You asked: What are scheduled drugs?

Published 2:31 pm Sunday, March 5, 2023

In arrest reports and crime stories, the terms “Schedule I” or “Schedule II” controlled substances are often used. But what do those terms mean?

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, drugs, substances and certain chemicals used to make drugs are classified into five distinct categories (schedules) depending upon its accepted medical use and the potential for abuse or dependency. 

The abuse rate is a determining factor in the drug’s scheduling. Schedule I drugs have a high potential for abuse and potential to create severe psychological and/or physical dependence. As schedules change, so does the abuse potential. Schedule V drugs have the least potential for abuse.

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A substance does not have to be listed as a controlled substance, however, to be treated as a Schedule I substance for criminal prosecution. Something intended for human consumption and structurally or pharmacologically substantially similar to a Schedule I or II substance — or presented as such — and is not approved for medical use in the U.S. can be considered Schedule I or II for criminal prosecution.

Schedule I

Drugs, substances or chemicals with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Examples: heroin; lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD); 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy); methaqualone; peyote; and marijuana/cannabis.

Schedule II

Drugs, substances or chemicals with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence; dangerous. Examples: cocaine; methamphetamine; methadone; hydromorphone (Dilaudid); meperidine (Demerol); osycodone (OxyContin); less than 15 mg hydrocodone per dosage unit (Vicadin); Dexedrine; Adderall; Ritalin; and fentanyl.

Schedule III

Moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence. Examples: less than 90 mg codeine per dosage unit (Tylenol with codeine); ketamine; anabolic steroids; and testosterone. 

Schedule IV

Low potential for abuse or dependence. Examples: Xanax; Soma; Darvon; Darvocet; Valium; Ativan; Talwin; Ambien; and Tramadol.

Schedule V

Lower potential for abuse than Schedule IV and consist of preparations containing limited quantities of certain narcotics; generally used for antidiarrheal, antitussive and analgesic purposes. Examples: cough preparations with less than 200 mg codeine per 100 milliliters (Robitussin AC); Lomotil; Motofen; Lyrica; and Parepectolin.

For a copy of DEA’s list of controlled substances in alphabetical order, visit