The term psychopharmacology was introduced in 1920 by David Macht, an American pharmacologist at Johns Hopkins University, in the title of his paper (“Contributions to psychopharmacology”), in which he studied the effects of ethanol, caffeine, bromine, opium alkaloids, and antipyretic analgesics on the “tapping speed test” (Berger 1976). Macht used the term as a synonym for pharmacopsychology, a term introduced by Kraepelin in 1892. Subsequently, the term was first used in psychiatry in 1935 by W.M. Thorner in the title of his paper “The psychopharmacology of sodium amytal”, published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases. The scope of psychopharmacology was gradually extended, first to research with psychomimetics (1940s), then to clinical investigations on the effects of psychotherapeutic drugs (end of the 1950s). In 1969, in Ban’s Psychopharmacology, it was defined as “a new scientific discipline which encompasses all the aspects and interactions between psychoactive drugs and biological systems”. In the years that followed, the all embracing concept of psychopharmacology was deconstructed.  In An Oral History of Neuropsychopharmacology, a series on The First Fifty Years in the history of the field, based on Peer Interviews, psychopharmacology is separated from behavioral pharmacology, neuropharmacology and neuropsychopharmacology, and restricted (in Volume Four - Psychopharmacology) to the  discipline  that studies the effects of centrally acting drugs on psychopathology and psychiatric diagnoses (Ban 2011a, b).

Ban TA. Psychopharmacology. Baltmore: Williams & Wilkins; 1969, p. VII.

Ban TA, An overview of the series. In: Ban TA, editor. An Oral History of Neuropsychopharmacology. The First Fifty Years. Peer Interviews.  Volume One  (Starting Up , edited by Edward Shorter). Brentwood: American College of Neuropsychopharmacology; 2011, p. IX.

Ban TA. Preface. In: Ban TA, editor. An Oral History of Neuropsychopharmacology. The First FiftyYears. Peer Interviews. Volume Four  (Psychopharmacology, edited by Jerome Levine). Brentwood: American College of Neuropsychopharmacology; 2011b, p. IX.

Berger A. History. In Usdin E, Forrest IS, editors. Psychotherapeutic Drugs. Part I Principles. New York/Basel: Marcel Dekker;   1976, pp. 11-57.

Kraepelin E. Über die Beeinflussung einfacher psychischer Vorgänge durch einige Artzneimittel. Jena: Fischer; 1892. .

Macht DL. Contributions to psychopharmacology. Bull Johns Hopkins Hospital 1920; 31: 167-73.  

Thorner MW. The psycho-pharmacology of sodium amytal. Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases 1935; 81: 161 – 7.

Thomas A. Ban

December 12, 2013


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