Pharmacologists examine drugs and their action on living tissue, whether on overall body function, or on organs or individual cells. Pharmacology should not be confused with pharmacy, which is involved with the preparation, supply and retail dispensing of drugs for medicinal and veterinary use.

Pharmacologists investigate how drugs interact with biological systems, undertaking in vitro research (using cells or animal tissues) or in vivo research (using whole animals) to predict what effect the drug might have in humans.

Pharmacologists aim to understand how drugs work so they can be used effectively and safely. They also conduct research to aid drug discovery and development. Their work involves a high level of collaboration with other scientists.

Areas of specialisation include:

  • neuropharmacology;
  • cardiovascular pharmacology;
  • in vivo pharmacology;
  • psychopharmacology;
  • veterinary pharmacology.

Although pharmacologists are involved in clinical trials, clinical pharmacologists are practising doctors who have specialised in clinical pharmacology. They may be involved in research and trials in addition to their clinical duties. Closely related fields include toxicology, biochemistry and drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics.