Pharmacology (from Greek φάρμακον, pharmakon, "poison in classic Greek; drug in modern Greek"; and -λογία, "Study of" -logia) is the branch of medicine and biology concerned with the study of drug action. More specifically, it is the study of the interactions that occur between a living organism and chemicals that affect normal or abnormal biochemical function. If substances have medicinal properties, they are considered pharmaceuticals. The field encompasses drug composition and properties, interactions, toxicology, therapy, and medical applications and antipathogenic capabilities. The two main areas of pharmacology are pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics. The former studies the effects of the drugs on biological systems, and the latter the effects of biological systems on the drugs. In broad terms, pharmacodynamics discusses the interactions of chemicals with biological receptors, and pharmacokinetics discusses the absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion of chemicals from the biological systems. Pharmacology is not synonymous with pharmacy and the two terms are frequently confused. Pharmacology deals with how drugs interact within biological systems to affect function. It is the study of drugs, of the reactions of the body and drug on each other, the sources of drugs, their nature, and their properties. In contrast, pharmacy is a biomedical science concerned with preparation, dispensing, dosage, and the safe and effective use of medicines.
Dioscorides' De Materia Medica is often said to be the oldest and most valuable work in the history of pharmacology. The origins of clinical pharmacology date back to the Middle Ages in Avicenna's The Canon of Medicine, Peter of Spain's Commentary on Isaac, and John of St Amand's Commentary on the Antedotary of Nicholas. Clinical pharmacology owes much of its foundation to the work of William Withering. Pharmacology as a scientific discipline did not further advance until the mid-19th century amid the great biomedical resurgence of that period. Before the second half of the nineteenth century, the remarkable potency and specificity of the actions of drugs such as morphine, quinine and digitalis were explained vaguely and with reference to extraordinary chemical powers and affinities to certain organs or tissues. The first pharmacology department was set up by Rudolf Buchheim in 1847, in recognition of the need to understand how therapeutic drugs and poisons produced their effects.
Early pharmacologists focused on natural substances, mainly plant extracts. Pharmacology developed in the 19th century as a biomedical science that applied the principles of scientific experimentation to therapeutic contexts.