The term pharmacopsychology was introduced in Emil Kraepelin’s Thesis for his “habilitation”, the German equivalent for a PhD, published in 1892 with the title Über die Beeinflussung einfacher psychischer Vorgänge durch einige Arzneimittel (On the Modulation of Simple Psychological Processes by Some Medicines). It defined an area of pharmacological research that studied the effects of nervina (centrally acting drugs), on mental processes, such as attention, memory, language, etc., with the employment of psychometric performance tests in normal subjects (Muller, Fletcher and Holger 2006). Kraepelin (1881, 1882a, b, 1883), began with his investigations that led to the concept of pharmacopsychology in Wilhelm Wundt’s (1910) laboratories of experimental psychology in the Department of Philosophy, at the University of Leipzig, in Germany, in 1881; he continued his research in Dorpat (now Tartu, Estonia), and completed it in Heidelberg in 1892 (Steinberg 2001; Steinberg and Angermeyer 2001). Included among the substances he studied were common recreational “drugs”, such as alcohol, coffee, and tea, and medicinal products, such as amyl nitrite, chloral hydrate, chloroform, morphine, and paraldehyde. It was in the course of this research that Kraepelin (1882b) had shown that increasing the amount of alcohol in the blood by having more drinks, led to a measurable lengthening of reaction time and proposed the use of dose-response comparisons in determining the clinical effects of a drug (Bech 2012). In the 8th edition of his textbook, published from 1909 to 1913, Kraepelin extended the scope of pharmacopsychology to the study of the psychotherapeutic effect of some drugs, such as chloral hydrate, morphine, and phenemal in psychiatric disorders. In 1920, the term, psychopharmacology, a synonym for pharmacopsychology was introduced by David Macht and in the years that followed virtually replaced the use of Kraepelin’s (1892) term.                  

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Müller U, Fletscher PC, Steinberg H. The origin of pharmacopsychology: Emil Kraepelin’s experiments in Leipzig, Dorpat and Heidelberg (1882-1892). Psychopharmacology2006; 184: 131-8.

Steinberg H. Kraepelin in Leipzig. Eine Begegnung von Psychiatrie und Psychologie. Bonn: PsychiatrieVerlag; 2001.


Steinberg H, Angermeyer MC. Emil Kraepelin’s years at Drpat  as professor  of psychiatry  in nineteenth- century Russia. His Psychiatry  2001; 12: 297 - 327.


Wundt W. Die Institut  für experimentelle  Psychologie zu  Leipzig. Psychologish Studien 1910; 5: 279-93.


Thomas A. Ban

February 13, 2014