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VR Widens Possibilities for Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy

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Recent advancements in virtual technology may have applications in psychedelic-assisted therapy. Both are relatively new fields that have attracted lots of attention in recent years thanks to their potentially game-changing applications.

Psychedelic-assisted therapy has shown it has the potential to offer long-term relief against a variety of mental-health disorders with few if any side effects. Researchers have found that virtual technology may enhance psychedelic-assisted therapy by simulating the visual phenomenology of psychedelic states. With both fields in their infancy, scientists are focusing their efforts on using virtual reality (VR) as a companion to psychedelic-assisted therapy or a potential nondrug alternative.

The Isness-D study found that interactive group virtual-reality experiences have shown that they can simulate effects similar to psychedelics, including psilocybin (magic mushrooms) and LSD. These results drew the interest of scientists who were already interested in the efficacy of combining VR with psychedelic therapy as well as the ability of VR to mitigate bad trips.

Aside from individuals who simply don’t want to go through a psychedelic experience as part of their treatment, the possibility of bad trips is perhaps the most adverse side effect of psychedelic-assisted therapy.

Isness-D was the brainchild of digital artist, scientist and Intangible Realities Laboratory (IRL) founder David Glowacki, a specialist in scientific stimulation and interactive multiperson virtual reality. After having a life-altering, near-death experience during a mountain hike, Glowacki created Isness-D and used scientific stimulation to recreate the near-death experience.

There is growing evidence that group VR can produce psychedelic-like effects, such as feelings of self-actualization, transcendence and ego death. Participants also reported experiencing feelings of connectedness and epiphanies, feelings that are also induced by numerous psychedelics.

But with most of this research still in its infancy, we still don’t understand how interactive group VR produces psychedelic-like effects or whether it can trigger similar brain mechanisms. In fact, researchers still don’t fully understand the brain mechanisms that allow psychedelics to alleviate mental disorders such as anxiety, treatment-resistant depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The prevailing theory is that psychedelics stimulate neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change and adapt to extrinsic and intrinsic stimuli, and boost brain entropy. Psychologist and chief science officer at VR program Healium Jeff Tarrant says that virtual reality experiences can increase entropy, or the brain’s collective knowledge and information processing capacity. He says that while virtual reality may not replace psychedelic-assisted therapy completely, it may offer alternative approaches that could enhance mental-health treatments.

The public is closely watching these developments as it also keeps an eye on psychedelics startups such as atai Life Sciences N.V. (NASDAQ: ATAI) that are making headway in developing therapeutic formulations from psychedelic compounds.

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