A program that focuses on the scientific study of drugs that modify the function of the brain and central nervous system, the effects of such drugs on health, disease, perception, motor action, and behavior; and the development of countermeasures and treatment therapies. Includes instruction in neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, behavioral neuroscience, neurobiochemistry, neuropathology, the mechanisms of brain function, medicinal chemistry, pharmaceutics, and studies of specific drugs and drug therapies.

Neuropharmacologists work to understand or synthesize drugs that affect the brain or nervous system.

The nervous system is infinitely complex and delicate, but sometimes it doesn't behave the way it should. The presence of a system anomaly can indicate a larger problem that requires chemical interference. Anyone formulating or administering drugs needs to understand how the body processes a drug and how the drug affects the body. This is a delicate balance, and pharmacologists must work to fine-tune the results whenever possible.

Drugs can be designed to trigger, block, delay, or regulate certain mechanisms of the nervous system; they can affect specific synapses or entire neurotransmitters depending on the desired result. Neuropharmacologists must be aware of the ways drugs can affect moods, hormones, or sensory input, which can affect behaviors in all kinds of ways; in fact, some focus specifically on the neurological effects that all kinds of drugs can have.

Work in neuropharmacology may include...

  • Observing cell's reactions to drugs
  • Developing compounds to treat issues of the nervous system
  • Conducting experiments involving psychoactive drugs
  • Determining the correct dosage for a desired effect
  • Recording and analyzing data based on tests

Most neuropharmacologists are employed by universities, hospitals, or government agencies, where they often conduct research. Clinical neuropharmacologists work with patents to design and prescribe chemical treatments, whereas those in academia do independent study or teach. A significant number work for pharmaceutical companies, where they contribute to research, development, and testing for new drugs.

The first step to a career in neuropharmacology is education. A Bachelor's degree with a focus in chemistry or biology is widely recommended, and should include coursework in molecular biochemistry, toxicology, and physiology. Since it can be difficult to find employment in the field with an undergraduate degree, many graduates decide to advance their studies. Master's degree programs can provide opportunities to explore the field and are sometimes a required credential for those seeking a PhD. The intensive research environment fostered by PhD programs allows students to ask and answer neuropharmacological questions until they become experts. Those who want to work in clinical settings typically opt for medical school, either in place of or in addition to a PhD.

If you want to work with drugs and brains, neuropharmacology is the way to do it - those who commit to the discipline often find it a fulfilling career. Will you?

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