Dr. Jonathan Fellus Neurologist, Traumatic Brain Injury Specialist, Researcher, Mushroom Forager

Interview on the Jason Hennessey Podcast 08-03-2022 - Episode 34
Dr. Jonathan Fellus

Dr. Jonathan Fellus Forages for Fungi and a Forward-Thinking Future

Our guest today, who I am honored to be sitting down with, truly embodies the concept of ‘making your mess your message’. 
Internationally renowned neurologist, researcher, and traumatic brain injury specialist, Dr. Jonathan Fellus, is more than just your typical brain doctor. He’s a lover of language, steward of storytelling, medicinal mushroom forager, and one of the brightest and creative minds in the field of neurorehabilitation
Fueled by his intense desire to problem-solve no matter how complex, Dr. Fellus is the rarely tenacious and exceptional out-of-the-box thinker that our black-and-white healthcare system desperately needs more of.
Tune into this captivating and mind-expanding conversation that broaches everything from the concept of free will, the power of integrative medicine, a controversial case involving a Saudi princess in coma, and Dr. Fellus’ unbelievable personal journey.
Please hit the play button above and follow along below. Thank you again for joining us on The Jason Hennessey Podcast.

In this Episode

[01:30] Jason welcomes Dr. Jonathan Fellus to Hennessey Studios. Dr. Fellus details his specialties in brain mapping and neurofeedback. We also learn about seizures, and Jason shares how his son experienced them as a child.

[06:53] Jason asks Dr. Fellus what drew him to the brain. Dr. Fellus expresses his fascination with the complexity of the human brain. They also discuss the long, studious path that enabled him to help transform lives.

[10:35] Dr. Fellus summarizes what he’s been up to, like traveling to see patients, and working with nutraceuticals and electroceuticals. Jason also seeks clarification about the differences between the brain and the mind. 

[13:27] Dr. Fellus explains  traumatic brain injuries. acquired brain injuries, and neurodegenerative diseases. He also recounts interesting neurorehabilitation cases like reviving a Saudi princess, and how Jahi McMath received two death certificates.

[21:56] Jason shares how a motorcycle accident put his brother in a coma and is interested to learn more about them from Dr. Fellus. Jason also mentions Dr. Fellus’ role in discovering an Alzheimer’s medication that can stop compulsive shopping. 

[29:36] Jason and Dr. Fellus get philosophical about the advantages and disadvantages of knowing too much about how the brain works. Dr. Fellus argues that free will is an illusion, we’re all on a spectrum, and brainpower is rapidly evolving to create eternal life.

[39:35] Jason shifts the focus to medicinal mushrooms. Dr. Fellus recalls starting foraging for mushrooms and recommends Fantastic Fungi to learn more about their benefits. They also discuss how psilocybin and other drugs can help expand the creativity in the mind. 

[47:07] Dr. Fellus divulges how growing up was terrifying due to his father’s rage, and that therapy has helped him realize the power of truth. He encourages parents to “keep it real” with their children, and allow them to “fail forward.”

[50:05] Dr. Fellus reflects on the biggest mistake of his life that took him from feeling like being on top of the world to the deepest depths of depression and loss. He also derives the lessons and wisdom he learned going through the difficult time.

[58:49] Dr. Fellus gives us the scoop on Neurella, a supplement he’s created to protect against deterioration of the brain, and also to help patients recover from and prevent neurological conditions. 

[01:02:13] Dr. Fellus reveals how he received an unexpected phone call that changed his life, and how connecting with family has helped him understand the meaning of unconditional love.

[01:08:15] Jason gets connected to Dr. Fellus’ other vital organ during our signature segment of “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart.” We learn about Dr. Fellus’ biggest eye-opening lesson, the most surprising thing he’s discovered, if he believes in life after death, and much more.

[01:19:50] Dr. Fellus invites Jason and listeners to ask him questions through his Neurella or Advanced NeuroCare websites as they end their insightful conversation.

Transcript

Jason Hennessey: Dr. Jonathan, “Feh-las.” Is that how to pronounce your last name?

Dr. Jonathan Fellus: Yeah, “Feh-las.”

Fellus, thank you for coming down to Hennessey Studios. From what I understand, you had to reroute to be here. Is that right?

Well, coming from New Jersey, it’s not every day I find myself on the West Coast. I’m one of the rare, I guess, doctors that still does a house call. 

There’s a patient up in San Francisco I see several times a year, and we go there and we collect brain data and we’re trying to get her better. That’s what I was doing up there. 

We do something called brain mapping.

Brain mapping.

Yeah. It’s like quantitative electroencephalography, which means you’re gathering data on brainwaves and you’re diagnosing the circuitry and the functionality of the brain and the connectivity. 

And then from that, we do this thing called “biofeedback” or neurofeedback

Neurofeedback, I want to learn a little bit more about that. First of all, are you a neurologist?

I am a neurologist, yes, which is not a neurosurgeon

Most people say, “Ooh.”

Yeah. 

In college, did you have to choose between the two paths of either becoming a neurologist versus a neurosurgeon?

That’s interesting. I think right after I wanted to be a fireman, I thought, “Oh, I’m going to be a neurosurgeon.” 

That’s the idea of the top of the heap, kind of. 

If you’re interested in the brain, then, ooh, you want to dig in the brain. Then I realized, no, that’s not that, but I did want the brain. I knew I wanted the brain. 

In college I was already majoring in neurobiology, actually, just generally, but college was also time to really gather lots of information about the brain and-

And find yourself, right?

Oh, yeah. You know that’s funny. I thought I had already found myself. I mean, when you’re blessed early on with a goal such as being a doctor, then everything falls into place for you. 

There’s not a lot of decision-making. It’s just nose to the grindstone, eyes peeled, ear-to-the-ground, and your face is sore by the end. You do all those things.

So, neurofeedback, tell me a little bit more about that. How long has that technology been around for?

Interesting. People have heard of biofeedback, but when we do it with a brain, we call it neurofeedback. 

It’s funny, how long has it been? The technology started in the ’50s, but not until-

Like so many things, when you have these technology advances recently, you can do things faster, in real time. You can get it to the masses. Instead of it being in the lab, it can be in the home. 

It’s this technology that advances that allow for this thing to be pushed out. 

What is it? We gather this electrical data from the brain, and then we can fine tune the brain. We can tell the brain, “Well, you’re out of whack in this brain wave frequency, alpha,” people heard of alpha frequency.

And if there’s not enough or too much, then we teach the brain, you reward the brain for making moves in the direction of normal. 

The closer the brain starts to perform to the ideal, to the target, to the normal, and you give the brain a reward, and usually that’s like your movie, your favorite movie gets to play on a screen in front of you. 

And if your brain deviates or wanders away from the target, then the movie stops. We all do things more when we’re rewarded for doing them, right?

Sure.

You go to work, you get paid, you come back to work. You can train the brain that way. It’s called operant conditioning. You know, B.F. Skinner was a scientist that came up with that. 

It’s all about reward and punishment, except we don’t punish people. We just withhold reward.

When my son was young, he was getting seizures. He was just a young boy, maybe 3 years old, and it was really scary. Right?

Yeah.

At first they started to diagnose it as maybe febrile seizures. And then from there, they’re like, “Well, maybe not.” 

They started to investigate it a little bit more, and then they diagnosed him as epileptic sleep disorder, I guess it’s where when you go to sleep, you are not getting the-

No. You know what happens in sleep is your brain goes into this synchronous. It goes through different stages in brain wave frequencies. Part of the main problem, seizures. My daughter has seizures too. That’s a whole other story how she got that. 

Seizures are an electrical storm in the brain, and when your brain goes into this synchronous, overly- hyper synchrony, it’s too synchronized. 

Some tasks call for the brain being synchronized, but mostly the brain is doing all different things all over the place. But when it gets too much in sync, then that’s a ripe brain frequency for seizures.

I see.

And then it just explodes and it spreads all over the brain. 

So, it makes sense that there are parts of sleep that can trigger that overly synchronous brain function.

Yeah, but when we were trying to study it, because there, I mean they experimented with everything including steroids and he got heavy from that. 

So, we would have to go to the hospital, and they’d wrap his head. 

What was it called? EKG?

EEG.

EEG.

EKG is, K is the heart, C is for heart. EEG, electroenceph- The encephalo is your brain.

That’s right. And you know, when you’re looking at your son and he is, like, 6 years old and he has got this thing that you have to go home and he has to wear it overnight.

Yeah, ambulatory video EEG monitor. Yeah, terrible.

This hit home for us.

Yeah, it is.

And then when he was maybe 13, we came to UCLA here and he met with a team of doctors and then they said that he outgrew it.

Yes. The moment you said he got it as a child, I was like, “Oh, there’s a good chance that he could be one of the ones that he outgrows, really fortunate.”

Oh, thank you. Yeah. 

What drew you to the brain, and when was that? You started as a kid?

I think the brain chose me. I mean, the last great frontier, the thing we know the least about, thing we want to know the most about, we need to know the most about, it’s this black box. 

We know what goes in. We know it comes up, but we’re not really sure what happens inside. 

To me, once I understood, I’m not even sure if I got this from somewhere. To me it’s always been this amazing concept, this paradox of infinite potential in a finite space. Show me anything else that does that in the universe. 

I mean, how exciting you can have this contained thing, and only a certain amount should happen here, but everything can happen. I mean, the most creative, everything possible that we’ve ever- 

Look around you every day and this is all created by the brain, the mind.

