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Chapter 18 - Psychopharmacology and Evolution

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 September 2022

Riadh Abed
Mental Health Tribunals, Ministry of Justice, UK
Paul St John-Smith
Hertfordshire Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust, UK
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Psychopharmacology is the scientific study of the effects of drugs on thoughts, emotions and behaviour as well as the therapeutic implications of their role in treating mental disorders. Psychopharmacology focuses on understanding relevant mental processes as the key to finding new medications and improving clinical outcomes in mental disorder. Interconnected with this, neuropsychopharmacology is the complementary discipline of the study of the basic neural mechanisms that drugs act upon to influence behaviour. Progress has been slow in recent decades with no major new classes of medication being added to the psychiatric formulary. We suggest that evolutionary thinking brings novel additional scientific perspectives to psychiatry and its basic sciences that highlight the evolutionary history of cell communication, neurotransmission and substances that can alter the brain in various ways. Evolutionary perspectives of function and phylogeny also provide a deeper understanding of how natural as well as artificial chemicals (i.e. psychotropic medications) utilise evolved neuronal pathways for their actions. Evolutionary theory can thereby help us to understand the psychological effects and side effects of psychotropic medications as well as assist in the discovery and testing of new drugs.

Evolutionary Psychiatry
Current Perspectives on Evolution and Mental Health
, pp. 276 - 294
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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