine and/or imprisonment. State laws regulating controlled substances vary widely, so you should check the law of your state with the National Association of State Controlled Substances Authorities.
More Questions About Controlled Substances? Ask an Attorney
It's important to understand what is a controlled substance and what is not. Whether you're facing criminal charges for possession of a controlled substance or you're wondering if you can legally travel with your own prescription medication, you should consult with a local criminal defense attorney to review the current state of the law as it applies to you.
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Controlled Substance Schedules
Definition of Controlled Substance Schedules
Lists of Scheduling Actions, Controlled Substances, Regulated Chemicals (PDF) (August 2021)
This document is a general reference and not a comprehensive list. This list describes the basic or parent chemical and does not describe the salts, isomers and salts of isomers, esters, ethers and derivatives which may also be controlled substances.
Exempt Anabolic Steroid Products Procedures
Exempt Anabolic Steroid Products List (PDF) (November 5, 2020)
Exempt Chemical Preparations (§1308.23 (a))
Exempt Chemical Preparation Application Process (§1308.23 (b-d))
Processing Exempt Chemical Preparation Application (§1308.23 (e-f))
Relevant Application Information (§1308.24)
Exempt Chemical Preparations List (PDF) (August 27, 2021) For Application Dates Through March 31, 2021
Exempted Prescription Products Application
Table of Exempted Prescription Products (PDF) (June 26, 2021)
Section 812 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. §801 et seq.) (CSA) lists substances which were controlled in 1970 when the CSA was enacted. Since then many substances have been added, removed, or transferred from one schedule to another.
The current list of controlled substances can be found in section 1308 of the most recent issue of Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1300 to end (21 CFR §1308) and the final rules which were published in the Federal Register subsequent to the issuance of the CFR.
These lists describe the basic or parent chemical and do not describe the salts, isomers, salts of isomers, esters, ethers, and derivatives which may be controlled substances.
These are not comprehensive lists so please note that a substance need not be listed as a controlled substance to be treated as a scheduled substance for criminal prosecution.
The «Other Names» column, provides some examples of alternate names for certain compounds, and in some instances provides examples of «positional isomers».
If outside parties want to ensure that a compound is not considered a scheduled substance or listed chemical, they should write the DEA, Drug and Chemical Evaluation Section (DRE), Diversion Control Division, 8701 Morrissette Drive, Springfield, Virginia 22152, for an official determination.
A substance (not included on these lists) may also be regulated as a controlled substance analogue.
A controlled substance analogue is a substance which is intended for human consumption, is structurally substantially similar to a schedule I or schedule II substance, is pharmacologically substantially similar to a schedule I or schedule II substance, or is represented as being similar to a schedule I or schedule II substance and is not an approved medication in the United States. See 21 U.S.C. §802(32)(A) for the definition of a controlled substance analogue and 21 U.S.C. §813 for the schedule.
|GHB||Gamma hydroxybutyric acid, gamma hydroxybutyrate, 4-hydroxybutanoic acid, sodium oxybate|
|LSD||Lysergic acid diethylamide, lysergide|
Definition of Controlled Substance Schedules
Drugs and other substances that are considered controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) are divided into five schedules. An updated and complete list of the schedules is published annually in Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations (C.F.R.) §§1308.
11 through 1308.15. Substances are placed in their respective schedules whether they have a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, their relative abuse potential, and lihood of causing dependence when abused.
Some examples of the drugs in each schedule are listed below.
Schedule I Controlled Substances
Substances in this schedule have no currently accepted medical use in the United States, a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, and a high potential for abuse.
Some examples of substances listed in Schedule I are: heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), marijuana (cannabis), peyote, methaqualone, and 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine («Ecstasy»).
Schedule II/IIN Controlled Substances (2/2N)
Substances in this schedule have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Examples of Schedule II narcotics include: hydromorphone (Dilaudid®), methadone (Dolophine®), meperidine (Demerol®), oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percocet®), and fentanyl (Sublimaze®, Duragesic®). Other Schedule II narcotics include: morphine, opium, codeine, and hydrocodone.
Examples of Schedule IIN stimulants include: amphetamine (Dexedrine®, Adderall®), methamphetamine (Desoxyn®), and methylphenidate (Ritalin®).
Other Schedule II substances include: amobarbital, glutethimide, and pentobarbital.
Schedule III/IIIN Controlled Substances (3/3N)
Substances in this schedule have a potential for abuse less than substances in Schedules I or II and abuse may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.
Examples of Schedule III narcotics include: products containing not more than 90 milligrams of codeine per dosage unit (Tylenol with Codeine®), and buprenorphine (Suboxone®).
Examples of Schedule IIIN non-narcotics include: benzphetamine (Didrex®), phendimetrazine, ketamine, and anabolic steroids such as Depo®-Testosterone.
Schedule IV Controlled Substances
Substances in this schedule have a low potential for abuse relative to substances in Schedule III.
Examples of Schedule IV substances include: alprazolam (Xanax®), carisoprodol (Soma®), clonazepam (Klonopin®), clorazepate (Tranxene®), diazepam (Valium®), lorazepam (Ativan®), midazolam (Versed®), temazepam (Restoril®), and triazolam (Halcion®).
Schedule V Controlled Substances
Substances in this schedule have a low potential for abuse relative to substances listed in Schedule IV and consist primarily of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics.
Examples of Schedule V substances include: cough preparations containing not more than 200 milligrams of codeine per 100 milliliters or per 100 grams (Robitussin AC®, Phenergan with Codeine®), and ezogabine.