Types of Mind Altering Drugs – Legal Classification

Mind-altering drugs are chemical agents that alter brain chemistry our in a way that changes how we think, we feel, act, and relate to other people. In other words, mind-altering substances physically change how your brain works.  Taking a mind-altering substance is a lot like letting a surgeon operate on your brain using a rusty scalpel.  Let me explain why I say this.

The human brain is a complex chemical factory.  Millions of nerve cells communicate with each other by releasing and absorbing chemicals called neurotransmitters. Mind-altering substances change our thoughts, our feelings, and our behaviors by changing the levels of neurotransmitters in our brain cells.  Different mind-altering substances stimulate or inhibit the production of different neurotransmitters.  As a result, different types of drugs produce different mind-altering effects.

There are many different types of mind-altering substances.  The Controlled Substance Act of 1970 defines five categories of controlled substances that are dangerous enough to be controlled by law.  It is important for actively using addicts and those in relationship with them know which drugs are illegal and what the legal penalty are for being caught buying, possessing, using or selling these drugs.  The penalties can be quite high and no addict is immune from being caught.

Potential drugs of abuse are legally classified using four criteria: (1) the drug has a high potential for abuse as demonstrated by the fact that many users start to abuse and get addicted to the drug, (2) the drug has limited medical usefulness, or there are other drugs with a lower addiction potential can that can meet the same medical need, (3) the drug has a high potential for dependency or addiction if a person starts using it, and (4) the drug needs special control and monitoring procedures to minimize the risk of abuse and addiction among the general population.

There are five categories of controlled substances, which if used or misused become illegal drugs of abuse. Here is a description of each of the five schedules or categories of these drugs.

Schedule I drugs have a high abuse potential and no accepted medical use. This schedule includes drugs such as heroin, marijuana, LSD. (See Appendix 1)

Schedule II drugs have a high potential for abuse and a high risk of severe psychological and/or physical dependency and addiction. These risks, however, are offset because in certain situations they have significant medical value. Examples of schedule II substances include narcotics, amphetamines, and barbiturates. Prescriptions for Schedule II substances can never be ordered with refills and must be filled within 7 days of the date originally written.

Schedule III substances have less potential for abuse than Schedule II substances and moderate dependence liability. Examples of Schedule III substances include nonbarbiturate sedatives, nonamphetamine stimulants, and medications that contain a limited quantity of certain narcotics. Schedule III drugs also have significant medical value in certain circumstances. Prescriptions must be filled within 30 days of the date written and may be refilled up to five times within 6 months.

Schedule IV substances have less abuse potential than Schedule III substances and limited dependence liability. Prescriptions must be filled within 30 days of the date written and may be refilled up to five times within a 6-month period. (See Appendix 4)

Schedule V substances have limited abuse potential and are primarily antitussives or antidiarrheals that contain small amounts of narcotics such as codeine. Prescriptions must be filled within 30 days of the date written and may be refilled up to five times within 6 months. (See Appendix 5)

It’s important to understand the schedule of controlled drugs because using or selling drugs in Schedule I or illegally obtaining, possessing, using, or selling prescription guidelines for schedules II and III could put you in jail for a long time.

Legal classification is useful in warning people about what drugs are dangerous and in providing legal definition for use in a criminal trial and in sentencing guidelines.  I have found that the legal classification system does very little to help addicts understand why they are drawn to and tend to addicted to these drugs in spite of the risks.

To understand this, let’s look at a way of classifying the alcohol and other drugs of abuse by the effects each class of drugs was designed to have on the people using it.  This will be the subject of the next Gorski Blog.

One thought on “Types of Mind Altering Drugs – Legal Classification

  1. What an interesting set of articles – and easy to follow and understand. I just have one question – I always thought of the word narcotics being a generic description including all drugs. In your article, it seems to be one of a type/family of drug. If so, which are specific drugs included in the group of narcotics? Thank you

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