Convention on Psychotropic Substances

Template:Treatybox The Convention on Psychotropic Substances is a United Nations treaty designed to control psychoactive drugs such as amphetamines, barbiturates and LSD. During the 1960s, drug use and abuse exploded worldwide, especially in the Western developed nations. Inspired by psychedelic avatars such as Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary, millions of young people experimented with powerful hallucinogens. Availability of stimulants soared as manufacturers and traffickers took advantage of the inconsistent patchwork of national laws to circumvent restrictions on production and trade. The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961 could not regulate the plethora of newly-discovered psychotropics, since its scope was limited to drugs with cannabis-, coca-, and opium-like effects.

On February 21, 1971, a conference of plenipotentiaries, gathered in Vienna, signed a new Convention worded broadly enough to be capable of encompassing almost any mind-altering substance imaginable. The Convention, which contains import and export restrictions and other rules aimed at limiting drug use to scientific and medical purposes, entered into force on August 16, 1976. Today, 175 nations are Parties to the treaty. Many laws have been passed to implement the Convention, including the U.S. Controlled Substances Act, the U.K. Misuse of Drugs Act, and the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Like the treaty itself, these statutes typically categorize drugs into several classes or Schedules.

Provisions to prevent the international trafficking of drugs covered by this Convention are contained in the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. This treaty, signed in 1988, regulates precursor chemicals to drugs controlled by the Single Convention and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. It also strengthens provisions against money laundering and other drug-related crimes.

Adolf Lande, under the direction of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, prepared the Commentary on the Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The Commentary, published in 1976, is an invaluable aid to interpreting the treaty and constitutes a key part of its legislative history.



International drug control began with the 1912 International Opium Convention, a treaty which adopted import and export restrictions on the poppy's psychoactive derivatives. Over the next half-century, several additional treaties were adopted under League of Nations auspices, gradually expanding the list of controlled substances to encompass cocaine and other drugs and granting the Permanent Central Opium Board power to monitor compliance. After the United Nations was formed in 1945, those enforcement functions passed to the UN.

In 1961, a conference of plenipotentiaries in New York adopted the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which consolidated the existing drug control treaties into one document and added cannabis to the list of prohibited plants. In order to appease the pharmaceutical interests, the Single Convention's scope was sharply limited to the list of drugs enumerated in the Schedules annexed to the treaty and to those drugs determined to have similar effects.

During the 1960s, a wave of drug use spread across Western developed nations, to the point where it appeared to alarmed policymakers to be reaching epidemic proportions. Inspired by Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, and a host of other psychedelic avatars, young people began using hallucinogenic, stimulant, and other drugs on a widespread scale. In many jurisdictions, police had no laws under which to prosecute users and traffickers of these new drugs; LSD, for instance, was not prohibited federally in the U.S. until 1967.

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U.S. President Richard Nixon sought to make drug control an international priority.
In 1968, "[d]eeply concerned at reports of serious damage to health being caused by LSD and similar hallucinogenic substances," the UN Economic and Social Council passed a resolution calling on nations to limit the use of such drugs to scientific and medical purposes and to impose import and export restrictionsTemplate:Ref. Later that year, the UN General Assembly requested that ECOSOC call upon the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to "give urgent attention to the problem of the abuse of the psychotropic substances not yet under international control, including the possibility of placing such substances under international control"Template:Ref.

Circa 1969, with use of stimulants spiraling out of control, ECOSOC noted with considerable consternation that the Commission "was unable to reach agreement on the applicability of the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961 to these substances"Template:Ref. The language of the Single Convention and its legislative history precluded any interpretation that would allow international regulation of these drugs under that treaty. A new convention, with a broader scope, would be required in order to bring those substances under control. Using the Single Convention as a template, the Commission prepared a draft convention which was forwarded to all UN member states. The UN Secretary-General scheduled a conference for early 1971 to finalize the treatyTemplate:Ref.

Meanwhile, countries had already begun passing legislation to implement the draft treaty. In 1969, Canada added Part IV to its Food and Drugs Act, placing a set of "restricted substances," including LSD, DMT, and MDA, under federal control. In 1970, the United States completely revamped its existing drug control laws by enacting the Controlled Substances Act (amended in 1978 by the Psychotropic Substances Act, which allows the U.S. drug control Schedules to be updated as needed to comply with the Convention). In 1971, the United Kingdom passed the Misuse of Drugs Act. A host of other nations followed suit. A common feature shared by most implementing legislation is the establishment of several classes or Schedules of controlled substances, similarly to the Single Convention and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, so that compliance with international law can be assured simply by placing a drug into the appropriate Schedule.

