Psychiatrists are experts in psychopharmacology. Psychopharmcology focuses on the effects that drugs have on thinking, mood, sensation, and behavior. It studies the use of medications as treatments for mental disorders. A psychopharmacologist studies a range of substances that have different psychoactive properties and focuses primarily on the interactions of chemicals with the brain.

Medications Studied By a Psychopharmacologist

A psychoactive drug interacts with specific target locations or nervous system receptors, inducing multiple changes in psychological or physiological functions. The medication may be derived from animals, plants, or other natural sources or have an artificial origin such as chemical synthesis within a laboratory. “Drug action” is the term used to describe this interaction and the resulting change in function is called “drug effect.”

A psychopharmacologist understands what medications do to the human body, a concept called pharmacodynamics, as well as what the body does to the medication, a principle called pharmacokinetics. This requires an understanding of how medications affect each other, how available a medication is to the body, and how long a medication remains in the body. It also requires knowledge of polymorphic genes, which are genes that vary widely from one person to the next. At West Coast Life Center, we offer genetic testing to help clarify the way patients process medications, so we can better choose the next treatment step and minimize the chances of adverse reactions.

Who is Considered a Psychopharmacologist?

Physician psychiatrists are psychopharmacologists when they have extensive understanding and experience in psychiatric medication use, interactions and effects. They advance their knowledge of psychopharmacology through formal and informal continuing education. It is key to remain aware of the latest drugs used to treat mental disorders and psychological illnesses including depression and post traumatic stress disorder. Lately, psychopharmacologists are able to order genetic tests that can see if an individual tends to metabolize specific medications too slowly or too quickly. This helps guide us about what are the doses and types of medications patients are more likely to respond to, and tolerate.

Tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, benzodiazepines, and other antidepressant and antipsychotic drugs can sometimes have serious side effects so monitoring by a mental health professional is important.


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