You’ve heard about psychedelics, been warned not to try them, probably did anyways, had a bad or great trip and now have a story to tell! But everything said and done, psychedelics and the effects that follow once you take them are nothing like anything you would have experienced. They are in the spotlight for a reason and are even popular in the healing sector! Recent research probes into whether a VR experience, which is virtual reality or augmented reality can provide you with the same ‘healing effects’ without the risk of going down the psychedelic lane.
What is the potential of psychedelics?
Psychedelics belong to hallucinogenic compounds and when ingested, these trigger states of consciousness that are not ordinarily seen. This is what leads to the ‘enlightenment’ or ‘spiritual awakening’ that some people experience when they have a good trip. The psychoactive substances cause visual and auditory changes at the level of cognition.
There are many kinds of psychedelics that are found in nature or others that are chemically synthesized. LSD which is found in ergot or rye is the most popular one. Psilocybin found in mushrooms is another compound that belongs to the class of hallucinogens. They produce feelings of euphoria by binding to certain receptors that are present in the brain. This property of psychedelics to bring about changes in psychology and the brain is used in the healing segment and has shown great results.
What are the healing potentials of psychedelics?
Among the hallucinogens, there are some that have gained popularity in the medical field for the kind of results they bring about in patients with anxiety, depression, and social disorders. One among these is MDMA which is also known as ecstasy. Psilocybin has also been researched upon and shown to bring about relief in patients who suffer from depression that cannot be treated, or in cases of OCD: obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Charley Wininger, author of Listening to Ecstasy: The Transformative Power of MDMA said in an article “For those who experiment responsibly, psychedelics can open their lives up to spiritual growth and transformation. It’s a way to learn about how connected we are to each other, to the natural world and to the world at large. When you experience this level of connection, you and your worldview are transformed.”
“MDMA helped me with the aging process. I keep growing and exploring consciousness in an unconventional way.” He went on to add “It’s best to do it with a trained psychotherapist or sitter so that if any trauma surfaces, it can be relieved with a sense of safety. While individuals report that their relationship to trauma is altered permanently, integration groups give them opportunities to share and anchor their experiences.”
These claims and facts about psychedelics show that their use for medical relief has often been felt by people who have used them. However, many might not be open to the idea of psychedelics and in some countries, these are banned. This brings us to the next focus point of how augmented reality could be the substitute.
What is virtual reality or VR?
While the hallucinogens do help with psychological conditions, this comes with the added feeling of being ‘high’. Virtual reality uses advanced technology to create a simulated environment and surroundings and gives one a heightened sense of reality. The software that is used in VR often lets the user float in mid-air, see kaleidoscopic formations in front of their eyes, immerse themselves in surroundings that are no way close to reality. Since what psychedelics do is of the very same nature, research aims to find out if people can use VR to get a grip on their psychological disorders.
Can VR mimic psychedelics?
Matthew Johnson, of Johns Hopkins Medicine, in an article to Mic said “What you’d really need is the study comparing the two [psychedelics and VR] head to head. Even studies that look at them separately, but under similar conditions, would provide more clarity. Scientists still have yet to conduct them. I highly doubt whether an app alone is going to approximate the magnitude of the efficacy of psychedelic therapy.” The reason is that VR can mimic the perceptual aspect of a trip, but the emotional aspects can only be activated by chemicals aka, in this case, psychedelics.
However, if there is some effect that is found by a VR trip that mimics a psychedelic experience and a person actually gets better, it could open doors to a future in medical science. At a time when there is much discussion revolving around a ban on certain hallucinogens and laws vary from one country to the next, having a non-hallucinogenic way of achieving relief from psychological disorders would be a boon.