The conference convened on January 11, 1971. Nations split into two rival factions, based on their interests. According to a Canadian Senate report, "One group included mostly developed nations with powerful pharmaceutical industries and active psychotropics markets . . . The other group consisted of developing states, supported by the socialist countries, with few psychotropic manufacturing facilities"Template:Ref. The organic drugmaking states that had suffered economically from the Single Convention's restrictions on cannabis, coca, and opium, fought for tough regulations on synthetic drugs. The synthetic drug-producing states opposed those restrictions. Ultimately, the developing states' lobbying power was no match for the powerful pharmaceutical industry's, and the international regulations that emerged at the conference's close on February 21 were considerably weaker than those of the Single Convention.

The Convention's adoption marked a major milestone in the development of the global drug control regime. Over 59 years, the system had evolved from a set of loose controls focused on a single drug into a comprehensive regulatory framework capable of encompassing almost any mind-altering substance imaginable.


Despite concessions to the pharmaceutical industry, the Convention's restrictions remained somewhat controversial. Some nations, particularly synthetic drug exporters, were initially reluctant to ratify the treaty, due to the regulations it imposed on the licit trade of drugs. A Bulletin on Narcotics report notes, for instance:

The appreciation of the objectives of the 1971 Convention demonstrated by official and legislative bodies in the Federal Republic of Germany was not reflected in the affected business circles of the pharmaceutical industry and trade. These viewed the 1971 Convention as a group of control measures unnecessarily added to those measures already exercised in the form of mandatory medical prescription and therefore objected to the 1971 Convention, its ratification and its transposition into national law.

Germany did eventually ratify the treaty, believing that after its entry into force, Parties would "demand from their trading partners the application of the conditions of import and export provided for in the 1971 Convention, regardless of whether the trading partner was or was not a signatory of the Convention"Template:Ref. Under those conditions, noncompliance would be even more harmful to the drug industries than compliance, since it could lead to an embargo on drugs from that country. The creation of Schedule IV, which typically includes hypnotics, tranquilizers, and analgesics, was particularly controversial, and many nations had lobbied to exclude it from the final text of the treaty.

Ratification proceeded rather slowly, prompting international bodies to issue several resolutions urging countries to ratify the treaty. In 1973, ECOSOC issued such a resolutionTemplate:Ref. "Recognizing the need to maintain momentum in the systematic strengthening of the international drug control system," in 1975, the UN General Assembly issued another resolution calling on nations to ratify the ConventionTemplate:Ref. In 1979, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs noted that only 54 States were Parties to the Convention, and issued yet another resolution strongly urging ratification. This time, the resolution also contained a recommendation that Parties apply the Convention's Article 13 import prohibition procedure to stem the flow of psychotropic substancesTemplate:Ref. In 1981, ECOSOC issued still another resolution calling on nations to become Parties to the treaty and to enact laws implementing its provisionsTemplate:Ref.

The Convention has been the subject of increased interest since the early 2000s, when the European Parliament, Transnational Radical Party, and other organizations began calling for removing cannabis and other substances from the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and scheduling them under the Convention on Psychotropic SubstancesTemplate:Ref. Such action would require amendment of the text of the Single Convention, a difficult process. It would involve either unanimous consent or the convening of a conference to consider amendments.

Drug reformers frequently propose repeal or amendment of the international drug conventions as part of larger initiatives for "repatriation" of drug policy. They rarely target the 1971 Convention individually, however, preferring instead to focus on the less-flexible 1961 and 1988 treaties that regulate cannabis. Nonetheless, denunciation remains a valid legal option. A lone nation withdrawing from the treaty would likely face U.N. criticism and U.S. economic sanctions. In Breaking the Impasse: Polarisation & Paralysis in UN Drug Control, David R. Bewley-Taylor proposes measures for overcoming the U.S.-U.N. prohibitionist allianceTemplate:Ref:

If a credible group of parties from Europe, Australasia and Latin America, for example, were to combine to denounce one or all of the treaties, the US-UN axis may lose much of its potential influence. The 'denouncers' may find safety in numbers. Paradoxically, by moving to leave the confines of the regime such a group might be able to generate a critical mass sufficient to initiate regime change and thus create some space for movement at the national level within the current system. The UN apparatus and the US might be more open to treaty modification or amendment if it was felt that such a concession would prevent the destruction of the existing treaty system. This would differ from the procedures to modify the treaties discussed above since such a group would not simply be playing the numbers game in an effort to gain majority decisions in both the Council or the Commission. A sufficiently weighty 'denouncers' group may be able to not only withstand UN-US pressure, but also apply pressure itself.

