From Folk Medicine to
The human experience is
frequently characterized by our feelings toward certain aspects of
our environment. We are frightened by things we do not understand,
calmed by familiarity, anxious in the face of uncertainty,
exhilarated by our accomplishments and depressed by our losses.
Gradually, over the course of our individual development, we come
to expect certain situations to produce certain types of feelings.
There are many chemical
substances that have the power to alter this relationship between
environment and feeling. Anxiety can be transformed into
tranquility, exhilaration into sobriety, and torpor into vigor.
When these substances are administered in a formal manner, they are
called drugs, and the study of the effects of these drugs on
mood and other behaviors defines the field of psychopharmacology.
Historically, the more common
chemical substances that change behavior have been plant products
that were widely available and self-administered. Tea and opium
were available in the Orient; tobacco and coffee in the Americas;
and alcohol throughout the world. The substances were valued by
each culture for the effects that they had on behavior, but each
culture also developed written or unwritten guidelines to regulate
the use of the substances.
In addition to the commonly
available plants, each geographic region has more obscure plants
that may contain psychologically active substances. Information
about the identifying features and effectiveness of these plants
were passed on to family elders and to religious leaders. These
individuals became valued for their knowledge of the effects of
chemical substances, and became the informal practitioners of
folk medicine. This gave way to the development of still more
formal knowledge of these effects, and to the gradual development of
formal medical practitioners.
Today, we have literally
hundreds of different drugs that are known to change behavior. Some
of these have been borrowed directly from folk medicine and simply
represent the modern processing and reformulation of a drug
application that may be centuries old. Others have been discovered
by accident when a chemical reaction has gone awry or when a drug
has been administered to treat one malady and it ends up being
effective for some totally different problem. Although important
contributions have been made from both of these sources, the vast
majority of our modern drugs have been developed through systematic
research on the relationships among drugs, behavior and the
underlying chemistry of the brain.
Drugs and Behavior