Look around you every day and this is all created by the brain, the mind.

Everything you see.

Everything you see.

Literally, yes.

Literally, yeah. As far as we know, it’s the most complicated thing in the universe. 

To me, I was like right on the cusp, it was the ’80s, and I was like, “Oh, finally. This is like a wave that I can ride.” 

We’re all looking to ride that wave of whatever it is.

Sure.

And here it was like- Oh, then the ’90s gets declared the decade of the brain. I was already interested. I was just fascinated. I just, in terms of being a doctor, once I knew I was going to be a doctor, of course, I like to say my parents gave me a choice. 

They said, “You can be whatever kind of doctor you want to be. It’s wide open.” 

Well, then, the brain is the, it’s the most challenging. It’s the most unknown. I think it allows for the most creativity.

The brain… is the hardware and the mind is the software.

Sure.

Not just your own, I’m saying your own, but in doing stuff to the brain, the book has not been written on what to do. It really takes- 

Einstein said, “Creativity is more important than knowledge.” You got to get the knowledge, but then what you do with that relies on creativity.

100%, yeah. Were your parents doctors?

No, no. I had a grandfather who was-

A doctor.

A doctor, yeah. And he had to even hide during World War II in Italy and his studies were interrupted and everything. He was a psychiatrist. He was a bit odd. I didn’t really have a big relationship with him. 

And I would say I was pretty much the first doctor for the most part, other than a distant grandfather who I wasn’t really close to.

Got it. Did you excel pretty well in high school?

Yeah, I think you had to. Yeah it’s fierce competition. 

I mean, once it’s just getting in, I wasn’t into a program. It’s one in 10 that survives, gets into medical school who wants to. It’s competitive there’s no question, and it should be. 

I mean, we do want some of the greatest minds going into medicine.

Of course.

It’s a win-win process. It’s brutal. It’s a long, long, long, long road. 

I mean, there’s four years of college, four years of medical school, a year of internal medicine, three years of neurology and then a year of specialty in brain rehabilitation.

Or you could just be a TikTok star.

[both laugh]

I wouldn’t know how to do that. I like that. I wouldn’t know how to do that. I wouldn’t know the first thing.

It’s a whole new world that we live in, and what draws our kids these days, because it’s fascinating. 

You see these TikTok stars driving around in Lamborghini and Rolls Royces and pulling up to the fancy restaurants and getting notoriety. Right?

Yeah. But at the end of the day, when there’s someone sick on the airplane,  they’re not saying, “Is there a TikTok star on the airplane? This man’s having chest pain? Is there a Tik-toker.” 

[laughs]

I’ve been called a few times and it’s- 

Look, it’s a rush. It’s a gift. I’m fortunate that my passions line up with my talents and my interests and that it leads me to have such an honorable place in the ability to change people’s lives.

Agreed. 

So, you said you flew out to San Francisco to meet with a patient.

Yeah.

Is that what you’re doing now? Are you mostly meeting with patients?

I mean, yeah, I see patients. 

I take on challenging cases. I’m known for out-of-the-box thinking. Once people have exhausted other places, and people find me on the internet, I have a reputation in the field that draws patients to me. 

My patients from 15, 20 years ago find me again like, “Oh, we’re having problems again. Can we see you?”

It’s just the creative approach that I take. It’s no-holds-barred, but integrative medicine, what used to be called “complementary alternatives” now called integrative. 

Now, I’ll draw upon all these different things. I tend to see odd cases, weird or challenging. I mean, I see regular stuff too, but yeah, I have a practice in New Jersey that just, yeah, neurology practice.

Got it. Out of the field, what are you most passionate about?

I think I’m most passionate about just bringing all these tools to bear simultaneously, and I think of things in, there’s pharmaceuticals, drugs.

Sure.

There’s nutraceuticals, nutritional supplements, which I’ve been totally into, including even things like medicinal mushrooms, not psychedelic mushrooms, although that’s on the cusp too. But medicinal mushrooms and many other nutritional supplements for brain function. 

And then third is electroceuticals. I wish I had made up that word, but that’s the biofeedback stuff. What you can do to the brain with electricity to retrain the brain to…

That’s fascinating.

its normal function. 

Compared to a database that’s out there, you can say, “Well, this is the brain, the picture of the brain, the brain map, and it differs in these different frequencies and we want to get it from there towards normal.” 

And the way to do that is, in my opinion, by unleashing every tool we have, different combinations, yeah.

What’s the difference between the brain versus the mind?

Ooh, boy, there’s a whole philosophical question. Talk about TikTok. I mean, you could- 

There’s umpteen hours on the internet of people discussing the mind. 

It’s funny. Psychiatry deals with the mind and neurology deals with the brain, and yet there’s a field of neuropsychiatry that deals with crossover. 

I think that’s too big of a conversation to have.

Within the hour here.

Yeah. The brain and the mind. 

I mean, look, the fact is we really don’t know. And the fact that we don’t even know what consciousness really is. The closer we get to it, the more elusive it is. It’s just like sand through your fingers. 

It just kind of, “I think I understand it.” And then no, we don’t really know where it sits. We know, clearly the mind comes from the brain, but how it is functioning in parallel.

It sounds like the brain is the subconscious when the mind is the conscious?

The brain is the meat of- is the hardware and the mind is the software. How’s that?

Okay, that’s a good way to put that.

There we go.

Mm-hm, that’s a good way to put it. 

You’re listed here as a traumatic brain injury specialist. Give us an example of what is a traumatic brain injury.

Yeah. Our brains weren’t really designed to go 60 miles an hour or smash into things, or what we call acceleration-deceleration forces. 

The brain is really a really delicate thing. They say it’s the consistency of toothpaste left out in the sun and it’s barely being held together with just- The skull is your helmet. There’s a reason it’s the most protected thing in the body. It’s encased in bone. 

But if you shake it, or if your skull hits and your brain keeps going, then your brain bounces off the skull and it can bounce back and forth, and it can tear these very delicate fibers in the brain, these pathways and connections. 

There would be rotational forces, direct forces, and it can torque and twist and pull, the brain only can hold itself together against so much force. And the forces we have around us these days are way too much.

Sports injuries, repeated forces, falls, assaults, car accidents, unfortunately, the case of Congresswoman Giffords, and that kind of thing.

Sure.

Gunshots. I mean, let’s not even talk about gunshots lately. That’s a source. Those are called penetrating brain injuries, as opposed to most brain injuries are closed head injuries. 

Any force that’s exerted to the brain that exceeds that the brain’s ability to absorb that shock…

So, there’s a difference-

…is what’s causing damage.

There’s a difference between a brain injury versus a traumatic brain injury.

No. Yes, you’re right, actually. Good. 

We talk about acquired brain injury as the whole field, like stroke is an acquired brain injury, but it’s not traumatic.

What about Alzheimer’s, would that be considered-?

Alzheimer’s is considered a neurodegenerative disease. We don’t consider that acquired brain injury. It’s not an injury, it’s a disease. It’s degenerative.

I see.

So, traumatic is the forces and the non-traumatic acquired brain injuries are things like a stroke or a toxic exposure or a sudden lack of oxygen or a drop in blood sugar to the point where your brain just starts kicking off cells that just die.

Interesting. I’m sure you’ve seen your share of, I guess really rare abnormal cases of traumatic brain injury. Any things you want to talk about or share?

Yeah. I talked about how my training took me to the end of the earth in terms of brain neurology, and then I chose neurorehabilitation as a subspecialty, I would say within neurorehabilitation, putting the nervous system back together after injury, disease, dysfunction, my sub-subspecialty is traumatic brain injury. 

I deal with really challenging cases. You get weird calls about, you’re associated with a, I’m associated with a brain research foundation and they get some notoriety. Patients get funneled through there. 

And suddenly a few years ago, we did a lot of hard work on patients who were in coma and vegetative states. 

Coma: eyes closed, nothing going on. Nobody’s home. 

Vegetative state: your eyes are open, you’re going through sleep-wake cycles. And then if you emerge from that, then you’re conscious, but barely conscious. 

But below coma on the lower end, even worse than coma is brain death. Brain death is equated in most countries with actual death, to the point where in most countries you’re allowed to just pull the plug. 

But once you meet criteria for being brain dead, where your brain can’t even do the most basic functions like heart rate and blood pressure and temperature, at least in coma, vegetative state, you’re doing the vegetative functions. 

We don’t even like to call it vegetative state anymore. It’s called “unresponsive wakefulness state.”

Got it.

These things are not easy. 

When you deal with brain death, you’re like, “Well, that’s considered irreversible.” 

The definition of brain death is: once you meet those criteria, you will never get out of there. You will never emerge to a higher state of function or consciousness. 

We got called on a case in Saudi Arabia, a princess who’s braindead. A team of us went over, and we went over four times, and eventually we proved that, well, she was brain dead and now she’s not. 

Well, that’s like heresy. I mean, that’s not supposed to happen.

An act of God.

So, we publish- Yeah, an act of God, exactly. 

So, well, maybe things aren’t as grim. Now don’t get me wrong, Jason. I wouldn’t want to live that way. You wouldn’t want to live that way. We wouldn’t want our loved ones to live that way. 

But can we learn something from these extreme examples where what we do to intervene, like I said, drugs, electrical, nutritional supplements, can that improve even a little? And then can we use that information to apply to other less severe cases?

