Adam Halberstadt

Academic, Scientist

Dr. Adam Halberstadt is a post-doc researcher and professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego (UCSD). He is a founding member of UCSD’s Psychedelics and Health Research Initiative (PHRI), which runs clinical studies of psychedelics. A year after earning his PhD in neurobiology from the University of Pittsburgh in 2006, Dr. Halberstadt joined UCSD as a postdoctoral fellow. His research on serotonergic hallucinogens was funded by a National Research Service Award from the National Institute of Drug Abuse. He received his Bachelor’s in neuroscience from the University of Delaware.

According to a June 2020 interview with Psychedelic Finance, Dr. Halberstadt’s interest in psychedelics and receptor pharmacology arose in middle school at the peak of the D.A.R.E. era. He asked a presenter about LSD’s effects on the brain and was surprised to learn that the origins of hallucinations were unknown. Upon embarking on his own research, he discovered a wealth of existing information about the receptor-level activity with psychedelics.

Today, Dr. Halberstadt studies how serotonin systems interact with psychedelics and the resulting implications for psychedelic therapy. He contributed to a 2011 pilot study of psilocybin’s potential to treat terminally ill cancer patients led by Dr. Charles Grob.1 The study earned coverage in Vox News, The Scientist, and The Pharmaceutical Journal, among other media outlets. He also contributed to research by PHRI that evidenced analgesic effects of psychedelics on chronic pain.2 

Psychedelic Science Review cited Dr. Halberstadt’s work in articles describing the structure and function of serotonin receptors 5HT2C and 5HT1A. One 2009 study explored how receptors respond to different doses of the hallucinogenic amphetamine DOI.3  A literature review from 2011 showed significant behavior changes as a result of indoleamine hallucinogens activating 5HT1A receptors.4 Another study found that decreases in locomotor activity in mice treated with DMT and psilocin are mediated by 5HT1A.5

Among his most notable achievements is the development of an efficient, automated head-twitch response (HTR) preclinical assay that helps screen novel psychedelic compounds.6 HTR is based on serotonergic receptor 5HT2A activity –and corresponding hallucinations– under the influence of psychedelics. He explained to Psychedelic Finance that for psychedelic substances to successfully enter the pharmaceutical market,

…the key is going to be to identify ways to maximize the therapeutic value of new psychedelic medications, for example by identifying compounds with improved efficacy, better selectivity profiles, or more targeted effects.

Dr. Halberstadt discussed the resurgence and expected trajectory of psychedelic research and psychedelic-assisted therapy on a November 2020 webinar hosted by PHRI and gave a presentation entitled Psychedelic Therapy in Society: Exploring the Mechanisms of Action and Delivery of Care at the 2019 International Forum on Consciousness. In 2012, he authored the piece Do Psychedelics Expand the Mind by Reducing Brain Activity? for Scientific American.

With fellow psychedelic researchers Dr. David Nichols and Dr. Franz X. Vollenweider, Dr. Halberstadt edited the textbook Behavioral Neurobiology of Psychedelic Drugs. He is a member of the International Union of Basic and Clinical Pharmacology’s (IUPHAR) Serotonin Receptor Nomenclature Committee, the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP), and the International Society for Serotonin Research, for which he serves as the Associate Councilor for North America. 

More information about Dr. Adam Halberstadt and his research can be found on his UCSD profile. 

  1. Grob CS, Danforth AL, Chopra GS, et al. Pilot Study of Psilocybin Treatment for Anxiety in Patients With Advanced-Stage Cancer. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2011;68:71-78. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.116
  2. Castellanos JP, Woolley C, Bruno KA, et al. Chronic pain and psychedelics: a review and proposed mechanism of action. Reg Anesth Pain Med. 2020;45:486-94. doi:10.1136/rapm-2020-101273
  3. Halberstadt AL, Van Der Heijden I, Ruderman MA, et al. 5-HT 2A and 5-HT 2C receptors exert opposing effects on locomotor activity in mice. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2009;34(8):1958-1967. doi:10.1038/npp.2009.29
  4. Halberstadt AL, Geyer MA. Multiple receptors contribute to the behavioral effects of indoleamine hallucinogens. Neuropharmacology. 2011;61(3):364-381. doi:10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.01.017
  5. Halberstadt AL, Koedood L, Powell SB, Geyer MA. Differential contributions of serotonin receptors to the behavioral effects of indoleamine hallucinogens in mice. J Psychopharmacol. 2011;25(11):1548-1561. doi:10.1177/0269881110388326
  6. Halberstadt AL. Automated detection of the head-twitch response using wavelet scalograms and a deep convolutional neural network. Scientific reports. 2020;10:8344-8344.