Comparison to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs

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Barbiturates, tranquilizers, and amphetamines (pictured here), which had been deliberately excluded from the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, fell within the purview of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

The Convention on Psychotropic Substances' drug control regime, although it covers more substances, is otherwise a watered-down version of the Single Convention's. In exchange for adoption of a treaty with a considerably broader scope than the Single Convention's – encompassing a wide range of stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, and other drugs causing "disturbances in motor function or thinking or behaviour or perception or mood," that were not already internationally controlled, but whose abuse control was considered high enough to warrant international control – organic drug-producing states and others favoring restrictions on synthetic drugs accepted more flexible regulations on those substances. According to The Mechanics and Dynamics of the UN System for International Drug Control by David R. Bewley-Taylor, PhD and Professor Cindy Fazey, PhD, "[C]oncerted efforts by drug manufacturing nations and the pharmaceutical industry ensured that the controls on psychotropics in the 1971 treaty were considerably looser than those applied to organic drugs in the Single Convention."

The treaties share the same basic framework of drug regulation, establishing Schedules of controlled substances and relying on international bodies to coordinate anti-drug efforts. The Convention's Article 19 and the Single Convention's Article 14Template:Ref both assign the International Narcotics Control Board enforcement powers and responsibilities. Parties must record and furnish statistics to the Board on the manufacturing and trade of drugs. The treaties also provide for control of licit drugs through licenses and medical prescriptions. The World Health Organization and the Commission on Narcotic Drugs play similar roles in drug Scheduling under the two treaties.

However, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances has much weaker controls than the Single Convention, according to a 2002 Canadian Senate reportTemplate:Ref. By not embedding restrictions on specific drugs in the text of the treaty, the Convention permits substances to be deregulated as needed. The Convention also lacks an equivalent of the Single Convention's estimate system, by which the Board establishes limits on each nation's drug manufacturing at the beginning of every production year. In addition, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances' preamble uses relatively mild language in reference to drug abuse, merely "[n]oting with concern the public health and social problems resulting from the abuse of certain psychotropic substances". This is in contrast to the Single Convention's preamble, which strongly condemns drug addiction as "a serious evil for the individual . . . fraught with social and economic danger to mankind"Template:Ref.

Schedules of Controlled Substances

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LSD was one of the substances in the initial Schedules annexed to the Convention in 1971.
The list of Schedules and the substances presently therein can be found on the International Narcotics Control Board's websiteTemplate:Ref.

The Convention has four Schedules of controlled substances, ranging from Schedule I (most restrictive) to Schedule IV (least restrictive). A list of psychotropic substances, and their corresponding Schedules, was annexed to the 1971 treaty. A 2002 European Parliament report describes the Schedules as followsTemplate:Ref:

  • Schedule I includes dangerous drugs creating a serious risk to public health, and whose therapeutic value is doubtful or nil. It includes synthetic hallucinogens such as LSD and DMT.
  • Schedule II includes stimulants of the amphetamine type, of limited therapeutic value, as well as some analgesics such as phencyclidine, which is of no therapeutic value to man.
  • Schedule III includes barbiturate products with fast or average effects, which have been the object of serious abuse even though useful therapeutically.
  • Schedule IV includes hypnotics, tranquilizers (benzodiazepine) and analgesics, which engender an appreciable dependence, but are mainly used in therapy.

A 1999 UNODC report notes that Schedule I is a completely different regime from the other three. According to that report, Schedule I mostly contains hallucinogenic drugs such as LSD that are produced by illicit laboratories, while the other three Schedules are mainly for licitly-produced pharmaceuticals. The UNODC reportTemplate:Ref also claims that the Convention's Schedule I controls are stricter than those provided for under the Single Convention, a contention that seems to be contradicted by the 2002 Canadian SenateTemplate:Ref and 2003 European Parliament reportsTemplate:Ref.

Although estimates and other controls specified by the Single Convention are not present in the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, the International Narcotics Control Board corrected the omission by asking Parties to submit information and statistics not required by the Convention, and using the initial positive responses from various organic drug producing states to convince others to followTemplate:Ref. In addition, the Convention does impose tighter restrictions on imports and exports of Schedule I substances. A 1970 Bulletin on Narcotics report notesTemplate:Ref:

LSD, mescaline, etc., are controlled in a way which is more stringent than morphine under the narcotics treaties. Article 6, which sets down this regime, provides that such substances can only be moved in international trade when both exporter and importer are government authorities, or government agencies or institutions specially authorized for the purpose; in addition to this very rigid identification of supplier and recipient, in each case export and import authorization is also mandatory.

Scheduling process

Article 2 sets out a process for adding additional drugs to the Schedules. First, the World Health Organization (WHO) must find that the drug meets the specific criteria set forth in Article 2, Section 4, and thus is eligible for control. Then, the WHO issues an assessment of the substance that includes:

  • The extent or likelihood of abuse,
  • The degree of gravity in the public health and social problem, and
  • The degree of utility of the substance in legitimate medical therapy.

