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What Dangerous Drugs Used to Be Legal in the U.S.A?

January 23, 2020

Users and distributors of illicit drugs risk jail terms and hefty fines. Several state and federal laws outlaw various drugs. However, things were not always this way. Many of these drugs were legal in the U.S. for years. Healthcare professionals promoted them for medical uses. People were still trying to understand them and did not know their effects.

Many States began passing laws to regulate or ban these drugs in the 19th century. The federal government adopted the Harrison Narcotics Act as its first legislation against drugs in 1914.

1. Opium

Opium became popular in the U.S. in the 1800s. Many businesses imported it for over 100 years. Doctors prescribed it in the 19th century, and traces of opium were in grocery items. The Chinese popularized opium use. Laudanum, a mixture of alcohol and the drug, was popular with them. People used it to relieve pain and treat menstrual cramps. It was also an ingredient for medications for conditions such as psychosis, bronchitis, and insomnia.

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Historians claim that the American Civil War was responsible for the rampant abuse of opium. They assert that veterans used opium-based drugs, such as morphine, like pain relievers. The widespread use of opium products and its effects led to its ban. The Harrison Narcotics Act outlawed opium throughout America. Drugs such as codeine and morphine, obtained from the opium poppy, are legal today but heavily restricted.

2. Marijuana

People used the cannabis plant with no restrictions as early as the 11th century. In 1619, farmers in Virginia had to grow it in their farms for textile production. Marijuana was a common ingredient in many medications sold towards the end of the 19th century. Recreational use of the drug began after immigrants fleeing from the effects of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 settled in America.

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California was the first state to ban marijuana in 1913. The federal government passed the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which criminalized the sale and possession of marijuana for recreational purposes. In 1952, the Boggs Act introduced mandatory punishments for offenses involving marijuana. Lawmakers regarded marijuana as the first drug people used before advancing to stronger narcotics. First-time offenders got sentences spanning between 2 to 10 years for possession of marijuana. Congress classified marijuana as a Schedule I substance, the most restrictive class, in its Controlled Substance Act of 1970.

California began the legalization of the medical use and possession of marijuana in 1996. Many other states have since legalized marijuana for both commercial and medicinal purposes. The federal government is still adamant about its stance against marijuana. It imposes hefty penalties when dealers operate between states.

3. Ecstasy 

Ecstasy, or MDMA, was a legal drug in the U.S. as recently as 1984. A chemist working at Merck, a German pharmaceutical corporation, created it in 1912. The company used it to synthesize medicines used to stop uterine bleeding. Psychiatrists popularized it in the U.S. in the 1970s. Alexander Shulgin, a professor at Berkeley, began praising it for its use during psychotherapy. Other experts adopted to facilitate their sessions and promote introspection.

People, mostly young professionals and college students, began using ecstasy for recreational purposes in the 1980s. It became a popular drug at nightclubs in Chicago and Dallas. In 1985, the government placed ecstasy under an emergency ban and categorized it as a Schedule I substance to reverse its widespread.

Researchers opposed the government ban on ecstasy. Their opposition led to heated public debates between scientists and law enforcement over the ban. A petition sent to the DEA started legal proceedings to determine the class of ecstasy. Petitioners won as the judge assigned to the case ruled that MDMA should be in a less restrictive schedule. The DEA removed the drug from Schedule I in 1987 but returned it a few months later. The drug remains a Schedule I drug today.

4. Heroin

Charles Romley Wright synthesized heroin in 1898. He did not discover that his invention could have other beneficial uses. Heinrich Dreser, an employee of Bayer pharmaceutical company, realized diacetylmorphine could have commercial applications. Experiments showed him it could be a less addictive substitute for morphine and effective medication for respiratory illnesses. His discovery gave patients with pneumonia and tuberculosis quick-acting relief. It also addressed morphine addiction, which was widespread. Doctors across the world praised the innovation and began using heroin.

The U.S. began flooding with gels, tablets, water-soluble salts, and cough syrups laced with heroin. Mother gave it to their children to help them sleep, and older adults used it for pneumonia. Addiction and heroin-related admissions began rising at alarming rates. Bayer stopped its production in 1913, and the U.S. restricted its use to medical purposes only in 1914. Delegates of the American Medical Association resolved that heroin should no longer have any medicinal application as of 1920. The U.S. outlawed heroin in 1924.

5. Cocaine

Cocaine was legal and an ingredient in many products for years. Many famous people, such as the Pope, were users of cocaine at the beginning of the 20th century. Athletes with low energy took it to boost their energy. Coca plant has been in use for various purposes for at least 3000 years. However, its modern incarnation began in the 1860s. Cocaine was in many products, such as in early forms of margarine and Coca-Cola. Health professionals used it to treat morphine addiction, asthma, tuberculosis, and depression.