Yes, we turned around a case of brain death in Saudi Arabian princess, again, by I say turnaround, I mean, no longer considered brain dead.

Wow.

Which is unheard of. So, we published that. 

We dealt with another case here from California, Jahi McMath, who went in for tonsillectomy, came out brain dead. Only person we know in the United States, she was issued two death certificates. She was issued a death certificate to leave California. 

She came to us in New Jersey. We treated her, she was no longer brain dead, and then she died years later and needed, now New Jersey has to issue a death certificate.

Oh, my God.

It’s crazy.

These are just fascinating things that I get to be associated with. 

So, I was visiting an orphanage in Morocco. I walk through, and there’s this young woman, she’s 25, she’s cackling and howling and laughing all day long. 

And then she’s like drooling. She’s got a bib she’s- I was like, “Oh-

Have you ever seen anything like that?

I mean, not to that, that was an extreme. I deal a lot with people who either laugh or cry inappropriately or excessively. It’s a reflex. It’s a disinhibition, it’s an impulsivity. 

The brain, it’s like removing the breaks on the brain. Now, the brain is just going to do whatever the hell it wants, and one of those things is laughing, crying. 

Here she was laughing. It was an extreme case.

I said to my colleague, I was like, “I know exactly what this is,” except we’re in an orphanage in Morocco. Like, “Well, how can I use the medication I normally use to treat this?” 

Sure enough, I eventually, a few months later, I get this medication there and I’m emailing, “Tell me how it comes out. give her one of these.”

Finally, weeks later the message comes back, “No more laughing, no more changing shirts four times a day, like a different person.”

Wow.

It’s broken English, miraculous. It’s just like a miracle. You give her the right drug, and she stops laughing. She stops drooling. They don’t have to change her shirt four times a day. 

I was like, “I hadn’t even thought of that. If you’re laughing all the time you’re drooling.”

Sure. 

I believe- She didn’t develop language. I’m like, “Maybe if she had been treated really early, she could have actually developed-”

Had a different life, yeah.

Yeah, a totally different life.

What do you call that where-

That’s called pseudo- It’s a terrible term for the disorder, the syndrome, Pseudobulbar affect. I prefer to call it “affective incontinence.” 

You can be in incontinent of urine, often when you get damage to the brain, and your emotional display to the world we call affect. You can also be incontinent. You can’t keep it in check. 

There’s a drug for that, and I started using it as soon as it was available. I met the guy who invented it here in California. He invented it.

Really?

Yeah, wild.

To invent a drug like that, you have to go through all of the FDA?

Yeah, he did. I mean, he was in search of a drug to treat ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease.

I see.

And instead, because those people also, Lou Gehrig’s, they also have this thing where they’ll laugh or cry totally uncontrollably out of the blue. Nothing triggers them.

What he discovered is, “Oh, look, this is a drug that treats that.” 

Then he pivoted to that and developed that over 10, 15 years, sold it to a drug company here in California. 

Then I heard about it from another colleague. 

He saw a patient of mine crying all day long. He’s like, “You know they’re developing a drug for that.” 

I was like, “Oh yeah, what is it?” 

He told me, and immediately the next day I prescribed the active ingredient and it worked instantly.

Wow.

I was just blown away. Here I was in this brain injury unit toiling away and you’re trying anything to help these people’s lives get better and it was just incredible. 

The nurses looked at me like, “What the hell did you do to that patient?”

You got to love modern medicine, huh?

Yeah. Well, again, creativity because the drug wasn’t available yet, but I was like, “Oh, well, I kind of know a piece of it is like this and I can get it that way. 

So, I just hate the word no. I don’t accept no.

Sure, sure. We’ll talk a little bit because, on this sheet that I was given, there’s you in front of mushrooms.

Oh yeah. Yeah.

Talk about being creative, right?

Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Well, there’s those kind of mushrooms. Yeah. Yeah. That was being resourceful, I think. Yeah.

We had a gentleman that was on this show that would get headaches.

Mm-hmm. That’s right, people have-

They were called cluster headaches.

Yeah.

You familiar with that?

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Called “ice pick in the eye,” is what they describe it.

Yeah. When he was explaining it, I’m like, “Oh my God.” Sometimes you get a migraine and you think that’s really bad…

No.

…but you amplify it by…

It’s even worse.

…a hundred percent. Yeah.

Even worse.

And so, what he did was he found psychedelics, right? So, it’s interesting how you kind of go outside of the orthodox normal…

Totally. Yeah.

…right, solutions.

I’m all about, again, there’s enough people out there doing what’s orthodox. I’m not going to stand out. It doesn’t interest me.

It doesn’t interest me to follow a recipe book. I like to be creative. I like to be the chef in the kitchen. So, I’m a chef of the brain. I’ll create new dishes. That’s just the way I see life. I don’t know.

I’m a chef of the brain.

Yeah. You had mentioned comas, right?

Yeah.

Just for my understanding, for instance, my brother was in a traumatic motorcycle accident where they had to amputate his right arm.

Geez.

He had crashed and fell off wearing a helmet, this was in New York, went into a coma.

Yes. That’s traumatic brain injury.

Does that happen because your body can’t deal with the pain and it shuts down or why does the body go into a coma?

Yeah. So, your consciousness is shut down. The connection between your sort of reptilian brain that is what functions when we’re asleep. 

Most people, like on TV, you think, “Oh, the coma, the brain is sleeping,” right?

Mm-hmm.

Except that you’re not supposed to just wake up like you do from sleep. You don’t just do that from a coma.

Sure.

The conscious part of the brain is shut down because the connections that go from, like I said, the reptilian basic part of the brain up to the wakeful conscious part of the brain, those connections have been either severed or functionally shut down. 

They’ve been stretched. There’s swelling. 

The electrical signals are not getting through at a sufficient amount to light up the bulb. The bulb has been turned off. The electricity’s still back there in the fuse box, but it ain’t getting to the bulb. That’s a coma.

That’s a coma.

That’s a coma. Yeah. Lights are on, nobody’s home.

And then-

Lights are barely even on in a coma.

And so, the body could either go into a coma or doctors can induce the coma.

Coma is always the brain. Oh yeah, doctors can induce coma through anesthesia. That’s for surgery.

I see.

Yeah. You’re put into basically a coma for surgery. Yeah.

Got it.

So that you don’t feel the pain. So, that’s where you may get that part about, “Oh, is it to avoid the pain?” 

No. If it was a motorcycle accident, likely, he had damage to his brain…

I see.

…that caused him to go into a coma.

Got it. 

So, I hear that you might be able to help me. So, I got a Macy’s bill for about $700. My wife went shopping and then I got another bill from- And so, I hear that you have worked with creating a solution possibly for this. 

Maybe tell me a little bit more about people that might have a thing about shopping.

So, there was that drug that I told you for laughing and crying, and I told you that laughing and crying is an impulse, right? You can’t inhibit the reflex to laugh and cry. 

So, I was called to be on CBS, whatever. They said, “Oh, there was a study that discovered this old Alzheimer’s medication helps people with compulsive shopping disorder. Can you come on and talk about that?” 

I was like, “Yeah, I can talk about it,” interestingly. It’s interesting to me. 

I was like, “Oh, that drug for Alzheimer’s.” Well, I have this other drug that works similarly. This is the one for laughing and crying called Nuedexta, which is basically cough syrup, weirdly. The active ingredient is found in cough syrup.

Really?

Oh yeah. It’s a whole crazy side story. 

So, I started asking my patients. I was like, “When I’ve treated you with this medication for your laughing and crying, didn’t you tell me something, you had, like, a shopping problem?” 

Like, “Oh yeah. That shopping is totally gone.” 

I was like, “Really? Tell me more about that. Why didn’t you talk about that?” 

“Oh, it’s embarrassing, doctor.” Nobody likes to talk about their bad habits that are-

Of course.

That they can’t afford and they’re doing anyway and they feel, it’s like an addiction, right? It’s like a drug for people, retail therapy, right? 

So, yeah. So, finally, I was like, “Well, wait a minute. Let me just start asking everybody about shopping.” 

It turns out a lot of people have a shopping problem. Even people who are like hoarders, how do they get that stuff in the first place? 

They’re ordering stuff off the internet. I mean, look at Amazon. It’s gotten easier and easier and easier to accumulate stuff.

And so, I was like, “Well, if that’s an impulse to shop and crying is an impulse.” And then, oh, by the way, people also have suicidal thoughts. I was like, “Well, all three of those things are impulses that can’t be controlled.” 

In the cognitive realm, “My life sucks. How do I change it? Suicide.” Behavior, shopping, and then psychiatric, like psychological. Mood is crying and laughing. 

I was like, “Well, I think maybe what if all these things are kind of controlled by the same switch?”

Sure.

So, I started unleashing this drug on more and more people across that spectrum. Sure enough, it worked almost every time, almost every time and really quickly. 

So, yeah. So, then I went back on CBS and now I was like, “Well, hey, because you guys asked me about this shopping thing with this other drug, it turned me onto this and here are two women.” 

I brought two patients on and they talked about how this drug totally curtailed their compulsive shopping.

Wow.

Yeah, it’s crazy.

So, I didn’t think that would be considered a problem, first of all, right? But then to go to a doctor and get diagnosed a medication to help with that.

Yeah. Well, lots of people are…

Interesting.