The Commission on Narcotic Drugs makes the final decision on whether to add the drug to a Schedule, "taking into account the communication from the World Health Organization, whose assessments shall be determinative as to medical and scientific matters, and bearing in mind the economic, social, legal, administrative and other factors it may consider relevant". A similar process is followed in deleting a drug from the Schedules or transferring a drug between Schedules. For instance, at its 33rd meeting, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence recommended transferring tetrahydrocannabinol to Schedule IV of the Convention, citing its medical uses and low abuse potentialTemplate:Ref.

The UN Economic and Social Council is the only body with the power to alter or reverse the Commission's scheduling decisions.

In the event of a disagreement about a drug's Scheduling, Article 2, Paragraph 7 allows a Party to, within 180 days of the communication of the Commission's decision, give the UN Secretary-General "a written notice that, in view of exceptional circumstances, it is not in a position to give effect with respect to that substance to all of the provisions of the Convention applicable to substances in that Schedule." This allows the nation to comply with a less stringent set of restrictions. The U.S. Controlled Substances Act's 21 U.S.C. § 811(d)(4)Template:Ref implies that placing a drug in Schedule IV or V of the Act is sufficient to "carry out the minimum United States obligations under paragraph 7 of article 2 of the Convention". This provision, which calls for temporarily placing a drug under federal drug control in the event the Convention requires it, was invoked in 1984 with rohypnol. Long before abuse of the drug was sufficiently widespread in the United States to meet the Act's drug control criteria, rohypnol was added to the Schedules of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the U.S. government had to place rohypnol in Schedule IV of the Controlled Substances Act in order to meet its minimum treaty obligationsTemplate:Ref.

As of March 2005, 111 substances were controlled under the Convention.

World Health Organization evaluations of specific drugs


In 1998, ephedrine was recommended for control under the Convention. The Dietary Supplement Safety and Science Coalition lobbied against control, stressing the drug's history and safety, and arguing that "ephedrine is not a controlled substance in the US today, nor should it be internationally"Template:Ref. After a two-year debate, the Expert Committee on Drug Dependence decided against regulating ephedrine. However, the Commission on Narcotics Drugs and the International Narcotics Control Board listed the drug as a Table I precursor under the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, a move that did not require WHO approval.


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Despite its well-known presence in the rave scene, ketamine, or Special K, remains uncontrolled internationally due to its importance as a tranquilizer in veterinary medicine.

The Expert Committee on Drug Dependence cautiously began investigating ketamine at its thirty-third meeting, noting, "Its use in veterinary medicine must also be considered in relation to its control"Template:Ref. Ketamine remains uncontrolled internationally, although many nations have enacted restrictions on the drug.


The Expert Committee's evaluation of MDMA, or Ecstasy, during its twenty-second meeting was marked by pleas from doctors to allow further research into the drug's therapeutic uses. The UN was under considerable pressure from the United States government to control the drug in the wake of extensive seizures of the drug by American authorities. Paul Grof, chairman of the Expert Committee, argued that international control was not yet warranted, and that scheduling should be delayed pending completion of more studies. The Expert Committee concluded that because there was "insufficient evidence to indicate that the substance has therapeutic usefulness," it should be placed in Schedule I. However, its report did recommend more MDMA researchTemplate:Ref:

It should be noted that the Expert Committee held extensive discussions concerning therapeutic usefulness of 3,4 Methylenedioxymethamphetamine. While the Expert Committee found the reports intriguing, it felt that the studies lacked the appropriate methodological design necessary to ascertain the reliability of the observations. There was, however, sufficient interest expressed to recommend that investigations be encouraged to follow up these preliminary findings. To that end, the Expert Committee urged countries to use the provisions of article 7 of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances to facilitate research on this interesting substance.


Circa 1994, the United States government notified the UN Secretary General that it supported controlling methcathinone, an addictive stimulant manufactured with common household products, as a Schedule I drug under the Convention. The FDA report warned of the drugs dangers, even noting that addicts in Russia were observed to often have "potassium permanganate burns on their fingers" and to "tend not to pay attention to their appearance, thus looking ragged with dirty hands and hair"Template:Ref. Methcathinone did not have any supporters in the pharmaceuticals industry, and the decision to place the drug in Schedule I was therefore uncontested.


Traditionally, the UN has been reluctant to control nicotine and other licit drugs, citing tolerance of a wide range of lifestyles. Gabriel Nahas, in a Bulletin on Narcotics report, notedTemplate:Ref:

Some addictive drugs such as nicotine or caffeine (in moderate amounts) and alcohol (in small amounts) do not produce any measurable symptoms of neuropsychological toxicity. Some pharmacologists have associated the symptoms of neuropsychological toxicity with behavioural toxicity, which include in addition: suppression of normal anxiety, reduction in motivation and non-purposive or inappropriate behaviour. However, the latter be-havioural symptoms do not present "markers" which may be measurable in societies accepting as "normal" a wide range of life styles.

