Illegal narcotics are illegal because of their relative dangers. Some of these drugs are highly addictive, others are easy to overdose on, and others are powerful and unpredictable.
List of Illegal Drugs
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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has a list of illegal drugs separated into categories known as “schedules.” These schedules are determined based on a few different factors, including whether the drug has any acceptable medical use and the potential for diversion, misuse, physiological and psychological dependence, and addiction.1
Schedule I Controlled Substances have no accepted medical use and high potential for abuse. Other drug schedules, such as Schedule II and Schedule III, may be legal for certain medical uses but it’s illegal to possess them or use them without a prescription. Misusing any substances—whether illegal drugs or legal—can have detrimental consequences on your physical and mental health.
In this article:
Schedule I Illegal Drugs
Schedule I drugs are put into this category because they have a high potential for misuse, and there is no accepted medical use for the drug, meaning there is a lack of safety in using the substance.2
You can find a comprehensive list of all Schedule I drugs on the DEA’s website. Some of the more commonly used drugs on this list are:3
- Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
Heroin comes from opium poppy plants. It is often found in powder form but also sometimes as a black sticky tar-like substance that you can snort, inject, or smoke. People tend to use this drug for its intense euphoria and relaxation. However, there are some short-term negative effects you may experience including:4
- Feeling hot or having skin flushes
- Dry mouth
- Feeling like your limbs are heavy
- Stomach issues like nausea and vomiting
- Severe itching
- Impairment in mental functioning
- Becoming unconscious or semi-conscious
Heroin use also runs the risk of an overdose as well, either by using too much of this opioid or because it’s cut with an extremely potent drug like fentanyl.
Marijuana is a mixture of green or brown dried flowers derived from a cannabis plant. You can smoke this drug in a cigarette or pipe, inhale it through a vaporizer or bong, brew it as a tea, or mix it into food to create an edible. Marijuana alters your senses and may make pleasurable sensations even more enjoyable. However, there are some short-term negative effects you may experience, including:5
- Changes in mood such as paranoia, anxiety, or depression
- Problems with body movement
- Memory issues or difficulty concentrating and thinking clearly
LSD is a synthetic hallucinogenic drug that is usually taken by mouth in tablet form, food item, or liquid. This drug has a hallucinogenic effect that can cause you to see and hear things that are not there. Some of the other short-term effects include:6
- Feelings of despair
- Extreme feelings of fear
- Depression or other forms of psychosis
MDMA is a synthetic drug that has similar effects to both stimulants and hallucinogens, which make you feel energetic, happy, emotional warmth, and have a distorted sense of time and surroundings. It is usually taken in tablet form, although you can also drink it as a liquid or snort it as a powder. The negative effects of ecstasy include:7
- Feeling nauseous
- Muscle cramps
- Vision problems
- Chills or sweating
- Mood changes, including irritability, anxiety, depression, aggression
- Sleep problems
PCP was initially developed as an anesthetic drug, but medical professionals stopped using it because of the adverse effects. You can snort it, swallow tablets, or smoke the drug, and it will alter your mind and produce hallucinogenic and dissociative effects. PCP may also cause:8
- Psychological dependence
- Compulsive behavior
- Violent or suicidal behavior
- Delusions and paranoia
- Seizures or coma
Psilocybin (Magic Mushrooms)
Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) is a hallucinogenic drug similar to LSD, except it is naturally occurring. Mushrooms can be eaten or brewed in a tea and can produce hallucinations and euphoric feelings. If you take magic mushrooms, you may be at risk of the following:9
- Nausea or vomiting
- Muscle weakness or uncoordinated movements
- Hallucinations that induce panic
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Schedule II Illegal Drugs
Drugs will get placed in this category if they have a high potential for misuse and if the misuse may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. One difference between Schedule II and Schedule I drugs is that Schedule II drugs have an accepted medical use, though they are illegal for non-medical use.2
List of Schedule II illegal drugs:3
Fentanyl is a prescription opioid drug used in the medical field as a pain reliever, often used for cancer patients. Many people divert prescription fentanyl for misuse, which is a dangerous practice. Additionally, many people make fentanyl illegally in labs and either distribute it as is or cut other drugs like heroin with the illicit fentanyl. Fentanyl is an extremely potent and potentially fatal opioid that is responsible for countless overdose deaths in the United States.
As an illegal drug, fentanyl can be injected, snorted/sniffed, smoked, taken orally by pill or tablet, and spiked onto blotter paper. You may use this drug for its positive effects like relaxation, euphoria, and pain relief, but you also risk the negative effects like:10
- Mental confusion
- Feeling drowsy or dizzy
- Nausea or vomiting
- Trouble breathing
Cocaine is a stimulant drug made from the coca plant. It can be used medically as a local anesthetic. It comes in powder form as a street drug that can be snorted, rubbed into your gums, or liquified and injected. You may feel a burst of happiness and energy when taking this drug, but you may also experience:11
- Hypersensitivity to sensory stimulation
- Rapid heart rate
- Constricted blood vessels or elevated blood pressure
Methamphetamine is available as a prescription for obesity and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As an illegal drug, it is swallowed, snorted, injected, or smoked. This drug produces a rush or high by releasing dopamine, a “feel-good” chemical in the brain. Some of the harmful effects may include:12
- Trouble sleeping
- Rapid breathing and heart rate
- Elevated blood pressure
- Memory problems
- Dental issues
Other Illegal Drugs
Additionally, there are other prescription drugs not listed as Schedule II substances that are illegal to use without a prescription, such as:
Why Are Drugs Illegal?
Drugs are labeled as illegal if there is a potential for misuse of the substance. The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) was first established in 1970 and attempted to put certain guidelines in place to control illegal drugs.
The CSA identified certain factors in deciding whether a substance had the potential for misuse. The factors included:2
- Evidence that people are using the drug in amounts that create health hazards or decrease safety to the drug user or surrounding community.
- The selling and buying of the drug are significantly diverted from legitimate and controlled channels.
- A significant amount of people are using the drug outside of the advice or supervision of a medical professional.
- A new drug is closely related to an existing drug that met the previous criteria.
If a substance is found to have no medical use, it is automatically designated as an illegal substance. When evidence shows that a substance has dangerous effects on your health or that it is likely to produce dependence on the substance, it will also be considered illegal.
If you or someone you know is using illegal drugs and wants help quitting, please call 800-407-7195(Who Answers?) to speak to a specialist about treatment options.
- United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Scheduling. United States Department of Justice.
- Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Department of Justice. (2020) Drugs of Abuse, A DEA Resource Guide (2020 Edition). Washington DC: Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Department of Justice.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Commonly Abused Drugs Chart. National Institutes of Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Heroin DrugFacts. National Institutes of Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- National Library of Medicine. Marijuana. National Institutes of Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- National Drug Intelligence Center. LSD Fast Facts. United States Department of Justice.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). MDMA (Ecstasy/Molly) DrugFacts. National Institutes of Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- National Drug Intelligence Center. PCP Fast Facts. United States Department of Justice.
- United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: Psilocybin. United States Department of Justice.
- United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: Fentanyl. United States Department of Justice.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. Cocaine DrugFacts. National Institutes of Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Drug Fact Sheet: Methamphetamine. United States Department of Justice.