Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Schedule 1 drugs are substances considered high risk under United States federal law, have no therapeutic or medical value, and therefore cannot be lawfully possessed or prescribed.
Individual countries have differences in what drugs are classified to which schedule.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) lists heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), methaqualone, and peyote as examples of Schedule 1 drugs.
Marijuana (cannabis) is also classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
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How the Federal Government Classifies Illicit Drugs
The three organizations involved in drug scheduling are the DEA, the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The DEA, HHS, or public petition can initiate a review, and the DEA then asks the HHS, through the FDA, to review the medical and scientific evidence regarding a drug’s schedule.
The factors that determine what schedule a drug belongs to include:
- The scientific evidence for a drug’s pharmacological effects.
- The scientific evidence for a drug’s medical use.
- A drug’s potential for abuse.
- A drug’s safety profile.
The main difference between a Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 drug is whether or not the government thinks it has medical value, not how harmful it is.
Several Schedule 1 drugs show strong evidence of medical or therapeutic value. Cannabis-derived CBD is a Schedule 1 drug, but cannabis-extracted CBD in Epidiolex (approved by the FDA) is a Schedule 5 drug. Synthetic THC (dronabinol or trade name Marinol) is Schedule 3. There are many inconsistencies regarding how drugs are scheduled.
Why Drug Schedules Matter
Drug schedules matter for a few reasons, including:
- It can affect the amount of research that can be conducted on a drug, as there are restrictions on how they can be possessed and supplied. The economic and possible social and legal costs form a barrier to entry for scientists wanting to research a Schedule 1 drug.
- It affects how people perceive the drug and can allow bias to influence the outcome of what should be objective scientific research.
- Although the application process to research Schedule 1 drugs has been improved, some otherwise promising research may find it impossible to get federal funding. This effectively stalls or freezes what could be vital research.
- It affects how people are sentenced when it comes to drug-related crimes.
What Are Schedule 1 Drugs?
Schedule 1 (Schedule I) drugs in the US include:
- Cannabis (marijuana)
- Synthetic cannabis and analogs (e.g., K2, Spice)
- Psilocybin and psilocin, including magic mushrooms
- Diacetylmorphine (heroin)
- Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD)
- Gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB)
- 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA, ecstasy)
- Cathinone, cathine, including Khat
- Methaqualone (quaaludes)
- Mescaline, including peyote
- 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone or MDPV (bath salts)
This is not a complete list.
Additional Drug Classifications
Schedule 2 Drugs
Schedule 2 (Schedule II) drugs have a high potential for psychological and/or physical dependence but have some medical uses. Examples of Schedule 2 drugs include:
- Combination products with less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit (Vicodin)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin)
Schedule 3 Drugs
Schedule 3 (Schedule III) drugs have a low to moderate potential for abuse. They include:
- Products containing less than 90 milligrams of codeine per dosage unit (Tylenol with codeine)
- Anabolic steroids
- Dronabinol (synthetic THC, trade name Marinol)
- Barbiturates (except secobarbital, now Schedule 2)
- Tramadol hydrochloride
Schedule 4 Drugs
Schedule 4 (Schedule IV) drugs are drugs, substances, or chemicals with low potential for abuse. Examples include:
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
- Carisoprodol (Soma)
- Dextropropoxyphene (Darvon, Darvocet)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Lorazepam (Ativan)
- Pentazocine (Talwin)
- Zolpidem (Ambien)
- Tramadol (Ultram)
Despite these drugs being considered to have a low potential for abuse, many are prescription benzodiazepines and opioid-based painkillers that many find addictive and have other adverse side effects like brain fog, itching and rashes, drowsiness, slurred speech, muscle weakness, and memory problems.
Schedule 5 Drugs
Schedule 5 (Schedule V) drugs, substances, or chemicals have a low potential for abuse and are considered to have therapeutic value. They are sometimes available as over-the-counter (OTC) preparations, although you may still need a prescription for some narcotic preparations. Schedule V drugs include:
- Cough preparations with less than 200 milligrams of codeine or per 100 milliliters (Robitussin AC)
- Diphenoxylate/atropine (Lomotil, Motofen)
- Pregabalin (Lyrica)
- Attapulgite (Parepectolin)
- Epidiolex (cannabidiol)
How Can Marijuana Be a Schedule 1 Drug and Legal in Certain States?
Successive governments have allowed states to determine their medical marijuana policies.
However, despite more states legalizing medical cannabis, the federal government has retained cannabis’ Schedule 1 listing. The simple reason is that there is little definitive evidence for cannabis’s medical potential in its natural, botanical form. To many, this seems illogical considering the growing amount of scientific evidence that exists and the fact that synthetic THC and natural CBD are Schedule 3 and Schedule 5, respectively. People have been petitioning to get cannabis removed from Schedule 1 of the CSA since 1972, but the government has not budged.
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How Drugs Are Rescheduled or Removed From Federal Regulations
There are two main ways in which drugs can be rescheduled or removed from federal regulations:
- Congressional action through new legislation specific to marijuana or tailored amendments to the CSA.
- Administrative action is where the drug, substance, or chemical goes through the DEA, FDA, and HHS to consider its therapeutic and medical potential. This then goes through to the Attorney General, who will review the FDA’s recommendations and decide whether to control the substance or not.
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