Nonetheless, in October 1996, the Expert Committee considered controlling nicotine, especially products such as gum, patches, nasal spray, and inhalersTemplate:Ref. The UN ultimately left nicotine unregulated. Since then, nicotine products have become even more loosely controlled; Nicorette gum, for instance, is now an over-the-counter substance in the United States.


Tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in cannabis, was originally placed in Schedule I when the Convention was enacted in 1971. At its twenty-sixth meeting, the WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence recommended that THC be transferred to Schedule II, citing its low abuse potential. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs rejected the proposal. At its thirty-third meeting, the Committee issued another evaluation of the drug, stating:

The abuse liability of dronabinol is expected to remain very low so long as cannabis continues to be readily available. The Committee considered that the abuse liability of dronabinol does not constitute a substantial risk to public health and society. In accordance withthe established scheduling criteria, the Committee considered that dronabinol should be rescheduled to schedule IV of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances.

At its 1045th meeting, on April 29, 1991, the Commission on Narcotic Drugs approved the transfer of THC and its stereochemical variants from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Convention.

Medical and other drug uses

Article 32 makes an exception for  and other "plants growing wild which contain psychotropic substances from among those in Schedule I and which are traditionally used by certain small, clearly determined groups in magical or religious rites".
Article 32 makes an exception for peyote and other "plants growing wild which contain psychotropic substances from among those in Schedule I and which are traditionally used by certain small, clearly determined groups in magical or religious rites".
Like the Single Convention, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances recognizes scientific and medical use of psychoactive drugs, while banning other uses. Article 7 provides that, in respect of Schedule I substances, the Parties shall "[p]rohibit all use except for scientific and very limited medical purposes by duly authorized persons, in medical or scientific establishments which are directly under the control of their Governments or specifically approved by them".

In this sense, the U.S. Controlled Substances Act is stricter than the Convention requires. Both have a tightly-restricted category of drugs called Schedule I, but the Act prohibits medical use of Schedule I substances, while the Convention allows limited medical use of all substances.

Article 32 allows an exemption for peyote and other "plants growing wild which contain psychotropic substances from among those in Schedule I and which are traditionally used by certain small, clearly determined groups in magical or religious rites". However, this provision can only be invoked if a Party makes a reservation at the time of signature, ratification or accession. The U.S. Government, in O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal v. Reno, argued that this is an extremely limited exemption. That case involved a seizure by U.S. Customs and Border Protection of several drums of DMT-containing liquid derived from ayahuasca. Plaintiffs sued to have the drugs returned to them, claiming that they used it as a central part of their religionTemplate:Ref.

Organic plants

The Commentary on the Convention on Psychotropic Substances notes that while many plant-derived chemicals are controlled by the treaty, the plants themselves are notTemplate:Ref:

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Psilocybin mushrooms are not controlled by the Convention, but the drugs obtained from them are.
The term "synthetic" appears to refer to a psychotropic substance manufactured by a process of full chemical synthesis. One may also assume that the authors of the Vienna Convention intended to apply the term "natural material" to parts of a plant which constitute a psychotropic substance, and the term "natural psychotropic substance" to a substance obtained directly from a plant by some process of manufacturing which was relatively simple, and in any event much simpler than a process of full chemical synthesis.
Cultivation of plants for the purpose of obtaining psychotropic substances or raw materials for the manufacture of such substances is not "manufacture" in the sense of article 1, paragraph (i). Many provisions of the Vienna Convention governing psychotropic substances would be unsuitable for application to cultivation. The harvesting of psychotropic substances, i.e. separation of such substances from the plants from which they are obtained, is "manufacture".
The cultivation of plants from which psychotropic substances are obtained is not controlled by the Vienna Convention. (...) Neither the crown (fruit, mescal button) of the Peyote cactus nor the roots of the plant Mimosa hostilis nor Psilocybe mushrooms themselves are included in Schedule 1, but only their respective principles, mescaline, DMT and psilocine, psilotsin.

Mexico, in particular, argued that "production" of psychotropic drugs should not apply to wild-growing plants such as peyote cacti or psilocybin mushrooms. The Bulletin on Narcotics noted that "Mexico could not undertake to eradicate or destroy these plants"Template:Ref.

On July 2, 1987, the United States Assistant Secretary of Health recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration initiate scheduling action under the Controlled Substances Act in order to implement restrictions required by cathinone's Schedule I status under the Convention. The 1993 DEA rule placing cathinone in the CSA's Schedule I noted that it was effectively also banning khatTemplate:Ref:

Cathinone is the major psychoactive component of the plant Catha edulis (khat). The young leaves of khat are chewed for a stimulant effect. Enactment of this rule results in the placement of any material which contains cathinone into Schedule I.