…in psychotherapy for that. 

Yeah, it’s a big problem and people keep it secret. I mean, nobody wants to flaunt that they’ve got a problem at all, let alone, guilty pleasure of just shopping. Yeah. 

So, it’s an impulse control disorder. Think of it as impulsivity. We think of it as impulsivity, this desire. When you see something, you want it. 

Kids do that. Kids are uninhibited. They haven’t developed the brain yet to restrain what’s appropriate from what’s inappropriate, right?

Yeah. Uh-huh. Mm-hmm.

But adults, we have that and then we can lose it through damage, injury, disease.

I see.

And so, we’re disinhibited. Kids are uninhibited.

And then there’s, on the opposite side, I know we do work with attorneys. We help market them. I believe there’s a drug, I’ll have to get fact checked on this, but I think it’s called Abilify that does the opposite.

That’s right.

It makes you want to go out and gamble. Have you heard of that?

Yeah. This happens with Parkinson’s patients who get treated with dopamine. The dopamine drives gambling and hypersexuality sometimes too. 

So, yeah, Abilify has a little bit of a dopamine problem in it. It’s got this balance and yeah, there is some side effect of that, I guess. I mean, I’ve worked a lot with attorneys and lawyers on other things, not that particular drug. 

I mainly work with them with this injury stuff where they’ve been injured in an accident and they’re in a coma, how long are they going to live and everything. 

So, yeah. Normally, Abilify actually suppresses people from doing bad things, but-

There are side effects, probably, yeah?

Yeah. There are side effects that are weird, that are recorded.

There’s a mass tort that was going around, around that. So, that’s how I’m familiar…

Yeah, interesting.

…with it. 

So, what are some of the advantages, I’m sure there’s disadvantages too, about knowing and studying how the brain works?

Oof. Yeah. What are the advantages-disadvantages to how the brain works? 

I think literally it’s hard to get out of your own head. I mean, we-

That’s what I’m saying. Yeah.

A lot of people are, sort of, caught up in their own thoughts and everything, but I’m actually always thinking about the mechanics of it, the chemistry of it, the electrical of everything that’s going on in the brain. Yeah. 

I can’t turn my mind off so easily about thinking about the brain. It’s this ironic loop like, “Yeah, do you know too much?” 

I don’t know. At the end of the day, I’d rather know too much and try to be solving these problems than necessarily be a victim of it, but I think there are advantages, but like anything, you have to use your powers for good instead of evil.

Of course. So, I do the same, right? 

So, for 20 years, I’ve reversed engineered and study how the Google algorithm works, right? And so, if I do a Google search, I know exactly why the…

Why, yeah.

…result is displaying for me, right? 

I know the inner workings, I know why the content is written the way it is. And so, I can’t not see that just because I’ve studied it for so long, right?

Right.

But for me to subconsciously choose to put my arms like this or move my fingers or bite my nail, right?

Ooh, free will.

Yeah. There’s reasons why I’m doing that and I don’t think about it in-

It’s so interesting. When you were talking about that, the Google and the algorithm, I’m thinking people believe that they have free will to search, but they don’t. They’re getting fed an algorithm they know nothing about.

Yeah. People are manipulating the algorithms.

Right. Exactly. Exactly. So, I think that, yeah, the extension of that is, “Do we really have free will?” 

I think we have the illusion of free will. 

I’ve only come across this recently. There’s this guy Sapolsky, a professor out of UCSF, something like that. But he and a bunch of other brilliant thinkers are really coming to this conclusion. Yeah. Do you have free will about which shirt you put on or what you eat for breakfast? 

Okay. Yeah. But those are the small stuff.

But in terms of your overall complex behavior that leads you to seek out certain things in certain ways and get there and that sort of complexity of behavior, more and more it’s being shown that we really are fooling ourselves if we think we have total control or free will or choice over that. 

It’s a consequence of our genetics, our upbringing, where we’re shaped in society and cultural, and all this stuff that we cannot fathom, trillions. 

I mean, the brain is doing trillions of computations every second. Trillions. It’s insane.

That’s nuts.

So, that’s mind boggling, literally. Figuratively, it’s mind boggling to consider the enormity of that.

Then you look at sometimes the smartest people that you know, overweight, right? They know that they have to eat healthy.

That’s right.

They know that they have to exercise.

It does amaze me when I see smart people doing stupid things or people who should know better doing yeah, things. 

Look, I’m human too. I certainly have done plenty of things I should know better. 

I think that’s a consequence of not being mindful and being distracted and overextending yourself and not taking the time to be present and mindful and considering, “Why am I doing this? What are the consequences of these actions?”

So, when I was a kid, for example, like you walk and you say to yourself, “If I step on this crack, something bad’s going to happen, right?”

Even like obsessive compulsive, right? Somebody puts the ketchup down, it bothers me. I want to put it back up. 

Is that nature? Is that-

I mean, we are largely wired for that. 

Look, everything’s on a spectrum, right? We’re learning with autism, a spectrum, but really everything is on a spectrum. That’s why it’s called a spectrum.

Sure.

I’m on the spectrum. You’re on the spectrum. Just a question of where, in what. 

So, we’re all on the spectrum of OCD. Some of us, it’s dysfunctional and it tends to get worse with age and it’s probably mostly a control issue where if things are out of control otherwise in your life, “At least I can control this. At least I can control this right in front of me right now.” 

That’s kind of back to the illusion of control, right?

Mm-hmm.

We’re all diluting ourselves. I actually came to, really, this a few years ago. I think we’re all living in our own singular delusion. We all think that the way we’re doing it is the right way, and I believe this way, and this is my interpretation of reality and the facts. 

The goal is to try to have a shared reality and increasingly, that’s a problem say in politics, for example. But largely we have enough of a shared reality to function as a society. 

But I think deep down or not that deep down, just below the surface, I think we all are living in our own separate delusional reality.

we all are living in our own separate delusional reality.

Yeah. Huh.

How’s that for psychopathology?

Then there’s that it takes three seconds to make a decision that could put you in jail for the rest of your life.

There you go. Absolutely.

Literally 3 seconds.

Literally.

Sometimes, people do things and they’re good people and all of a sudden, they make that wrong decision in 3 seconds.

Good people can do bad things. Otherwise, good people.

Do you, or maybe some of your colleagues, do you ever study that at all? Is it the brain? Is it the mind? 

I see on TV, right, people study like murderers…

Well, criminality…

…or serial killers and things like this, yeah.

…the mind of murderer, yes. Yeah. 

We’re back to this guy. I mean, he’s like my newest idol, this guy Sapolsky. Just watch any interview or lecture of his. It’s like a liberal’s wet dream because nobody is to blame for anything technically. 

Once you consider that we really don’t have free will on these sort of deep things, or you’re so shaped by, like I said, genetics and your upbringing and society, and you’re so shaped by these experiences, that it’s hard to break with your destiny. 

I don’t study that…

You don’t, okay.

…but I’m fascinated by the study of it.

Got it.

I don’t have the wherewithal to go there, but on the other hand, I deal with people who, because of injury and disease, I see that every day. I see that manifested, that they can’t keep their behaviors in check. They don’t have brakes. They can’t put the brakes on the reins when it comes to certain things. 

So, I see that and then I wonder, “Oh, is everyone on that spectrum then? How do we know that guy in jail didn’t get his head beaten in or fell off the counter as a child or car accident, any of that, that led to his, yeah, impulsive behavior that landed him in jail?”

So, what is the voice inside your head?

Well, Freud and everything, that would be kind of your super ego in a way sort of saying, “Oh, is this the right thing to do? Is it the wrong thing?” I need to feed my ego, right? Ego in the sense of self. 

Most people think, you say the word ego, they’re like, “Oh, I got a big ego.” 

No, it’s the sense of Freud’s ego. This is your core sense of who you are as a person. 

And so, really, it’s the super ego that’s saying above that. It’s like, “Mm,” which is your frontal lobes basically saying, “Is this the right thing to do? Is it the wrong thing to do? I want to do this. How do I get more of this? Does this feel good? This feels good. I want to do more of this.” 

Then it’s balancing it against the constraints of society. “How much of that can I get that I like?” 

That’s kind of the voice inside of your brain. That is your mind. That is your consciousness. But we still don’t really even understand where consciousness lies. So, many people are studying it. We really don’t know.

Yeah. In most cases, you live inside your own head and not inside the real world.

That’s right. Well, we’re back to this delusion. That’s the idea of this notion of, “Yeah, this is my world inside here and nobody else has access to it.” Nobody. 

In fact, you ask why the brain. You know why? Because we know every freaking stinking little detail about every other part of the body and you can even replace parts. You can do a heart transplant. 

Guess what? If you try to brain transplant, you wouldn’t be you. You would be the person that had that brain. 

So, we can’t rebuild brains. We can’t grow a new brain. We’re trying little ways. So, to me, it’s the ultimate singularity. It’s the most unique thing there is. You can’t mess with it because it wouldn’t be you.

Well, I’ve seen something recently. I’m not sure if it was Elon Musk or…

He’s trying.

…somebody.

He’s trying.

Yeah. So, what is he trying to do? He’s trying to get it so that you can kind of almost make a download of your brain.

Neuralink I think is his- Yeah, Neuralink. Yeah, interface.

Do you think there’s a possibility of that being-

It is. I worked briefly for Ray Kurzweil, the futurist, artificial intelligence, consulting to Kurzweil. 

