Controlled Substances for Medical Use Grouped into Distinct Categories

Controlled Substances for Medical Use Grouped into Distinct Categories

Controlled substances, usually prescribed for severe or chronic pain, have medical benefits but are carefully regulated due to their potentially addictive qualities and possibility for abuse. Many carry a range of formal and street names, which can contribute to confusion surrounding their use. Formally, these drugs are placed into distinct classifications: hallucinogens, also known as psychedelic drugs; cannabis, depressants, narcotics or stimulants.

Hallucinogens, such as LSD, peyote (an extract of the peyote cactus), certain mushrooms and mescaline, are used for pain but also used in psychotherapy to treat illnesses of the mind. Popularly known for creating dreamlike images and hallucinations, these drugs can take objects form the unconscious mind into the conscious mind. Some, like peyote, have been used in spiritual rituals for centuries. They can be eaten, injected, smoked or absorbed via bodily membranes. Several laws were passed during the 1960s when hallucinogens reached their height of abuse.

Often used as tranquilizers or pain injections, narcotics can be either opiates or non-opiates. This category was first banned in the U.S., except as a medical treatment, in 1914. Morphine and codeine are opiates, coming from the poppy; so are heroin and opium. Demerol and methadone are common non-opiates, or synthetic narcotics. When used for non-medical purposes, narcotics can produce a sensation of euphoria and become addicting. Withdrawal from narcotics can be harsh, including vomiting, lack of sleep, depression, muscle weakness and even anorexia.

Marijuana, hashish or hashish oil fall into the cannabis category of controlled substances. Typically smoked, cannabis drugs are not formally recognized for medical use in the U.S., but they have been prescribed in patients with eye conditions like glaucoma. These drugs are not addictive and not known to produce hallucinations. However, they may open the door to use of other addictive drugs. Marijuana has a long history of use, even as early as 1850 for illnesses such as gout. The drug also became a substitute for alcohol during Prohibition. Nearly all states had banned marijuana by 1937 due to actions by the Bureau of Narcotics.

Stimulants, another form of controlled substance, can be natural or man-made and also have a lengthy history of medical use. Cocaine, a natural form of stimulants, comes from the coca plant of South America and can be addicting at the psychological level and produce severe withdrawal symptoms. Synthetic stimulants like amphetamines were developed as early as the late 1800s and are used for depression and narcolepsy because they activate the central nervous system. Overuse of stimulants is linked with hyperactive behavior or symptoms like paranoia and anxiety. Extended use of stimulants and excessive doses can result in a “crash,” bringing on extreme tiredness and even depression. Cocaine has been outlawed with other narcotics since 1914, and the sale of amphetamines has been regulated since 1954.
Commonly recognized as Valium or Librium, depressants are a category of controlled substances that bring on sedation, including tranquilizers and barbiturates. Medically, they can be used to help patients sleep or lessen anxiety.
While patients in the U.S. have the right to pain medications, controlled substances continue to garner national attention and concern among physicians who prescribe them, especially toward patients with substance abuse problems.

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