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Pharmacology is the study of chemicals that can affect the biochemistry of organisms. Any such chemical that has a positive therapeutic effect is a pharmaceutical. A specialist in this field is a pharmacologist. The field is both a medical speciality and a field of scientific study. A pharmacologist will study chemical composition, chemical properties, interactions between chemicals, toxicology, drug therapy, medical applications and how chemicals affect pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and parasites.
Pharmacology is broken down into two major fields of study:
- Pharmacodynamics, or how chemicals interact with various chemical receptors in a living body.
- Pharmacokinetics, or how chemicals are absorbed, distributed, metabolised and excreted from a living body.
The study of pharmacology dates back to the Middle Ages, where the first texts on the effects of drugs were compiled. William Withering is considered to be the father of modern clinical pharmacology, and the field quickly developed in the mid 19th century after several centuries of inactivity. Quinine, morphine and digitalis were identified and their mechanism of action and effect were worked out during this period era. Athough the field began with identification of plant extracts, it has since developed to study the effect of building chemicals at the molecular level.
The fields of study in pharmacology include:
- Clinical pharmacology - the study of the effects of pharmaceuticals on humans and animals.
- Neuropharmacology - the study of drugs' effects on the nervous system.
- Psychopharmacology - the study of the effect of drugs on the functioning of the brain.
- Pharmacogenetics - the study of the effects of genes on the effect of drugs in a particular patient.
- Pharmacogenomics - the use of gene splicing to create new drugs and understand existing drugs.
- Pharmacoepidemiology - the study of the effects of drugs on large populations
- Toxicology - the study of harmful effects of drugs, including side effects.
- Theoretical Pharmacology
- Dosology - the study of how dosage must be adjusted in patients of different ages, sexes, etc.
- Pharmacognosy - the continuing study of plant based chemicals for their pharmaceutical effect.
- Behavioral Pharmacology - the study of the effect of drugs on human behavior.
- Environmental Pharmacology - The effect of pharmaceuticals on the environment.