What Does Schedule 1 Drug Mean? Why is Marijuana Schedule 1?

If you don’t live under a rock, you may have heard of different drugs being grouped into schedules. Unfortunately, this system does not mean different substances have been placed on your calendar for future use courtesy of the federal government. If I just burst you bubble you might be wondering, “what does schedule 1 drug mean?”

You may have also heard of the travesty that a drug as harmless as cannabis is in Schedule 1. You may now find yourself asking the question, “Why is marijuana schedule 1?” If this is the case, there’s no need to be alarmed. This will be your guide to the scheduling system and what it means for you and drugs.

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What does schedule 1 drug mean?

The scheduling system is a system by which the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) decides which substances are dangerous and which substances are medically useful. However, the system might not function exactly how you think.

In total there are five schedules of drugs. Contrary to popular belief, these are not ranked in order of dangerousness to the individual, but their potential for abuse. This is true of schedules 2 – 5.

Therefore drugs such as fentanyl in schedule 2, are regarded as having a greater potential for abuse than cough syrup with less than 200 milligrams of codeine which is in schedule 5.

“The difference is that they regard meth as medically useful and cannabis as having no such benefits”

The biggest distinction between these groups, however, is between schedule 1 and all the rest. Schedule 1 and 2 are regarded as having equal potential for abuse. The main difference between the two resides in the fact that schedule 1 substances are believed to have no medical uses whatsoever. Therefore according to the DEA, weed (schedule 1) and meth (schedule 2) have equal potential for abuse.

So why is marijuana schedule 1? A large body of research is continually emerging proving the efficacy of cannabis for a variety of medicinal purposes from depression to epilepsy. In fact, cannabis has been utilized effectively as a substance that combats addiction, fighting the withdrawal symptoms associated with opioid abuse.

Let’s have a deeper look at some of the inherent issues with the scheduling system that contributed to

Hank Schrader is Upset
Meth is schedule 2 under the DEA’s classification system… Weed is schedule 1… this upsets Hank Schrader (image via Entertainment.ie)

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The Problems With the Scheduling System

It’s Completely Arbitrary

In principle, the scheduling system could be a useful tool. However, the way its administered is completely arbitrary. This is the answer to the question, “why is marijuana schedule 1?”

The Controlled Substances Act, the legislation surrounding the scheduling system, was created in 1970. At the time our scientific understanding of drugs, as well as society’s readiness to listen to such scientific consensuses was in its infancy at best.

This resulted in some bizarre groupings… Heroin, for instance, enjoys a lofty schedule 1 status. Oxycodone, on the other hand, an opioid with a very similar chemical structure which is abused more frequently, is in schedule 2.

Does the DEA actually believe that marijuana is as addictive as heroin? Maybe at one point. However, with no current scientific knowledge backing up the system of classification, the question of “what does schedule 1 drug mean?” might have a meaningless answer.

It Hampers Valuable Medical Research

The DEA’s Scheduling System prevents scientists from conducting valuable medical research. (Image via purogen.com)

It seems that in its judgment of what has medical usage, the DEA has it all wrong. Because they have been labeled as having no purported medical uses, drugs within schedule 1 are unable to attain federal funding for research programs.

Science is not a static endeavor, thus our understanding of the world must be constantly reassessed. Drugs that were regarded as benign many years ago are now known to be dangerous. Drugs that were once regarded as dangerous, might, in fact, be medicine.

In recent years, scientific research has determined that cannabis has a wide range of medicinal benefits for conditions as diverse as cancer, traumatic brain injuries, and epilepsy.

Much of this research is coming from outside the US as a result of its classification. Thus the world’s largest economy is unable to mobilize its resources to further develop a life-saving industry.

Liam O’Brien with Dr. Orrin Devinsky, one of the country’s leading epilepsy specialists. (File image via Karsten Moran)
For many people, cannabis is a lie saving medicine (image via Karsten Moran)

Other substances that share a residence with cannabis in schedule 1 such as LSD and Magic Mushrooms have shown great promise of their own as potential therapeutic drugs. However within the United States… The motherland of many of the early psychedelic studies, a cap has been put on what the scientific community is allowed to discover.

What other knowledge and medicines have been lost in the waste bin that is schedule 1? We may never know. It seems that it might be time to do away with a label that evidently has no effect other than to delay progress.


The scheduling system itself could be of great benefit if used correctly. Based on data derived from experimentation, the DEA might be able to determine how much potential for abuse various substances have.

However, it seems as if the time to do away with schedule 1 has come. Labeling substances as having no medical benefit seems to be an outdated notion and an arrogant one at that. It assumes that our current understanding of the world is the final say… And that we have nothing else to learn. This sort of stagnation is as foolish as it is dangerous.

By: Stefan Hosko

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