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What does a Pharmacologist do?

By Phil Shepley
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A pharmacologist is a scientist who studies the complex interactions between chemicals and living things. Any chemical that has an effect on a creature is considered to be a drug, and much of a pharmacologist’s time is spent studying the effects that different drugs have on tissues, organs and their functions. Pharmacologists are not to be confused with pharmacists, who are mainly concerned with the distribution of drugs.

Pharmacology has several different fields, and a pharmacologist may be involved with one or many of them. One of these fields is pharmacodynamics, which involves the relationships between living things and drugs. This branch not only studies how drugs may affect the body, but also how they may affect the organisms and microorganisms that are living inside the body.

Another field that a pharmacologist may be concerned with is toxicology. In this field, the scientist examines the bad effects that poisons have on a body alongside the treatment of these toxic chemicals. The most important factor that a toxicologist must examine is the amount, or dose, of the chemical and how badly the body reacts to different amounts of poison.

Humans, for many thousands of years, have used and experimented with different kinds of plants and chemicals for their effects and for their ability to cure various ailments and diseases. In the early 20th century, the field of pharmacology was developed as advances made in chemistry allowed for detailed study of these substances. It was because of these many technological breakthroughs that scientists could finally extract the effective chemicals from their sources and make drugs. Pharmacologists are still concerned with not only extracting these useful chemicals, but they are also responsible for ensuring their safety as well as their effectiveness.

A pharmacologist must be educated in the complex biology associated with the body and its many different types of cells to know their relationships with chemicals. He or she is many times concerned with how a chemical is disintegrated or absorbed within the body. Another issue is the way that a particular chemical can travel throughout a biological system and which organs are or are not affected. Often, the pharmacologist will also study how drugs are metabolized within the body and whether or not they have the potential to be transformed into a different, possibly toxic, chemical. Finally, pharmacologists must also concern themselves with the ways that chemicals exit the body, what amounts remain, and for how long.

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Discussion Comments
By mabeT — On Jun 13, 2011

So I’m wondering if a person looking to go into pharmacology can study each area somewhat equally, or if they must choose a field in which to focus their attention.

For instance, if I wanted to go into pharmacology, would I need to choose an emphasis such as toxicology or pharmaceutics; or could I simply look at the effects of all kinds of chemicals on living beings in general?

I do want to go into this area of work, but I want to move past it in my education. I’m hoping to be able to have a hand in a little bit of all of it, truthfully.

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