Once I started reading Kurzweil’s books and listening to him talk, we really are rapidly approaching the singularity where it’s the end of humans, the beginning of machines or machine humans. 

You read the book Sapiens and the sequel to Sapiens by Harari, it’s called Homo Deus, “Man is God.” We’re going to create this new life. We are going to create this new species. It is not far away. 

The exponentiality of things, it’s not just we’re going like this. We’re going exponential. 

And so, we’re getting there faster and faster and faster. And yeah, we are already on the cusp of this Brave New World where man and machine meld.

Be fascinating to see what the world looks like in 200 years.

No, you won’t need that. 10 or 15 years.

Is that right?

If you can just stay alive 10 or 15 years, you’ll probably have the opportunity to live forever. The first person to live forever has already been born. 

Think about that.

Whoa.

Yeah. Yeah. As long as you don’t get into a horrible car crash where your body’s torn apart, there is very likely the chance that we will all have the opportunity to live forever. 

I’m not saying that’s a good thing. It’s not a great thing. There we have it.

You just blew my mind.

Yeah? See?

Wow. On that note, let’s talk about mushrooms.

[both laugh]

Let’s talk about mellow mushrooms.

Talk about blowing minds out. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Psychedelia. Yeah. So, I don’t deal with the psychedelic ones.

No, I understand that.

But well, close. 

I am opening my mind, pun intended, to the notion that this kind of micro dosing of stuff and yeah. Look, I prescribe nasal ketamine, which is for treatment-resistant depressions, so-

Animals, right? Isn’t it?

Oh-

Ketamine was used for animals, right, is that true?

They say it’s a horse tranquilizer. Yeah, but it’s also used in humans.

It is.

I mean, it’s used in humans for anesthesia, used as a recreational drug. People want to check out. They want to disassociate from their bodies. I mean, there is a little bit of that as a side effect from when you use it to treat depression. 

So, it’s an example of how, kind of, a mind-expanding experience can relieve depression. 

So, if you really want to learn about this, watch the one hour documentary called Fantastic Fungi

They really go into the whole story of mushrooms and then they really conclude with this use of medicinal mushrooms, like psilocybin, right, “magic mushrooms,” or other substances, maybe like ecstasy or whatever mind consciousness expanding drugs, to overcome the worst of the worst, whether it’s PTSD or depression or coming to terms that you’re dying of cancer and how do you live with that notion and still function for the time you have left?

But I came to mushrooms really, before I got to that point, I really came to mushrooms, foraging them, at the farmers’ market. 

I was like, “Oh, where are these from?” 

He’s like, “Oh, some of these are forged locally.” 

I was like, “Oh yeah? You can just go onto the forest and get mushrooms like that?” 

And so, I started doing that and then he taught me more, that guy. Within a year or two, I was selling back to him. I was going out into the woods.

Here it is, Jason. I get exercise out in the woods. I hate going to a gym. I’m not a gym guy. Right? I want to get exercise. I want to be in nature. I want to pursue food, good food. I want it to be free. 

Ultimately, I realized, “Someone’s going to pay me to do that. That is a dream come true. I get to exercise, I get food. It’s the thrill of the hunt, which of course men we’re just, I think, hardwired for that. Then someone’s going to, like, pay me money to find this stuff. This is great.”

Don’t they say that mushrooms mimic the brain, I guess, a little bit? Is there-

There’s that. So, Dr. Andrew Weil, a big integrative guy, the father of, he talks about it in Fantastic Fungi

He’s like, “Just ask yourself, why is it that these mushrooms, that they dock into our brain and do these crazy things in our brain? It must be because we co-evolved.” 

There’s even a theory in Fantastic Fungi that if not for magic mushrooms, our brains wouldn’t have expanded as quickly. And those who sampled it had an advantage. 

They were like, “Well, we’re back to creativity,” right?

Yeah.

If you suddenly become aware that your brain has this creative capacity which is triggered by mushrooms, you’re like, “Oh, so that exists in here? Oh, the possibilities just triple, doubled, quadrupled what I can envision to happen.” 

That’s in the movie too which is a documentary. Yeah.

Oh, yeah.

If you watch it, it’s really amazing. So-

Without drugs, we would not have “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Stairway to Heaven.” I mean, like-

There’s another book that goes back to 20- It’s 10 years old now. It’s called Free Radicals. And it talks about how so many of these scientists who had great breakthroughs are now admitting- Some of them admitted in their lives, most of them didn’t, that they got to those great thoughts through using mushrooms or drugs.

Sure.

Free Radicals. I love the title.

Yeah. One of my favorite movies of all time is the movie Limitless.

Yeah.

Have you seen it?

I did. I did. Yes. Yes. Yes.

And for those that might not have seen the movie, it’s where a guy takes a pill, it’s a drug, and he takes one a day, I guess. And it just allows him, they say, to open up almost a hundred percent of his brain. 

Where- How much do we normally use of our brain?

Of the potential, they say maybe 20% of the potential.

Okay. Yeah.

That’s not to say that we’re not using the whole brain.

Understood.

It’s just that if you-

Conscious.

Right. If you pushed your brain, you could learn 10 or 20 languages.

That’s right.

And then that would be getting closer to a hundred percent of your capacity, your potential.

But the movie is so great. 

He goes into a restaurant with a date and it’s a French restaurant and it’s a new date. And the waiter comes up and he starts speaking French and he didn’t even know he can speak French. 

It’s a great movie. Yeah. Now if that could be real, I might experiment with that drug.

There have been people who’ve gotten hit by lightning, can become concert pianists. There are weird, weird, really weird, weird cases.

Really?

Yeah.

Wow.

People can have a stroke and they speak in a foreign accent that they never had exposure to. There’s just all kinds of- It’s really caused me to just keep a much more open mind. I used to be a lot more close-minded. 

And through lots of setbacks in life, I’ve become way more open-minded. Way more open-minded.

So, photographic memory, is that-

No. Me?

No. I’m just saying in general, is that something?

It’s rare. It happens. Eidetic memory.

People memorize dates and things like that.

Yeah. People who can’t forget everything that’s happened to them in life.

Yeah.

There are-

And that’s all happening from your brain, right? It’s just-

Has to be. Can’t happen anywhere else.

I guess so. Right?

Yeah. I always chuckle in my- 

I’m pet peeve annoyed when people say, “I was thinking in my mind,” 

I was like, yeah, that’s a good place to be thinking because if you try to think in your pancreas, it’s not going to go well. 

In my mind, I was thinking, “Really?”

So, you speak multiple languages, right?

Yeah. I was fortunate enough to be exposed and pursue. 

I have a mind for languages. My dad spoke eight languages. My mother speaks five languages. And we were four, about five members of my family born on four different continents. 

To me, it was just like, languages were just being mixed up and jumbled. And my father would be testing me in different languages. “What’s this called? What’s that called?” 

I pursued French and Italian. Hebrew was spoken at home. And I’ll start to pick up languages. 

My patients, I picked up some Spanish, one patient is Korean, phrases. 

I’m curious. Curiosity, that’s everything. Curiosity is basically equable to intelligence, basically.

Yeah. That fascinates me when you go to another country and everybody is speaking this language and you have no clue what’s going on, but they’re just fluent. 

And then you go to a different country and they’re speaking a completely different language. It’s like, what is this?

And there are different ways of thinking as a result. They say just speaking one additional foreign language, one language other than what you’re- It can really-

Open up your mind and think bigger.

Yeah. Open up your mind hugely because you’re thinking in different ways, different patterns. Again, it’s like problem-solving. 

That’s the other intelligence- Intelligence is curiosity plus problem-solving.

Intelligence is curiosity plus problem-solving.

They say it’s easier for children to learn multiple languages.

Absolutely. Yeah. Their brain is plastic.

Why is that?

Their brain is plastic because their brain is programmed to be a sponge. Their brain is still being shaped; it’s growing, it’s making connections. And once we’re older, we’re set in our ways. 

You can shape a child in many other ways. Language is one of them.

Can you recondition your brain later in life to think like a child or no?

Yeah. I think Picasso said that. He said, “I’ve spent my whole life trying to paint like a child.”

Yeah.

Yeah. That’s that kind of dis-inhibition thing again. It’s like, can you throw off the shackles of the constraints of being rigid in what you’ve been taught? 

And it’s hard. It takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of work.

You just talked about the languages that you spoke at home. What was your dynamic like as a kid?

Geez. Immigrant parents. My father was born in Libya. My mother is basically Polish, born in Italy. They come to America, they’re young. And immigrant parents did not go well. 

No, my father had rage and he was a hard worker. Did the ends justify the means? I don’t think so. It was terrifying growing up. 

Through a lot of therapy, I came- Within a few years of entering therapy, I’ve been in therapy 10 years, it occurred to me suddenly like a mantra of my childhood was like, you know what? Telling the truth was never an option. It would never go well if you simply told the truth. 

So, when you grow up with that warped sense of reality, it’s not going to go well later in life. It’s not going to play out well unless you really do some really hard work and learn how it’s okay to tell the truth, how it’s okay to keep it real. 

I didn’t even know the phrase, “Keep it real.” 

Even when I heard, I was like, “Oh, that’s something that the guys say in the hood to each other. ‘Keep it real.’” You know?

Yeah.

