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What is Pharmacology?

By Matthew F.
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Pharmacology is the scientific study of the actions and interactions of drugs within a living organism. When external drugs, whether pharmaceutical or otherwise, enter the body of a person or animal they become the study of a pharmacologist. Pharmacology science encompasses the study of drugs that alter the functions of a given person or organism. These drugs can be medicinal or not. As an official science the study dates back to the 1840s and is not to be confused with pharmacy, which links health sciences with chemical sciences.

The job of the pharmacologist is to study the properties of a given drug. They must determine the make-up of the drug, how it came to be composed, and the interactions the drug has within the body of living organisms. The pharmacology student attempts to discover how it will react with the human body, how it will react with other substances, and what outcomes these reactions will have. They must determine the toxicology of the drug, as well as its possible uses in therapy and medicine; namely, how it will affect the biological functioning of the body.

The different branches of the study of pharmacology include clinical pharmacology, the study of medicines; toxicology, the study of the harmful effects of drugs; posology, the study of what drugs can and should be taken in what doses; and neuropharmacology, the study of effects on the nervous system. These, among many other fields, help to inform the Food and Drug Administration in the United States. Drugs are then stamped with guidelines and approval if they are fit for using.

It is thought that the study of pharmacology first began with Avicenna, the 11th century Persian physician and philosopher. His Canon of Medicine, published in the early 1000s, features the first mention of pharmacological practices, and was soon followed by descriptions in John of St. Amand’s Commentary on the Antedotary of Nicholas. With the development and surge of medicinal and recreational drugs in the 19th century, pharmacology took a leap forward when the first educational department was established by Rudolf Buccheim at the University of Dorpat in modern day Estonia in 1847. In these days, morphine and quinine were among the most studied pharmaceuticals.

In the 21st century, pharmacology programs are offered at universities and colleges around the world. Preparing students for careers in laboratory settings, these programs are among the most difficult to enter in many universities.

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Discussion Comments

By anon355356 — On Nov 15, 2013

Why does pharmacology have so many different fields in it?

By lapsed — On Jul 05, 2011

@Engelbert - Going into research is definitely one of the main options, yes, but as far as I can tell you’re not just limited to that. You also have the opportunity to become a medical diagnostics representative, which means you’d be involved in marketing different medications and equipment to doctors, hospitals, at seminars, etc.

As you can tell by the name the field also closely related to pharmacy and with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacology you could most likely get a job as a pharmacy technology, which would include dispensing prescription drugs and health care products to patients. In this field you’d most likely be working in a pharmacy but there are also positions in doctor’s offices and even insurance companies where your job would be to ensure the correct medications are provided and payment is received.

There’s also the option of becoming a pharmaceutical sales representative where you’d be providing drug information and samples to physicians as well as monitoring prescribing patterns of physicians. This is very similar to being a medical diagnostics representative and you’d have to ask someone with more experience for further detail in order to differentiate the difference, this is just based on my own limited research into the field.

Like most areas of study, getting a PhD. in pharmacology is obviously going to open up your chances as to the types of jobs available to you.

By Engelbert — On Jul 04, 2011

What are some of the job opportunities available for someone with a bachelor’s degree in pharmacology? Based on this article, I’m assuming the field is primarily research based?

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