What is pharmacology?

Pharmacology is the science of medicines and their effect on the body. Medicines are molecules that are used to relieve a symptom or treat a disease. They can be molecules extracted from plants or they can be made in a lab. Many medicines work by acting on cells in the body to have a desired effect. This might be stopping pain or lowering blood pressure. Other medicines work by preventing harm to the body, such as killing bacteria or viruses. ​

You can find pharmacology everywhere. It is responsible for painkillers, antibiotics and even tea and coffee! Without pharmacologists we wouldn’t be able to:​

  • Discover new medicines to help fight diseases​

  • Improve their effectiveness and reduce unwanted side effects ​

  • Understand why people have different responses to medicines, and why some work better for some people than others​

  • Understand why some drugs cause addiction​

Pharmacologists carry out essential research understanding how medicines work. ​This is different to a pharmacist, who prepares, dispenses and advises about medicines that are already available.​

​Explore more about what pharmacology is and how medicines are discovered in our 'How Do Medicines Work' booklet:


If you are interested in science or biology and want to make a difference in medicine and health, a career in pharmacology could be for you. ​

​Other questions to think about:​