David Hellerstein, MD: Psychedelic Treatments for Psychiatric Disorders


Research on psilocybin, LSD, and other hallucinogens as psychiatric treatments are in their renaissance, transitioning from banned and illegal to potentially useful in changing life for the better in some patients. More in this podcast.


In this episode of PsychPearls and the Columbia University Breakthrough Session, hosts Angela Coombs, MD, and Jennifer Sotsky, MD, discuss the possibilities and promise of psilocybin to treat psychiatric disorders and in enhancing everyday experiences with David Hellerstein, MD. Landmark studies and new research about the use of hallucinogens includes potential to treat:

  • Advanced stage cancer & death anxiety
  • Treatment-resistent depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
    Substance use disorders

Psilocybin (mushrooms) and other hallucinogens from plants and some animal life generate perceptual changes and hallucinations, altered physical sensations, strong emotional reactions, and even dissolution of self.

The question is whether these are wild rides or trips and whether they can result in lasting changes in the patient. Over time, some of the brain connections may become disrupted and new circuits may become activated.

Dr Hellerstein is a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University and is conducting clinical trials of psilocybin. His books include Heal Your Brain: How the New Neuropsychiatry Can Help You Go from Better to Well (Johns Hopkins University Press).

About the hosts:
Dr Coombs is a board-certified psychiatrist and assistant professor in Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. She serves as the medical director and team psychiatrist at ONTrackNY Washington Heights Community Service clinic. She completed her public psychiatry fellowship and adult psychiatry residency at Columbia University where she was a chief resident and co-organized the curriculum on racial/ethnic mental health disparities. In addition to her clinical work in the public sector, she also works in Columbia's psychiatric emergency room and has a private practice in Upper Manhattan.

Dr Sotsky is a fellow in consultation-liaison psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center with a part time private practice. She was formerly a chief resident at Columbia’s psychiatry residency program. Before medical training, she received an MS in Narrative Medicine, an interdisciplinary field that studies illness through a humanities lens. She is co-author of Conquering Lyme Disease: Science Bridges the Great Divide and has interests in medical education, psychotherapy, and medical humanities.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Columbia University Department of Psychiatry for allowing us to present the Breakthrough Session podcast with experts in the field of psychiatry.

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