Reports of cocaine addiction sparked public outrage. People were angry that the substance was posing a threat to the safety and health of its many users. Lawmakers began restricting its use. The federal government stepped in to curb the abuse of cocaine with the enactment of the Harrison Narcotics Act in 1914. The legislation outlawed the recreational use of cocaine and introduced stringent regulations for specialists prescribing cocaine to follow.

Outlawing cocaine made it disappear for some time. It emerged in the 1970s as American elites used it. This popularity caused its listing as a controlled substance in 1970. Prosecution for the usage of cocaine, which was rare before, became popular after the classification of the drug. Cocaine dropped in price after the fierce crackdown by authorities, and it became affordable to many Americans in the 1980s.

6. Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine, an easy to make and more potent form of amphetamine, originated from Japan in 1919. It is soluble in water, which makes it easy to inject into the body. Soldiers used methamphetamines during wars in the 20th century. The drug helped them stay awake. It made its way to the market, and people began using it for recreation. Medical experts also prescribed it to fight depression and help people with dietary problems. Its widespread use began when athletes, truck drivers, and college students began using it as a nonmedical stimulant in the 1950s.

Methamphetamine was in the U.S. market as Benzedrine from 1932. Benzedrine was a drug developed by Smith, Kline, and French to ease the struggles of patients with asthma. The government introduced regulations that required only people with prescriptions to use Benzedrine.

This change came in 1959 after people realized that Benzedrine had an energizing side effect. Chronic methamphetamine use caused addiction, delusions, and heart conditions. The U.S. began tightening its regulations on the use of methamphetamines in the 1970s, outlawing many of its applications.

7. LSD

Albert Hoffman created LSD in 1938. He ingested it accidentally in 1943 and discovered that LSD produced vivid hallucinations. LSD found its way to America, and the CIA began using it as a “truth drug” during the interrogations of prisoners.

The drug lost its popularity among the defense agencies, and psychiatrists began experimenting with it. They used it to try curing patients with epilepsy and depression. Some psychiatrists gave their friends the drug for recreational purposes. LSD gained popularity for recreational use in the 1960s.

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In the 1960s, people began being concerned about the widespread abuse of LSD and its effects. This public outrage led to the banning of LSD in California in 1966. LSD became illegal in 1968 when Congress ratified the Staggers-Dodd Bill. It became a Schedule I drug in the 1970s. Mandatory sentences for its possession began in the 1980s.

About Ascendant New York Drug and Alcohol Detox

Despite these drugs being illegal or strict regulations about their usage, many people still abuse them in the U.S. today. Your dependence on these substances can have severe consequences for you and those close to you.

Drug addiction leads to legal trouble, financial, physical, and health problems. You can control and avoid these effects by seeking help at Ascendant New York Detox Center. Your condition is not permanent. You can get better with care. Seeking treatment at Ascendant New York Detox Center has many benefits.

  • Ascendant New York Detox Center has a professional team that provides expert care. Specialists devise the proper recovery plan for you after examining your case and plan treatment that will work for you without significant complications. Detoxification can have severe withdrawal symptoms. The experts will monitor you to ensure that the process is safe.
  • Ascendant New York Detox Center prepares you for life after recovery. The difficult life of staying away from drugs begins once you complete the first part of recovery. It is easy to return to drugs if you do not make the necessary changes to support your sobriety. Professionals will help you know your triggers and help you avoid them. They may also help you cope with them to avoid giving in to them.
  • Ascendant New York Detox Center offers holistic healing therapy. Addiction affects you and those close to you. Your family and friends may differ from your actions while high or your financial requirements. Counseling is essential for both you and them to ensure they are ready for this new step. Experts also prepare you and them to maintain your sobriety by informing every one of their roles.
  • Inpatient or residential detox programs have continuous monitoring and are safe for those with severe substance use disorder. The outpatient treatment approach involves frequent visits to the facility and can ensure you continue with most of your life while detoxing.


Drug addiction is a problem that many Americans struggle with today. Drug Addicts may have a dependence on dangerous substances, such as cocaine, opium, and heroin, which affects them as well as those close to them. Their substance use disorder may also result in legal penalties since most of these drugs are illegal. Lawmakers moved to outlaw them once their addiction became widespread, and people realized they had fatal effects.

Drug abuse has severe consequences. Addicts can avoid these effects by seeking help at a fully licensed detox center. Ascendant New York Detox Center offers expert care that ensures addicts overcome their addiction and lead a prosperous drug-free life. The facility has different treatment approaches that are effective and safe. Check-in at Ascendant New York Detox Center today and begin your journey to recovery.

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