No. Fortunately, one of my kids really was the one who ultimately really sold me on that simple phrase. I kind of scoffed at it. It was like, that’s not a real thing. “Keep it real.” 

So, it was terrifying growing up. And again, motivated to just- Like I said, you could be whatever kind of doctor you want to be. 

Again, it was just a singular focus on education, education, education. That is what is valued in a Jewish immigrant family. And that’s your way out and up, but I would caution people, don’t be so singular-minded as I was. Take a break.

I would caution people, don’t be so singular-minded as I was.

Sometimes their kids are so fearful of maybe telling the truth to their parents. Open yourself up to being real as a parent.

Create a safe space where it’s okay for your kids to tell the truth and have that dialogue, but even model that. 

Even say, “This is really hard for me to say, but this is the truth. This is what happened. And I’m not proud of it,” or whatever, but there are plenty of ways to just keep it real with your kids and don’t drive them. Don’t crack the whip so hard.

No. That’s what I’m saying.

Give them space. Give them space to make mistakes. That’s how we learn. If you look back at your life, when did you learn the most? Through mistakes.

That’s right.

That’s what being a kid is.

That’s my whole mantra in life…

Make a mistake, own up to it.

…is to fail forward.

Right. Totally. I love that. 

When I first heard about this in your podcast, and Jenna really explained a lot, I love that. Making your mess your message. Failing forward. That has really been an inspiration, Jason. 

I think you’re a real inspiration to bring this and focus this and bring it to the public in this package.

Thank you.

This paradigm. Really.

Yeah. I appreciate that. I’ll have to send you one of my shirts that say “Fail Forward.” So, this way you can wear it.

Love it.

So, everything was going well, and speaking about being vulnerable, there was a time in your life where there was a downfall, I guess.

Yeah. I was on top of the world. Okay. Straight out of my training, I get hired at the number two rehabilitation institution in the country. I’m running the largest brain injury program in the country by volume and patient size. I’m the first neurologist ever even hired there. The rest are all rehabilitation doctors. 

Patients are coming in. Famous patients are coming in. I’m treating people like Dudley Moore and Spalding Gray. And I’m meeting Oliver Sacks, the renowned neurologist played by Robin Williams in the movie Awakenings

I am on top of the world. I’m teaching, I’m lecturing. I’m being asked to be on TV. I’m traveling to Saudi Arabia. I’m being called, tough cases. I’m doing medical-legal work, forensic work. I’m testifying in court for lucrative work, boxes of records until 3 in the morning. 

But I’m finally achieving.

I come out of training at the age of 31 after 26 straight years of education if you start in kindergarten. Twenty-six straight years of education and training, no break, never came up for air. 

And now you’re on this money train. Again, you’re helping people, that’s the most important thing, but you’re getting rewarded for doing what you love. 

But you don’t know how to say no. If you’ve never had a mentor to tell you, “Hey, slow down. Stop doing so much.” 

And we’re just off to the races. Everything is top of the world, spread too thin. Don’t know how to say no. And it all comes crashing, crashing down. I was vulnerable. 

I’m being vulnerable now talking about it.

Thank you.

But at the time, I was vulnerable to this because I didn’t do the work. I had built my ego from the outside in, instead of building it from the inside out.

I had built my ego from the outside in, instead of building it from the inside out.

Interesting.

I didn’t have an inner sense of self. I was defined by all these boxes that I had checked in life and all these things that I could do for others. 

And I didn’t know how to do for myself. I didn’t know how to ask to have my needs met. I didn’t know how to take stock and just reflect inwardly, “Why am I doing this?” 

And so, I was treating a patient and she’d been sent to me for a complicated concussion. And eventually, I got into what’s considered in medicine to be an inappropriate romantic, physical relationship, which is against the rules of medicine certainly for good reason. 

The statute says it’s almost always harmful to the doctor-patient relationship, understandably. The relationship was consensual, of course, but only because of the power dynamic in medicine, it’s considered to be inappropriate, but it was never predatory. 

And it just should not have been in the context of medicine.

And even though she kind of made the first move, and even though it only lasted a few months and I realized, came to my senses, broke it off, and after several encounters and everything, she came back and blackmailed- 

I started telling her, I said, “I really don’t think you have a concussion. I think you may have something else going on.” 

Long story short, a couple of years later, she had sued the car that hit her, finished that case, and then she came after me.

Oh, no.

So, she sued me. And as soon as that became, I started to lose everything. 

Once it dragged out over years and case and law, a legal case, and finally, ends up in court, but in the interim, the Board of Medicine catches up and they say, “It doesn’t matter. It’s never right.” 

So, I lost everything. I lost my license, I lost my livelihood. I lost my family, lost my wife. I lost my house, lost my kids, my reputation, everything, everything, everything. And on top of that, a huge financial legal judgment against me that still hangs over my head.

How many years ago was this?

This happened in 2008. I had this, again, inappropriate relationship encounter. And by 2011, it was hitting my legal problems, 

I was paying a lot to lawyers. It wasn’t covered by my malpractice insurance so it was out of pocket. Talk about your lawyers. And then I lost my license in 2014 and it took me about 4 years before I was able to start reapplying. 

And I went through ethics courses, boundaries courses. I really didn’t understand the whole notion of boundaries and everything. 

Again, I think partially growing up and my childhood and the terror for my father, there were really no boundaries, sense of boundaries. I really, through a lot of psychotherapy, I had to understand this whole notion of-

Part of that has been my bane, the bane of my existence, that has also been a boon to my- It’s, again, the positive-negative, is good-evil, using it. 

And I think the fact that I didn’t see boundaries allowed me to think outside of the box and be that guy that has that reputation for a thing but it also was my downfall until I really understood it through ethics, boundaries courses, psychotherapy.

So when that was all happening at once, I’m assuming that you were probably in a state of depression.

Yeah.

Right?

Yeah, definitely depression the first time in my life, anxiety, depression-

You didn’t have control anymore.

Shame, humiliation, guilt, every one of those emotions, regret, and just self-deprecation, just beating yourself up. And you just have to totally- You’re falling apart. You’re just shredded and you just got to build yourself back up.

Yeah. That’s the question that I have is when you’re at that rock bottom…

Rock bottom.

…how do you just wake up in the morning and rebuild? What goes through your mind? 

Just one day at a time?

Yeah. One day at a time, one step at a time. They say just get out of it, just put a foot on the floor, just put one foot in front of the other. Just empty your bladder for God’s sake in the morning and see that as an accomplishment. 

You try to just say build on your little successes. 

Ultimately, it’s like, hold your head high for all- It doesn’t negate all the good that you’ve done. It doesn’t take away your skills, your talents, your passions, your beliefs.

That’s right.

All of those things, and you just go to that well. You just dig deep down to that wellspring of your core and you just try to reset. 

With what I have here in front of me, how can I start to just build back just one step? 

And you learn who your friends are. There are many people who stand by and you lean, you ask for help. I think it was one of your shows where you said by asking- Was it Meltzer, I think?

Dave Meltzer. Yeah. One of the selfish acts you can do…

Yeah, one of the most-

…is ask for help.

Exactly.

And those that are willing to help you, it makes them feel better.

My body is tingling right now with that message because I’ve embraced that message without really knowing it. And I have told my patients, “Reach out for help.” 

I’ve learned it through psychotherapy. 

My therapist says, “You do a really good job of reaching out for help and not everybody can do that.”

Yeah.

I have a tingle in my body. It’s called a frisson. There’s a medical word for it.

I’m getting goosebumps myself, man.

A frisson.

Yeah, well, I appreciate you being vulnerable with that story. It sounds like you had a lot of time to reflect and grow and…

Growth and reflection.

…fail forward.

Growth and reflection. And really open it up wide. Again, learning how to tell the truth and keep it real is such a relief. 

learning how to tell the truth and keep it real is such a relief.

And I think it’s redounded- It’s fed into positive relationships where now I have great romantic relationships that are meaningful. And it’s rekindled the meaningfulness of relationships for me.

Yeah. Well, that was around the same time that I had my low.

Yeah.

Yeah. In 2008.

It’s a midlife crisis basically. I was 42. It’s a real thing, midlife crisis. David Brooks talks about the two peaks in life. You climb, you fall, and you’re climbing a different peak.

For me, it wasn’t the midlife crisis yet because I was only maybe 20-something years old.

Oh, you were precocious.

But I was married and I was making investments. I was reading the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad. And it was way over my head. 

And then the economy crashed, went from super high to super low. Like what do I do? But yeah, like you, you build it back one day at a time and here we are stronger.

Yeah, stronger.

And sharing our message…

Wiser. Right, that it’s possible.

…to those that might be at their rock bottom right now that it will be okay.

Yeah. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Don’t do it.

Yeah. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Don’t do it.

Yeah. I hear that you then got into supplements then from there.

Yeah. I’m down, you’re out and you’re helping- I’m helping people behind the scenes. People still come to me. 

I can still tell them, “Oh-” I can research for them and say, “Oh, you should try these supplements.” 

I can’t prescribe, I don’t have a license. And unlicensed to heal, someone suggested I do a movie or something.

There you go.

“Unlicensed to Heal.” I have other ideas for a series and movies, a little autobiographical. b

But I could get into supplements and I was already into it, and this gave me, afforded me time to focus on it. 

And people would come to me and say, “Oh, I still want your advice on stuff.” Or, “I can see this doctor.” 

