Classification of Legal and Illegal Drugs

Paper Info
Page count 4
Word count 1130
Read time 4 min
Topic Health
Type Essay
Language 🇺🇸 US

Although it is commonly perceived that drugs are legally banned substances, the use of which leads to impaired health and addiction, some of the products that most Americans regularly consume are classified as drugs as well. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) (n.d.), these substances are classified into five categories depending on their applicability in medicine and potential for causing addiction. An alternative approach to classifying substances is using their chemical structure and effect on one’s body as determinants. This paper will examine the classification of drugs and their addictive qualities.

Some commonly known stimulants are caffeine, nicotine, as well as cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine. The former two are legal and can be accessed in any grocery store across the state, while the latter’s possession may lead to a prison sentencing. Stimulants are substances that affect the nervous system of the body and “increase alertness, attention, energy, blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate” (“Drug class explained,” n.d., para. 3). The potential danger of these substances is that if overused, they can cause heart failure or seizures. Notably, some amphetamines, such as Adderall, are prescription drugs used to treat attention deficit disorder (“Drug class explained,” n.d.). Hence, there are both unharmful and harmful substances in this category.

Notably, caffeine and nicotine are not usually perceived as dangerous, although they cause addiction. In comparison, cocaine is classified as an illegal substance, together with amphetamines and methamphetamines, unless the latter were prescribed for a medical condition. Despite this, 5.1 million Americans over the age of 12 misused prescribed stimulants in 2018 (“Drug class explained,” n.d., para. 7). Another category is depressants, which present an effect that suppresses the nervous system. Alcohol is an example of a recreational depressant, while benzodiazepines are prescription-only drugs of this category (“Drug class explained,” n.d.). Due to the sedative nature of these substances, they are often used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders or stress. High doses of depressants can lead to abuse and addiction. Another drug in this category is heroine, which is “highly addictive and has a high risk of abuse” (“Drug class explained,” n.d., para. 25). However, heroin is also classified as an opioid, which affects emotions and has a pain-relieving effect.

Hallucinogens, as the name of the category, suggests, cause hallucinations. As a result of this drug use, a person experiences a false perception of reality. For instance, they may see things that are not present in fact (“Drug class explained,” n.d.). Hence, a person taking hallucinogens sees the world around them differently from others. Additionally, these substances increase the levels of serotonin hormone, which results in impaired cognition and memory problems (“Drug class explained,” n.d.). A commonly known drug that belongs in this category is LSD. In general, this subcategory does not appear to have an evident medical use that would benefit patients, and the addictiveness and impact on the person’s perception of reality make these substances dangerous. A subcategory of hallucinogens is dissociative substances that cause a sense of detachment. Some examples are ketamine and PCP, which result in both hallucinations and detachment (“Drug class explained,” n.d.). Hence, hallucinogens have varied effects on an individual’s perception of reality and can even cause a sense of dis attachment.

Finally, marijuana is a frug that has caused a policy debate over the last several years, with one party arguing that its benefits significantly outweigh the risks of use. This substance belongs to the category of cannabinoids, or drugs that can be found in plants and that impact the cannabinoid receptors (“Drug class explained,” n.d.). One of the components of cannabinoids that does not cause the “high,” which is Cannabidiol, is used for medical purposes to help people be calm and treat anxiety (“Drug class explained,” n.d., para. 40). This effect of marijuana and the research into the use of this drug has caused a public debate concerning the prohibition of use.

When comparing the different classes of drugs, one can see that the categorization is based on the effect they have on a person and not the substance’s danger. This differentiates the medical and legal classification of drugs since DEA focuses mainly on the potential threat of a substance. In contrast, a medical classification reviews the components of a drug and its impact on a person’s functioning. Also, this classification requires a discussion regarding the government’s decision to place specific drugs into one category, for example, nicotine and amphetamine being classified as one type of substance.

With this classification, no single category can be perceived as safe because, for example, stimulants include both safe substances, such as coffee and amphetamines, which cause addiction and side effects. Hence different types of drugs from one category can be either safe with relatively low harm for an individual using them or potentially dangerous. Similar patterns exist in the depressants category, where there is alcohol, which can be accessed by any person of legal age, and benzodiazepines. The latter can cause a person to lose consciousness, experience difficulties when breathing, and potential death (“Drug class explained,” n.d.). Despite this, this type of medication is used to treat severe illnesses such as insomnia. Another substance from this class is benzodiazepines, which medical professionals often use because of their sedative qualities (“Drug class explained,” n.d.). Thus, the categorization of these substances does not allow an individual to understand their potential danger since relatively safe drugs are placed in the same category as dangerous ones. The only category that does not have substances that would be commonly used by the general population is hallucinogens. In contrast, stimulants and depressants can be used to treat psychological and medical conditions.

New research provides evidence for changing the existing classification since, in each of the reviewed categories, some substances have medical benefits and the ones that do not cause substantial harm. Moreover, the classification offered by DEA (n.d.) differs from the one reviewed in this paper, and it considers the potential harmful effect on a person’s health and potential danger of addiction. Moreover, there are other categories of substances, such as inhalants and steroids, and human maid cannabinoids that are potentially dangerous and are not included in the reviewed classification. Considering this, policymakers should use scientific evidence to reassess the harm and potential benefits of some substances to reclassify them.

In summary, this paper reviews the different classes of drugs, their effects, and their use. There is a significant difference in the way substances from each category affect the cognition and body of an individual. Moreover, in each category apart from hallucinogens, some drugs are commonly used by the general population or the ones that are often prescribed to treat medical conditions. It appears that the government should change the classification of these drugs with the emergence of new research.


Drug class explained. (n.d.). 2021, Web.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). (n.d.). Drug scheduling. Web.

Cite this paper


NerdyBro. (2022, August 8). Classification of Legal and Illegal Drugs. Retrieved from


NerdyBro. (2022, August 8). Classification of Legal and Illegal Drugs.

Work Cited

"Classification of Legal and Illegal Drugs." NerdyBro, 8 Aug. 2022,


NerdyBro. (2022) 'Classification of Legal and Illegal Drugs'. 8 August.


NerdyBro. 2022. "Classification of Legal and Illegal Drugs." August 8, 2022.

1. NerdyBro. "Classification of Legal and Illegal Drugs." August 8, 2022.


NerdyBro. "Classification of Legal and Illegal Drugs." August 8, 2022.