Module 6: how drugs work: facilitator's guide

3.3 The legality of drugs

Page last updated: 2004

Drugs can also be classified in terms of their legal status.

The legal status of drugs is often due to historical and political factors rather than how harmful the drug is.

Formal sanctions such as laws that prohibit the use of certain substances can deter people from using those drugs but they do not necessarily stop use altogether.

Prescriptions are another way of influencing the use and availability of drugs.

Question - What are two or more other psycho-active drugs in each of these categories?

  • Legally available to adults: e.g. Over the counter painkillers

  • Legal with prescription: e.g. Ritalin

  • Illegal to use: e.g. Cocaine


  • The most useful system of classifying drugs is by their effect on the central nervous system
    • Stimulants speed up the CNS
    • Depressants slow down the CNS
    • Hallucinogens distort the message carried in the CNS
    • Other - those drugs that do not easily fit into the other groups.
  • Some drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy can fit into more than one category.

Distance learners

(A good point for student to contact facilitator.)

Distance learners have been advised to make contact with you, the facilitator, to check their learning progress.