A 1971 Bulletin on Narcotics notesTemplate:Ref:

Article 2, in paragraph 4 of the original text, carried over the concept in article 3 (3) (iii) of the Single Convention, and required the application to a "precursor " – i.e. a substance "readily convertible" into a substance under control – of measures of control. In Vienna the complexity of controlling precursors of psychotropic substances was agreed to be so overwhelming that no absolute obligation to control them was provided. The new article 2 in paragraph 9 asks Parties "to use their best endeavours" to apply "such measures of supervision as may be practicable" to substances which may be used in the illicit manufacture of psychotropic substances, i.e. their precursors and possibly also substances essential in the chemistry of manufacture.

This provision was eventually judged to be inadequate, and was strengthened by the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances's precursor control regime, which established two Tables of controlled precursors. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs and International Narcotics Control Board were put in charge of adding, removing, and transferring substances between the Tables.


Circa 1999, the Government of Spain proposed amending Schedules I and II to include isomers, esters, ethers, salts of isomers, esters and ethers, and any "substance resulting from modification of the chemical structure of a substance already in Schedule I or II and which produced pharmacological effects similar to those produced by the original substances"Template:Ref. The WHO opposed this change. The Commission on Narcotic Drugs did amend the Schedules to include stereoisomers, however, with the understanding that "specific isomers that did not have hazardous pharmacological activity and that posed no danger to society could be excluded from control, as dextromethorphan had been in the case of Schedule I of the 1961 Convention." The WHO recommendation, as well as the understanding regarding exempt stereoisomers and the reference to dextromethorphan, a powerful dissociative sold as a cough suppressant by powerful drugmakers, were indications of the influence of the pharmaceuticals industry in the decisionmaking process.

Penal provisions

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LSD and equipment used in its manufacture are subject to seizure under Article 22.

Article 22 provides:

Subject to its constitutional limitations, each Party shall treat as a punishable offence, when committed intentionally, any action contrary to a law or regulation adopted in pursuance of its obligations under this Convention, and shall ensure that serious offences shall be liable to adequate punishment, particularly by imprisonment or other penalty of deprivation of liberty.

Conspiracy, attempts, preparatory acts, and financial operations related to drug offenses are also required to be criminalized. Party also must count convictions handed down by foreign governments in determining recidivism. Article 22 also contains extradition provision, although a nation can refuse to grant extradition if its "competent authorities consider that the offence is not sufficiently serious."

Treatment and prevention

Article 22 allows Parties, in implementing the Convention's penal provisions, to make exceptions for drug abusers by substituting "treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation and social reintegration" for imprisonment. This reflects a shift in focus in the war on drugs from incarceration to treatment and prevention that had already begun to take hold by 1971. Indeed, in 1972, a parallel provision allowing treatment for drug abusers was added to the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs by the Protocol Amending the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Article 20 mandates drug treatment, education, and prevention measures and requires Parties to assist efforts to "gain an understanding of the problems of abuse of psychotropic substances and of its prevention" and to "promote such understanding among the general public if there is a risk that abuse of such substances will become widespread." To comply with these provisions, most Parties financially support organizations and agencies dedicated to these goals. The United States, for instance, established the National Institute on Drug Abuse in 1974 to comply with the research requirement and began sponsoring Drug Abuse Resistance Education in 1983 to help fulfill the educational and prevention requirements.

Recent trends

Rise in stimulant trafficking

The  Convention was designed to control legitimate pharmaceutical markets, rather than illicit markets, a limitation that has hampered efforts to stem clandestine production and trade of  and other stimulants.
The 1971 Convention was designed to control legitimate pharmaceutical markets, rather than illicit markets, a limitation that has hampered efforts to stem clandestine production and trade of methamphetamine and other stimulants.

Control of stimulants has become a major challenge for the UN. In 1997, the World Drug Report warnedTemplate:Ref:

Since the mid-1980s the world has faced a wave of synthetic stimulant abuse, with approximately nine times the quantity seized in 1993 than in 1978, equivalent to an average annual increase of 16 per cent. The principle synthetic drugs manufactured clandestinely are the amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) which include the widely abused amphetamine and methamphetamine, as well as the more recently popularised methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), known as ecstacy." It is estimated that throughout the world 30,000,000, people use ATS. This is 0.5 per cent of the global population and exceeds the number using heroin and probably those using cocaine.

