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What is a Psychopharmacologist?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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A psychopharmacologist is someone who studies the effects of drugs on behavior. The field of psychopharmacology includes both psychiatric drugs used to manage mental disorders and psychotropic drugs utilized recreationally. Psychopharmacologists study psychology, psychiatry, and pharmacology, integrating knowledge about human behavior and mental disorders into their study of drug development. A related field, neuropharmacology, focuses on drugs which cause functional changes in the nervous system.

While the means available to a psychopharmacologist have expanded radically, the study of psychopharmacology is in fact quite old. Beer and wine have both been utilized for thousands of years by numerous human societies for their distinctive effects on the brain, along with other substances, and people have long been curious about how such drugs work and why they work. Psychopharmacology has also been deeply entangled with religion, as many religions utilize or have utilized various drugs to induce specific states in their followers at various points in history.

In order to become a psychopharmacologist, someone must generally complete extensive schooling in pharmacology, psychiatry, and psychology. Psychopharmacologists can work for drug companies, developing new medications and testing existing ones, and they can also work in the fields of psychiatry and psychology as researchers, exploring the ways in which various drugs act, and ways in which medications can be used to manage psychiatric conditions.

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Conditions like mania, schizophrenia, and depression can be managed with psychopharmacological agents which have been designed to address specific brain imbalances associated with these disorders. The use of such drugs leads many psychiatrists to explore psychopharmacology during their training so that they have a better understanding of the drugs available and the most appropriate uses for these drugs. Understanding of psychopharmacology can also be useful for researchers exploring unexpected psychological reactions to drugs. Recreational drugs are also topics of interest, with researchers looking at both long and short term actions of such drugs on the brain and nervous system.

Although much is known about the brain, it is still treated as a black box by many researchers. The precise method of action of many drugs in the brain is not fully understood, and it is also difficult to understand why the exact same medication can work so differently in different people. Part of the work of a psychopharmacologist involves untangling the complex mysteries of the brain to better help people who suffer from psychiatric disorders. Research has come a long way since people first figured out that they could ferment fruit to make intoxicants; among many other tools, a psychopharmacologist has access to medical imaging equipment which can be used to visualize the brain, along with advanced chemistry equipment to learn about the molecular structure of the compounds he or she studies.

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