Module 6: how drugs work: learner's workbook

2.1 What is pharmacology?

Page last updated: 2004

Pharmacology is a branch of science that deals with the study of drugs and their actions on living systems - that is, the study of how drugs work in the body (sometimes referred to as 'drug actions'). To understand this we need to consider what a drug is, how it affects our physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing, the type of drug being used, the modes of administration, how the drug is absorbed and the characteristics of the person taking the drug.

This module will focus on psycho-pharmacology which concerns the action of mind-altering or psycho-active drugs. Psycho-active drugs are substances that alter mood, thoughts or behaviour as a result of changes in the functioning of the brain. In this module, the term 'drug' will be used to include all psycho-active drugs including alcohol and other psycho-active substances (e.g. petrol).

Common examples of psycho-active drugs include alcohol, nicotine and cannabis.


Give three examples of psycho-active drugs and three examples of non-psychoactive drugs. (Hint: Think about medication that affects parts of the body other than the brain.)