A 1998 UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem report notedTemplate:Ref:

Between 1971 and 1995, there was a nearly fivefold increase in the number of amphetamine-type stimulants under international control. . . Ecstacy and related designer drugs are under schedule one of the 1971 Convention, because they have virtually no medical use, while amphetamine and methamphetamine are under schedule 2 because they began life with medical use. But even though they are scheduled, the system is not really working for these illegally produced drugs. One of the main limitations of the control system is that the Psychotropic Convention was not designed to control illicit markets. It was designed to control and regulate legitimate pharmaceutical markets to prevent their diversion into illicit markets.

The report mentioned proposals to increase the flexibility of scheduling drugs under the Convention and to amend the drug-control treaties to make them more responsive to the current situation. Neither proposal has gained traction, however. Due to the ease of manufacturing methamphetamine, methcathinone, and certain other stimulants, control measures are focusing less on preventing drugs from crossing borders. Instead, they are centering around increasingly long prison sentences for manufacturers and traffickers as well as regulations on large purchases of precursors such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. The International Narcotics Control Board and Commission on Narcotic Drugs help coordinate this fight by adding additional precursors to the Tables of chemicals controlled under the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

In 1997, ECOSOC called on nations to help enforce international law by cooperating "with relevant international organizations, such as the International Criminal Police Organization and the World Customs Organization . . . in order to promote coordinated international action in the fight against illicit demand for and supply of amphetamine-type stimulants and their precursors." That resolution also called on governments overseeing precursor exports "to inquire with the authorities of importing States about the legitimacy of transactions of concern, and to inform the International Narcotics Control Board of the action taken, particularly when they do not receive any reply to their inquiries"Template:Ref.

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Crystal meth has emerged as a powerful global threat, from the American and European rave scenes to the backwaters of East Asia.

Pockets of high-intensity clandestine production and trafficking, such as rural southwest Virginia, exist in most industrialized nations. However, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime believes that East Asia (particularly Thailand) now has the most serious amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS) problem in the world. A 2002 report by that agency notedTemplate:Ref:

For many countries the problem of ATS is relatively new, growing quickly and unlikely to go away. The geographical spread is widening. . . Abuse is increasingly concentrated among younger populations, who generally and erroneously believe that the substances are safe and benign. The abuse of ATS is threatening to become part of mainstream culture. The less optimistic suggest that ATS is already embedded in normative young adult behavior to such an extent that it will be very difficult to change, not withstanding the issues of physical, social and economic damage.

The Office called on nations to bring more resources to bear in the demand reduction effort, improving treatment and rehabilitation processes, increasing private sector participation in eliminating drugs from the workplace, and expanding the drug information clearing house to share information more effectively.

Canadian noncompliance

In 2000, the International Narcotics Control Board blasted Canada for refusing to comply with the Convention's requirement that international transactions in controlled psychotropics be reported to the Board. INCB Secretary Herbert Schaepe saidTemplate:Ref:

From Canada there is just a big, black hole. We don't know what is going into the country, nor coming out. We cannot monitor the international movement of these substances, which is our mandate. The lack of controls in Canada means that they could be destined for fake companies that will divert them into the hands of traffickers. Traffickers in third countries could be getting them through Canada. Normally, Canada has a very good reputation for fulfilling its international obligations, but here it is just breaking the treaty – a treaty that it ratified a long time ago. It is very disturbing.

To a Board already worried by European experiments with harm reduction and cannabis liberalization, the quiet Canadian defiance of treaty obligations seemed to be another hairline crack in the foundation of global drug control.

Licit drug problems

In an unusual departure from its normally pro-industry leanings, the INCB issued a press release in 2001 warning of excessive use of licit psychotropics:

. . . the Board points to loose regulation, unreliable estimates and information regarding medical needs, aggressive marketing techniques and improper or even unethical prescription practices as the main reasons for the oversupply of such controlled substances as benzodiazepines and various amphetamine type stimulants. Easy availability leads to overconsumption of such substances, either in the form of drug abuse or by fuelling a culture of drug-taking to deal with a variety of non-medical problems. . . Insomnia, anxiety, obesity and child hyperactivity as well as various kinds of pain are listed among the most common problems to be treated by prescribing psychotropic substances. The Board is especially concerned that preference is given to quick solutions without looking at the long-term effects, as prolonged, excessive consumption of such drugs could result in dependency and other physical and mental suffering.

The Board also warned that the Internet provides "easy access to information on drug production and drug-taking," calling it "a growing source of on-line drug trafficking." The Board pointed out that some Internet suppliers sell controlled drugs without regard to the Convention's medical prescription requirementsTemplate:Ref.



  • Bewley-Taylor, David R. and Fazey, Cindy S. J.: The Mechanics and Dynamics of the UN System for International Drug Control, Mar. 14, 2003.
  • Lande, Adolf: Commentary on the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, 1976.
  • Saunders, Nicholas: E is for Ecstasy (, Appendix 1: Reference Section, Letter from myself in New Scientist, Dec. 18, 1993.


