What Is Pharmacology? - Definition & Principles

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  • 0:01 What Is Pharmacology?
  • 0:48 Pharmacokinetics
  • 2:02 Pharmacodynamics
  • 2:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Meghan Greenwood

Meghan has taught undergraduate and graduate level science courses and has a PhD in Immunology.

Expert Contributor
Shawna Smith

Shawna has a master's degree in Education and has taught high school math for over 15 years.

This lesson defines pharmacology and describes two areas of study within pharmacology that are concerned with how the body handles a drug and what a drug does to the body. Take a short quiz at the end to test your knowledge.

What Is Pharmacology?

Think about the last time you took medication. Did you read the directions carefully to decide when and how often to take the drug? Were you able to eat before you swallowed the pill? Did you have to have a prescription filled, or were you able to buy the medicine off the pharmacy shelf? Most of these directions were developed based on research and regulations. A whole field of investigation, called pharmacology, is responsible for making sure you are able to receive medications that will treat your ailment and not harm you.

Pharmacology is the study of drugs - how they interact with other molecules in the body and how they affect the body. This field of study can be broken down into two smaller pieces: pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. These are the two main areas of pharmacology dedicated to providing a comprehensive picture of the safety and action of a medication.


Pharmacokinetics is concerned with what your body does with a drug. Think about what happens when you eat food. The food travels from your mouth to your stomach and then to your intestines. Along each step of the process, the food is broken down, nutrients are absorbed, and waste is removed. A similar process occurs with drugs. Determining how the drug is absorbed, distributed throughout the body, broken down, and then eliminated is what constitutes pharmacokinetics. Pharmacokinetics is based on ADME: absorption, distribution, metabolism, and elimination.

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Additional Activities

Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics:

Pharmacology has two main components: pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. In this activity, we'll dig a little deeper into the meaning of these words.

Determining Meaning:

1) Look up the word kinetics in a dictionary. How does the meaning of the word kinetics show up in the definition of pharmacokinetics? If you had to name this branch of pharmacology, what suffix might you have used instead?

2) Look up the word dynamic in a dictionary. How does the meaning of the word dynamic show up in the definition of pharmacodynamics? If you had to name this branch of pharmacology, what suffix might you have used instead?

3) Compare and contrast the two parts of pharmacology: pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. How would you explain the difference to another student?

4) Why do you think that pharmacology was separated into these two distinct topics?

Check Your Thinking

Pharmacokinetics is concerned with what your body does with a drug.

Pharmacodynamics is concerned with how the drug works on the body.

Remembering the Meaning

How will you help yourself to remember the meanings of pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics? Create a mnemonic to retain this information: What is another word that starts with the letter K that will help you remember what pharmacokinetics means? What is another word that starts with the letter D that will help you remember what pharmacodynamics means?

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