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A 26-year-old man is brought by friends to the emergency department of the city hospital because he has been behaving strangely for several days. A known user of methamphetamine, he has not eaten or slept in 48 hours. He threatened to shoot one of his friends because he believes this friend is plotting against him. On admission, the man is extremely agitated, appears to be underweight, and is unable to give a coherent history. He has to be restrained to prevent him from walking out of the emergency department and into traffic on the street. His blood pressure is 160/100 mm Hg, heart rate 100, temperature 39°C, and respirations 30/min. His arms show evidence of numerous intravenous injections. The remainder of his physical examination is unremarkable. After evaluation, the man is given a sedative, fluids, a diuretic, and ammonium chloride parenterally. What is the purpose of the ammonium chloride?

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Pharmacology can be defined as the study of substances that interact with living systems through chemical processes, especially by binding to regulatory molecules and activating or inhibiting normal body processes. These substances may be chemicals administered to achieve a beneficial therapeutic effect on some process within the patient or for their toxic effects on regulatory processes in parasites infecting the patient. Such deliberate therapeutic applications may be considered the proper role of medical pharmacology, which is often defined as the science of substances used to prevent, diagnose, and treat disease. Toxicology is the branch of pharmacology that deals with the undesirable effects of chemicals on living systems, from individual cells to humans to complex ecosystems (Figure 1–1).

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Figure 1–1
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Major areas of study in pharmacology. The actions of chemicals can be divided into two large domains. The first (left side) is that of medical pharmacology and toxicology, which is aimed at understanding the actions of drugs as chemicals on individual organisms, especially humans and domestic animals. Both beneficial and toxic effects are included. Pharmacokinetics deals with the absorption, distribution, and elimination of drugs. Pharmaco-dynamics concerns the actions of the chemical on the organism. The second domain (right side) is that of environmental toxicology, which is concerned with the effects of chemicals on all organisms and their survival in groups and as species.

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The History of Pharmacology

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Prehistoric people undoubtedly recognized the beneficial or toxic effects of many plant and animal materials. Early written records from China and Egypt and the traditions of India list remedies of many types, including a few that are still recognized as useful drugs today. Most, however, were worthless or actually harmful. In the 1500 years or so preceding the present, there were sporadic attempts to introduce rational methods into medicine, but none was successful owing to the dominance of systems of thought that purported to explain all of biology and disease without ...

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