Psychiatrists are experts in psychopharmacology. Psychopharmacology 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. When appropriate, Dr. Kira Stein offers 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. Dr. Stein is dedicated to keeping up-to-date of the latest medicines used to treat mental health conditions and psychological illnesses including depression, anxiety, ADHD and post traumatic stress disorder, among others. 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 be very helpful, but also can sometimes have significant side effects, so monitoring by a mental health professional is important.