  1. Template:Note 1968/1294(XLIV). Urgent control measures for LSD and similar hallucinogenic substances (, May 23, 1968.
  2. Template:Note 2433(XXIII). International control of psychotropic substances (, Dec. 19, 1968.
  3. Template:Note 1969/1401(XLVI). The application of urgent control measures to certain stimulant drugs (, June 5, 1969.
  4. Template:Note 1971/1576(L). United Nations Conference for the Adoption of a Protocol on Psychotropic Substances (, May 20, 1971.
  5. Template:Note Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy (, Report of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Canadian Senate, Sep. 2002.
  6. Template:Note The ratification of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances 1971 and its transposition into national legislation in the Federal Republic of Germany (, Bulletin on Narcotics, 1982.
  7. Template:Note 1973/1773(LIV). 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances: ratifications and accessions (
  8. Template:Note 3443(XXX). 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances (
  9. Template:Note CND Res.6(XXVIII). 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances (
  10. Template:Note 1981/7. Implementation of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances (
  11. Template:Note Cappato, Marco and Perduca, Marco: Concept Paper for Campaign by the Transnational Radical Party and the International Antiprohibitionist League to Reform the UN Conventions on Drugs (, Oct. 9, 2002.
  12. Template:Note Bewley-Taylor, David R.: Breaking the Impasse: Polarisation & Paralysis in UN Drug Control (, July 2002.
  13. Template:Note Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (
  14. Template:Note See above note
  15. Template:Note Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (
  16. Template:Note List of Psychotropic Substances Under International Control (
  17. Template:Note Working document on the UN conventions on drugs (, Committee on Citizens’ Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs, European Parliament, 2002.
  18. Template:Note Bayer, I. and Ghodse, H.: Evolution of International Drug Control, 1945-1995 (, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
  19. Template:Note See above note
  20. Template:Note *Report Including a Proposal for a Recommendation of the European Parliament to the Council on the Reform of the Conventions on Drugs (, Committee on Citizens' Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs, European Parliament, Mar. 24, 2003. HTML version:
  21. Template:Note Monthly Status of Treaty Adherence (, Jan. 1, 2005.
  22. Template:Note The Protocol on Psychotropic Substances (, Bulletin on Narcotics, 1970.
  23. Template:Note Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and its stereochemical variants (, World Health Organization.
  24. Template:Note 21 U.S.C. § 811(d)(4) (
  25. Template:Note Statement on "Date Rape" Drugs by Nicholas Reuter, M.P.H. (, Mar. 11, 1999.
  26. Template:Note DSSC says ephedrine should not be a controlled substance (, Herb World News Online, 1998.
  27. Template:Note Thirty-Third Report (, WHO Expert Committee on Drug Dependence, 2003.
  28. Template:Note E For Ecstasy (
  29. Template:Note International Drug Scheduling; Convention on Psychotropic Substances; Certain Stimulant/Hallucinogenic Drugs and Certain Nonbarbiturate Sedative Drugs (, Food and Drug Administration, June 20, 1994.
  30. Template:Note Nahas, Gabriel G.: A pharmacological classification of drugs of abuse (, Bulletin on Narcotics, 1981.
  31. Template:Note Director's Report to the National Advisory Council on Drug Abuse (, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Feb. 1997.
  32. Template:Note Memorandum in Opposition to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment in O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal v. Reno, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico (, January 25, 2001.
  33. Template:Note Commentary on the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, New York 1976, E/CN.7/589, p.385 (
  34. Template:Note See above note
  35. Template:Note 21 CFR Part 1308 (, Schedules of Controlled Substances: Placement of Cathinone and 2,5-Dimethoxy-4-ethylamphetamine Into Schedule I, Drug Enforcement Administration, Jan. 7, 1993.
  36. Template:Note The Convention on Psychotropic Substances (, Bulletin on Narcotics, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 1971.
  37. Template:Note Report on the forty-second session (, Commission on Narcotic Drugs, March 16-25, 1999.
  38. Template:Note World drug threat, the UN reports (, World Drug Report, 1997.
  39. Template:Note Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (, UN General Assembly Special Session on the World Drug Problem, June 8-10, 1998.
  40. Template:Note 1997/41. Implementation of comprehensive measures to counter the illicit manufacture, trafficking and abuse of amphetamine-type stimulants and their precursors (
  41. Template:Note Amphetamine Type Stimulants Threaten East Asia (, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Feb. 4, 2002.
  42. Template:Note Edwards, Steven: UN Blasts Canada for Hypocrisy on Drug Trade (, The National Post, Feb. 23, 2000.
  43. Template:Note United Nations press release (, Feb. 15, 2001.

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