“I work with this doctor, but I can tell you what to do.” 

And ultimately, this family comes to me and they’re like, “Oh, well you just told us what to do. It helped immediately with my demented mom. You should really package this stuff somehow rather than-” 

I realized pretty quickly, very few people will go out and buy 20 bottles and take 30 pills a day. Actually, Ray Kurzweil talks about taking 130 supplements a day.

Wow.

Again, not individual, they’re combinations. And he’s got longevity. That’s his goal, is immortality. 

Eventually, I put together, with a team, I headed up a team of brain guys, brain scientists, and doctors, and we put together something that’s called “Neurella.” I like to think of it as an umbrella for the brain that protects your brain or a helmet from the inside out. 

An internal helmet, it’s always with you every day if you take it. And no matter what happens to your brain, this will soften the blow. 

And it’s all the stuff that we know about antioxidants, anti-inflammatories, adaptogens, that are like shock absorbers for the brain. 

And our goal was really transparency, integrity, and quality.

And because so many of these other supplements hide behind a proprietary blend, we’re like, “Nope, we’re going to tell you exactly what’s in here. You want to go out and put this together and pay $250 instead of the $50 a bottle? Go ahead and try it. But here it is. Here’s our formulation.” 

And then we’re working on a powder version now, too, called “New Fidelity” or “Neuro Fidelity” or something.

And this is just anybody can take this?

Yeah. This is not a prescription. Yeah. It’s available on the internet. Absolutely. 

And people order it. It’s going well. It’s been around 5 years, 6 years. People are from all around the world, all around the country, every state, and people- Yeah, it helps.

For those that start to take it, a couple weeks later, what do you feel like?

I would say a general sense of wellbeing. You’re able to handle more stress. You’re able to handle stuff more coming at processing speed, your brain isn’t as tired at the end of the day. 

Maybe your sleep quality is better. 

Some people have an easier time finding their words for what we call word-finding difficulty. 

Less stress, just energy, attention.

Interesting.

Nothing does all of these things for everybody but it’s like a menu. It’ll do some of those things for you. Certainly, within 30 days, you’ll see some benefit. 

And then we tested it in early dementia, stroke, traumatic brain injury, and we have some good data on this.

Got it.

Yeah.

Well, we’ll put a link here for those that want to maybe check it out to buy it.

Oh, awesome. Because here I am, I’m treating all these brain injuries. And I’m like, “Well, if only these people had been taking this stuff before.” 

I’m giving it to them after the fact, what if they had taken it before? 

And I was like, “I know what the general population is missing. I know what they’re not getting enough of.”

I will check it out and hope my listeners pick it up as well.

We will send you a couple bottles…

Thank you.

…in exchange for your shirt.

There it is. That’s a fair trade. 

I want to talk a little bit about a phone call from a cousin that changed your life. And then we’re going to move into what we call “Hennessey Heart-to-Heart,” which if you listen to this show, you know what it’s about.

There I was again at the depths, like you said, rock bottom, everything is going wrong, alienating from wife and family, kids, the house, everything. 

And my cousin here in California, he’s a film guy, Alex, and he says, “John, are you sitting down? Because I just got this phone call from this woman and she’s looking for some answers and sounds like she’s trying to track you down.”

Oh boy.

And I’m like, “Well, what is it?” 

He’s like, “Well, remind me, John. Was it college or was it med school? You were a donor at a sperm bank.”

Okay.

And I’m like, “Oh, no.” Yeah. Wow. That was anonymous. That was supposed to be anonymous.” 

In the early ’90s, my buddy in med school says, “Come on, Jon, let’s go make some money.” 

I was like, “What do you mean, Elliot? What do you mean go make some money?” 

He’s like, “Let’s go to the sperm bank.” 

Ironically, I was accepted. He was rejected, and for a couple years. Here was this woman 25 years later. It was on her birthday. She cold calls my cousin.

Why? Because he had been on 23andMe. He had done this genetic thing. 

She, in an effort to search for me, starts just sending her- getting on all of these different genetic platforms, and she’s a 7% match with him, 

And she says, “So, I think your cousin would be my dad. He would be about 6 feet tall. He’d have black, curly hair. He’d be a doctor by now.” 

And then he’s like- and then Elliot is like- He’s telling me this stuff, and he’s like, “Oh, God, Jon, sit down,” because he’s looking up on her Facebook. 

He’s like, “Okay, here comes the photo.” 

And I’m like, “Bingo. Yeah, that’s it. Got to be. That’s my daughter.”

Wow.

Yeah. That’s Molly. Yeah.

Wow. What was going through your mind at that point?

Man, you see your life just pass. You see your life pass through. You just have to reassess everything. All of a sudden, you realize, “Okay, I’ve got a 25-year-old.” Or, “I got two kids at home,” that were maybe 8 and 10 at the time.

You’re like, “Wow. This wasn’t expected, especially not now.” 

Oh, maybe if I was on top of my game, maybe I’d want them to know who I am, but now is not the time. 

What do they say? It’s never a good time to have kids, right? 

If you wait until a good time to have kids, well, here, you suddenly have adult children. 

Boy, she was on the war path, too. She was like, “Hey,” eventually, as we talk and get to know each other, she was like, “thanks a lot for the brains and everything and all the talents, but you left me among the idiots. How could you do that?” 

It turned out then that she was already in touch with others and, eventually, came to know so far the eight-donor offspring.

Wow, and you’ve only met one.

No, no, no. I’ve now met seven out of eight of them.

You have?

I have a pretty close relationship with about five or six of them regularly and-

All over the United States?

All over the United States. They’re mostly from same-sex couples. 

In the early ’90s, you weren’t even thinking, mostly two female, same-sex couples looking to have children. 

I thought, “Oh, there are plenty of infertile heterosexual couples out there. Okay. I have good genes. I have healthy genes.” 

Obviously, they want certain features, tall, and med school and whatever. 

It was quite- only a year and a half, 2 years. It was good money. It helped me survive the rigors of med school, but, wow, it’s not what you expected. 

Nobody could have envisioned-

Not later in life, yeah.

Nobody expected that they’d come knocking, but they weren’t looking for money. Everyone thinks they’re looking for money. 

No. You know what they’re looking for? They’re looking for love and affection and acceptance, and then, ultimately, I realized that’s what I got out of it, too. It was unconditional love. 

At the end of the day, they didn’t care what I was, who I was or whatever. They wanted to know where they came from. They wanted to know a lot more about where did they come from.

I guess that’s a thing now, right?

People want to know. Yeah.

Yeah. You can go and try to explore and find out.

Yeah. “What’s your cultural background? Yeah, what’s your backstory? What’s your genetic backstory?”

Well, this is kind of an extreme. It’s not just, “Oh, where did my ancestors come from?” 

I think we’re all looking for that. I think it grounds us.

Great story. Thank you for sharing that. What do the kids have in common?

Wow. I mean, the similarities are uncanny. I mean, many of them play the same instruments that I did, that my son at home plays. 

I mean, it’s-

Really?

Yeah, like saxophone, clarinet. We have the same interests like volleyball or poetry, or just the interests are really uncanny, how strong nature is over nurture. 

Not all of them are raised Jewishly, but the ones that are have a very interesting connection. One is a lawyer. One wants to be a doctor. One is in other health- social work, I mean, passion for food, passion for health. 

It’s just that their temperaments are all very similar. 

It’s weird. They all have black, curly hair. Most of them have black, curly hair. It’s crazy. It’s wild.

You know what it is? It’s what I call the “Back to the Future Effect.” It’s like Marty McFly. 

All of a sudden, I’m like, “Oh, my God.” I’m about 50 at the time, and these kids are about in their 20s, and I’m like, “I remember like that. I remember being that. Oh, my God.” 

All of a sudden, I was from that to this.

And then I was like, “Oh, my God, my kids at home are young,” and then, fast forward 10, 15 years, they’re going to be like these kids. 

I’m like, “That’s okay.” 

They’re going to come out okay even if they were raised in a shitty upbringing with miserable whatever. They’ve got the tools. They’ve got the skills. They’ve got the personality, the raw material I gave them, and that’s really gratifying. 

Yeah, I’m so proud. Yeah, I can’t say I’m proud because I raised them. I’m just proud that I put that into the world and it came out okay.

That’s right. Yeah.

Better than okay.

For sure. 

All right. We’re going to move to something called “Hennessey Heart-to -Heart.”

Love it. Bring it on.

Simple. Ask a question. Whatever comes to your mind, you just go with it. 

What is an eye-opening lesson that you learned throughout your life?

Whew, an eye-opening lesson? 

I would say take a break. Yeah. I mean, just get off the train. If you’re on it, just tend to yourself. Tend to your inner garden. 

I mean, don’t just do what you think everyone else wants you to do. Don’t do what you necessarily even need to do by these external things that drive you, but pay some attention where they- It’s what we today call mindfulness. 

Just make space to take your temperature. Take your inner temperature.

Take your inner temperature.

Got it.

Examine your core.

Thank you. 

What would be your last meal on earth?

[chuckles]

Geez, it would be like an orgy of edible mushrooms, all the different edible mushrooms. I think that would be because, you know why, that would have the best chance of me not dying. 

They’re so healthy, all the medicinal properties of all these really wonderful mushrooms that I forage. I really think that’s why I still have no gray hair. I think that’s why I don’t look 56.

Whoa, interesting.

I’m going to credit that. 

