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Introduction to Pharmacology

Course Code: BIOL 3203
Faculty: Science & Technology
Department: Biology
Credits: 5.0
Semester: 15
Learning Format: Lecture, Lab, Seminar
Typically Offered: TBD. Contact Department Chair for more info.
course overview

This course is designed to provide an introduction to basic concepts of pharmacology and pharmacotherapy. A thorough grounding in pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic principles will be given. In addition, these principles will be applied to the pharmacology of the nervous system, general and local anaesthetics, psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular system, endocrine system, respiratory system, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving drugs, drugs used to treat cancers, and antibiotics. Special topics may include, but are not restricted to, the action of drugs in the gastrointestinal system, renal system or reproductive system; drugs of abuse and pharmacological treatment regimens; drug discovery and experimental design; or ethical issues in pharmacology.

Course Content

1. Introduction to general principles in pharmacology

  • Brief history and discussion of sources of drugs and role in society.

  • Introduction to some basic terminology, definitions and concepts in pharmacology (ongoing throughout the course).

  • Difference between selectivity and specificity of drug effect.

  • Safe and toxic levels of drugs. Effective and lethal dose and relation to therapeutic index and the therapeutic window.

2. Pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic principles.

  • Drug absorption and distribution

    • Drug properties that facilitate absorption.

    • Biological properties that facilitate absorption.

    • The mechanism of pH-dependent ion trapping with respect to accumulation of drugs.

    • Chemical properties that make a drug more water soluble.

    • Chemical properties that make a drug more lipid soluble.

    • Protein binding and the effect of administration of protein-binding drugs on drug effect.

    • The importance of drug distribution with regard to efficacy and toxicity of drug.

    • How drug distribution contributes to the termination of the actions of some drugs.

  • Metabolism of drugs

    • Major mechanisms responsible for drug metabolism.

    • The major enzyme systems in the body that are responsible for oxidation, reduction and/or hydrolysis of selective pharmacological agents.

    • Basic principles of how drug metabolism alters drug action.

    • How drugs are chemically altered by cytochrome p-450.

    • The difference between acute and chronic drug treatment with respect to drug metabolism by the liver.

    • How drug-induced enzyme induction and inhibition can alter responses to drugs.

    • The basic clinical interactions that can result from changes in drug metabolism during co-administration of drugs.

  • Excretion of drugs

  • The concept of “steady-state” with regard to plasma drug concentrations.

  • The importance of different pharmacokinetic parameters on the duration of drug action.

  • The concepts of  loading dose, maintenance dose, volume of distribution, clearance, elimination half-life.

  • The difference between first-order, zero-order and dose-dependent kinetics of drug elimination.

  • Types of drug receptor-effector relationships and coupling mechanisms.

  • Quantitative relationship between  drug concentration/dose and pharmacological effects.

  • Molecular targets for drug action including concept of endogenous receptors.

3. Drugs used on the nervous system

  • Central nervous system overview and major neurotransmitters.

  • Autonomic pharmacology.

  • Ischaemic brain damage and treatment of Alzheimer's.

  • Anti-epileptics.

  • Psychosis and the treatment of schizophrenia.

  • Antidepressants and antianxiety drugs.

  • Treatment of Parkinsonism.

  • Sedative hypnotics.

  • General anaesthetics.

  • Local anaesthetics.

4. Drugs used as analgaesics and anti-inflammatories

5. Drugs used on the cardiovascular system

  • Overview of the basic function of the heart.

  • Starlings law of the heart.

  • Drugs used to treat cardiac failure, angina, hypertension and arrhythmias.

6. Drugs used on the Haemopoetic System

  • Drugs used to treat anaemia, coagulation disorders and hyperlipidaemias.

7. Drugs used on the Respiratory System

  • Drugs used to treat asthma and allergies.

8. Drugs used on the Endocrine System

  • Parathyroid gland and mineral homeostasis.

  • Adrenal cortex.

  • Thyroid.

  • Drugs used to treat diabetes and obesity.

9. Antimicrobials

10. Neoplastic Chemotherapy

11. Special Topics

  • Drugs used on the gastrointestinal system, renal system and reproductive system.

  • Drugs of abuse and treatment.

  • Drug discovery and experimental design.

  • Ethical issues in pharmacology.

Methods of Instruction


Laboratory activities

Seminar/Discussion groups

Means of Assessment

Evaluation will be carried out in accordance with Douglas College policy. The instructor will present a written course outline with specific evaluation criteria at the beginning of the semester. Evaluation will be based on the following:

Evaluation Marks
Projects and presentations   15-20
Laboratory assignments 15-25
Midterm examination  20-30
Final examination 25-35


1. Laboratory Experiments and Activities

Laboratory work will be assigned each week. The laboratory work must be completed in the week it is assigned. Laboratory experiments and assignments are a compulsory component of this course. A minimum of 50% of the laboratory experiments and assignments must be completed to receive a P or better in the course.

Learning Outcomes

Students should develop knowledge and understanding of the core concepts of pharmacology and be able to relate these to the pharmacological actions and use of compounds in specific drug areas taught. Upon completion of this course students should be able to describe:

  1. Sources of drugs, their nature, use, and place in treatment of disease and in society

  2. The basic concepts of pharmacokinetics & pharmacodynamics

  3. The quantitative effects of drugs (concentration/dose-response relationships)

  4. The concepts of agonism, antagonism, partial agonism, inverse agonism, efficacy, and potency

  5. The concepts of selectivity of drugs, species variation, inter-subject variation, wanted, and unwanted drug action and allergy to drugs

  6. The molecular targets of drug action (including receptors, enzymes, ion channels, transporters, and others)

  7. Fundamental transduction mechanisms (chemical messengers, mechanisms, and properties of inter- and intra-cellular signaling pathways)

  8. The mechanisms of action, uses and side effects  of:

    • drugs on the nervous system (including autonomic pharmacology)
    • general anaesthetics and local anaesthetics
    • analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs
    • drugs for the treatment of cardiovascular pathology
    • drugs which affect the haemopoetic system (including anticoagulants and  drugs affecting plasma lipids)
    • drugs affecting respiration
    • drugs affecting the endocrine system
    • drugs affecting blood sugar, obesity appetite control
    • antimicrobials (antibacterials, antivirals)
    • drugs on cancer

Special topics may include some or all of the following. When special topics are covered students should be able to describe:

  1. The mechanisms of action, uses and side effects  of drugs affecting the gastrointestinal, urinary and reproductive systems.
  2. The actions of drugs of abuse and pharmacological treatment regimens
  3. The process of drug discovery and experimental design
  4. Ethical issues in pharmacology

course prerequisites

BIOL 2103, BIOL 2321 and BIOL 2421 or permission of the instructor.

curriculum guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester/year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

course schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.