Cholinergic Drugs: Definition, Classification & Examples

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  • 0:04 Pharmacology
  • 0:27 What Is a Cholinergic Drug?
  • 1:11 Cholinergic Drug…
  • 1:42 Cholinergic Drug Examples
  • 3:08 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Cholinergic drugs are medications that help the body regulate some of its most important functions. In this lesson, you'll learn about the classification of these drugs and how they're used to treat various medical conditions.


Wendy, a nursing instructor, prepares to teach her class about the medicinal properties of certain medications. As a professor of pharmacology, she hopes to share her knowledge regarding the types of drugs commonly seen in the field and how these medications impact the human body. Today Wendy plans on explaining what a cholinergic drug is and how it is used to treat medical conditions.

What Is a Cholinergic Drug?

The class is ready to learn about cholinergic drugs, a group of medications that affect the function of the nervous system. The nervous system is made up of two main parts: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic system. The sympathetic nervous system regulates actions in stressful situations, allowing the human body to react and respond quickly. The parasympathetic nervous system manages normal, day-to-day body functions like smooth muscle contractions, a regular heart rate, and digestive responsibilities.

Wendy explains that cholinergic drugs impact the parasympathetic nervous system. This means that they are used to treat conditions that interrupt digestion, muscle contraction and weakness, and can even help manage some cardiac issues.

Cholinergic Drug Classification

Wendy knows that all drugs are classified based on the actions they perform, which may either promote the natural reaction of the body or work to reduce or block signals that would cause an unfavorable response. As a type of autonomic nervous system drug, cholinergics are one of many types of drugs that work to manage the nervous system functions. Autonomic nervous system drugs include:

  • Cholinergic drugs
  • Cholinergic blocking drugs
  • Adrenergic drugs
  • Adrenergic blocking drugs

Wendy explains to her class that cholinergic drugs will either promote the actions of the parasympathetic nervous system or work to block over-stimulation of the body's natural functions.

Cholinergic Drug Examples

To drive the concept of cholinergic drug use home to her students, Wendy shares several examples of cholinergic medications used in her nursing career. First, let's take a closer look at cholinergic drugs.

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