Yeah, actually, you can survive entirely on mushrooms. They have every single thing that you need. 

Yeah, I would think I would go out on a mushroom smorgasbord in every form, because then that meal would last forever and I wouldn’t die.

Yeah. How many different mushrooms are there?

Oh, there’s millions, but there’s only something like 30,000 that are edible and, of those, I have- In New Jersey alone, I’ve managed to find 35 different edible mushrooms.

Mushrooms. Okay. Got it. 

That’s an interesting answer to that question, but I appreciate it. It sure beats my eggplant Parmesan. Right?

[both laugh]

I am a foodie. There’s no question about it. I love to cook. I really enjoy it.

Got it.

My father eventually became a caterer. He was a great chef.

Got it. 

What’s an exotic or remote place that you’ve visited?

That I have visited? 

India. Twice India. It’s like another planet, especially 20 years ago. I just felt like I had been like, yeah, dropped on to another planet.

Got it.

In terms of, yeah, a remote- I think Morocco was very special, too, very exotic, just exotic, but India was hard. 

It wasn’t vacation. It was travel. Big difference.

Got it. I’ve never been there.

I almost didn’t survive it, I mean, just getting ill and not knowing how to keep healthy and just- Man, talk about Montezuma’s revenge, it was just awful, I mean, dangerous, too, dangerous, dangerous place.

You seem like somebody who isn’t easily shaken. 

Is there anything that surprised you recently? Anything?

Yeah, it’s that I can just have such a depth of relationships in ways that I never imagined, that the quality and the satisfaction that I can derive from close relationships, whether it’s a romantic partner or these kids that find you or my own kids that I raise and through the tribulations of medical illness of one of my- my older child at home. 

Just the depth and quality of- You can just keep getting deeper and deeper and deeper with relationships if you tend to them.

Open yourself up.

Yeah, open yourself up to them and nurture them. Water them. Feed them carefully.

Oh, yeah. 

What’s your greatest fear?

It’s funny. Everything that I’ve been through, it’s almost like I don’t experience fear anymore. It takes a lot to scare me. 

I would say to not be appreciated or valued. 

My greatest fear, yeah, is to not be able to experience everything that the world has to offer and the wonderment alone is to have- so to have the right partner to experience life.

Sure. Where is your happy place?

In the forest searching for edible- not just mushrooms. There are other wild edibles, ferns and weeds and stuff, but definitely out foraging, discovering. 

It’s the thrill of the hunt, the adventure and the exhilaration and the health benefits of it being in nature, exercise, and then going for a swim afterwards, and then cooking those mushrooms in the kitchen. That’s my happy place.

Next time I’m in New Jersey or New York, I’ll have to come visit you and go on a journey.

I’ll take you on a foraging outing. Yep.

What makes you laugh really hard?

Irony. Irony. Irony. Irony. 

You cannot cure me from punning in multiple languages, word play, cleverness and word play especially with my kids, that’s what really keeps me laughing, and then, yeah, some TV stuff, sure, but comedy. Yeah.

Do you have any pinch-me moments in your life?

Tell me what a “pinch-me moment” is?

Where it’s-

Like, “Oh, I can’t believe it, this is so awesome. Pinch me”?

Yeah, like, “I’m on TV. I’m on NBC right now talking about what I’m so passionate about,” or whatever.

I’m going to take a step back and answer it unconventionally. 

It’s almost like when I was preparing for this and reviewing. We were going over what things we might talk about. I think the cumulative pinch-me is just how much I have managed to accomplish. 

I didn’t set out from the outset to be this person. I just wanted to be good, hopefully great at something. 

Just looking back at everything I have accomplished, and I would say that’s the pinch-me. Everything that I’ve achieved under the circumstances especially that I’ve had to- that I’ve either- 

Look, I caused a lot of misery to myself. I accept responsibility for all the negative things that I did, totally accept responsibility.

I accept responsibility for all the negative things that I did, totally accept responsibility.

Yeah, so if your parents gave you other options earlier in life to pursue a different career…

That’s a great question.

…what do you think you’d be doing?

I probably would’ve tried to make it on Broadway or in film, I think acting. I enjoyed acting in high school and college. I really enjoyed acting.

It’s never too late.

You’re right. Yeah. Well, you’re absolutely right. You’re absolutely right. Yeah. I need a cameo and my own series.

Yep. 

What is a quality you really admire in a person?

I would say it’s really what everyone is focused on today really. It’s resilience, grit, determination. Those are the qualities. 

Passion, passion and honesty, but honesty with yourself. 

Introspection. Introspection, resilience, grit, determination, passion, the interface of those things, whatever that is, that’s what I admire.

What do you think is most important in relationships?

Communication. 

It’s funny, Jason. I mean, I generally scoff at anything that’s conventional, mainstream, because I’m such an opposite, creative type. I’m just always headed in the opposite direction. 

Just as one example of that is I used to scoff at date night. I was like, “That’s not for me.” You need a formal kind of- That what’s important in a relationship is putting aside the time, dedicating time to check in and build and grow together and communicate. 

I regret terribly not doing something to that effect, whether it was date night or something similar.

Good point because there’s probably a lot of couples that don’t make time for that. 

Take the time to call somebody.

I think also eroticism, but not just in the sense of sexuality. 

If you listen to anything by Esther Perel and- this incredible marriage, relationship counselor, woman, therapist, psychotherapist, she’s a kind of sex therapist, eroticism, finding a way to ignite eroticism in relationships.

Got it. 

Do you believe in life after death? That’s a big one that requires you to use your brain.

I was always taught in my spiritual-faith upbringing that your focus should always be on the here and now. If it comes later, it’s gravy, it’s cherry on top. You can’t rely on that. 

All your energy and focus and attention needs to be on the here, this life. 

All your energy and focus and attention needs to be on the here, this life. 

I think I would say that I believe that the legacy you leave, including children and what you’ve done and the impact you’ve made, that is your life after death. 

Anything else I think is speculation and woo woo. 

It would be nice, but since we can’t prove it, I’m not going to dedicate my time and energy to that.

Okay. If you can change one thing about the medical industry, what would it be?

More people like me. I don’t mean that in an arrogant sense, although, yes, I am just a touch arrogant. 

I realized recently, I want to be the doctor that I wish would be on the opposite side of the hospital bed if I got into the worst case scenario. 

I want to be that aggressive, creative, answer-seeker, so that I wish that medicine would not be so rigid, that they would be a little more creative and that there would be room for compassion and to have less intrusion by the insurance companies.

The last question, to anyone trying to live a more fulfilling or purposeful life, what would you advise them?

There’s another thing I scoffed at, was meditation. You don’t have to go- You said it seemed very difficult to meditate, I mean to quiet the mind, but just find a source, something. 

Your question was one thing to improve their life.

Yeah. If they’re trying to live a more fulfilling or purposeful life.

Fulfilling, purposeful life.

Yeah. What can they do?

Yeah. It’s kind of cliche, but really find your passion. Play to your strengths. Don’t try to be something you’re not. 

Be who you are. Pursue that passion. Make a difference in that way and go from there. 

Start from that core, starting point. Identify your strengths and dwell on those. Meditate on that and then channel them into something that is meaningful and you’re passionate about. 

Just be mindful and aware of how things make you feel and, the things that make you feel good, do more of that and try to find a way that that intersects with your strengths and your passions and your skillset.

Yeah. Break out of your comfort zone and explore and take risks.

Yeah, I would say try- Yeah, definitely try more things. That’s right. Absolutely. 

Push yourself into places because, otherwise, you won’t know if you have the skills and the passion in that area. Absolutely.

That’s right. Yep.

Say yes. Was it Yes Man? Was that the movie about that?

Yes.

Yes Man. You say yes to everything.

Everything, yeah.

That’s an extreme, but you know.

We’re going to give our daughter Brooklynn a “Yes Day.”

It’s a good theme.

That’ll be fun.

It’s a good theme. That’s so sweet.

Well, Jonathan, what a great journey you’ve taken on with us today. I appreciate it. Thank you for making your message like we talked about earlier. 

If people had questions about Neurella or if they wanted to get in touch with you, how would they do so?

Yeah. I think they would go on neurella.com, and there’s a place for questions there, or my practice, it’s “Advanced NeuroCare.” So I think it’s advneurocare.com, and there’s a place to post a question. 

People ask questions all the time, and I’m happy to try and answer anything that I can.

Well, great, I would think you would be a good TikTok star, so I look forward for that coming soon.

A couple of patients, they were like, ” I have a great idea. You should be on TikTok.” 

I was like, “Uh, okay.” 

You need a lot of work and energy. You need to really-

Well, you have so much wisdom. 

Sometimes, it’s just a matter of getting it out in short 2-minute clips so it’d be interesting to follow, so maybe get out of your comfort zone. [laughs]

Yeah. Yeah. Yes, I need someone to guide me. Yeah. Okay, that’s a promise. I’m going to try that. [laughs]

Well, thank you again. Appreciate it, and safe travels back home to Jersey.

I really, really appreciate the opportunity to take a ride back through what my life has been. Thank you, Jason, for doing this for everyone.

Important Links

Dr. Jonathan Fellus’ Website

Dr. Jonathan Fellus on LinkedIn

Dr. Jonathan Fellus on Twitter

Dr. Jonathan Fellus on TikTok

Neurella Official Website

Advanced NeuroCare Website