#67: 🥽 Using VR to Facilitate Psychedelic Therapy
Exploring ways to treat mental health disorders by combining psychedelics and virtual reality
Last week in honor of Dry January, I hosted a non-alcoholic wine and spirits tasting with Awesome Beverage Company as the second event for my new Longevity Wednesdays community here in Lisbon.
We had a great turnout and I left with too many bottles of alcohol alternatives.
We all also got to check out a local Lisbon coworking space, Sitio FinTech House, and the event was generously sponsored by VitaDAO - community-owned collective dedicated to funding and advancing early stage longevity research.
I have more events in the works with a mix of in-person and virtual.
Want to join the next one?
You can sign up to my mailing list for future Longevity Wednesday below:
💬 In this note:
🥽 Using VR to Facilitate Psychedelic Therapy
📚 The Surrender Experiment
⚡️ VR to Cheer Up Astronauts
🗣️ Looking for the read-aloud version of Nina’s Notes?
🥽 Using VR to Facilitate Psychedelic Therapy
This year, if all goes according to plan, we will see the first psychedelic assisted therapy receive FDA approval in the USA.
Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Public Benefit Corp (PBC) filed an application in December 2023 for approval of their MDMA-assisted therapy (MDMA-AT) for the treatment of PTSD.
Approval of this therapy will be a huge milestone for the psychedelics research field and a gamechanger in rewriting the regulation. MDMA, and other psychedelics currently being researched, are Schedule I drugs in the USA which means they have no medical use.
Having the FDA recognize that MDMA-assisted therapy does in fact have a medical use will open the door for many other psychedelic therapies in clinical trials, and hopefully help expedite their approval process.
With FDA approval secured for MAPS MDMA-AT, I predict we will see a second wave of investment into psychedelic research and commercialization, which has tapered off since the initial hype in 2020-2021 when we saw almost $2 Billion poured into psychedelics investments.
The next challenge is adoption and scalability.
For some people, a multi-hour hallucination is a no-go. As psychedelic therapies continue to be approved, this will become a limiting factor in adoption. I dove into what some companies are doing to solve this by taking the trip out of psychedelics in last week’s Nina’s Notes #66 and in #14.
The other limitation is scaling the assisted therapy component.
First, there are not enough trained psychedelic therapists.
Second, a psychedelic therapy session is much longer than a typical therapy session. Guided psychedelic experiences can be multi-hour sessions.
Third, is the need to have a therapy room with a pleasant set-and-setting for the psychedelic experience.
Rather than having the treatment experience in real life, could the psychedelic-assisted therapy experience be done at home, completely in VR?
What if the “set” (referring to your mindset) could be influenced by VR and the setting could be the physical environment of your own home?
With VR to assist the therapy portion, these therapeutics could be given to a client to take at home, without supervision. This opens up the possibility that psychedelics could, for example, be used on-demand for pain management or to combat intensely depressive episodes.
You could be guided by a remote psychotherapist, or even a virtual AI therapist, in a beautiful therapy room in the metaverse, or taken through a carefully curated and completely virtual journey.
How VR Can Enhance Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy
Psychedelic-assisted therapy has 3 phases, preparation, dosing and integration.
Prior to the dosing of a psychedelic therapeutic, the client meets with a clinician or psychotherapist for an evaluation and to discuss the upcoming experience.
In the dosing phase, under the supervision of a psychotherapist, the client is given the psychedelic therapeutic and transitions into a state of altered consciousness and returns from that altered state.
The integration phase may come several days after the psychedelic experience where the client returns to the clinic to unpack the experience and find ways to take the insights into daily life.
VR is suitable for incorporation into any of these phases. It can be an additive or potentially be a replacement for an in-person therapist. VR can allow for remote monitoring and also aid in self-practice of integration of the psychedelic experience.
Within these three phases, VR can aid in expansion, transition, cohesion and rescue of the psychedelic experience.
VR can enhance the preparation for a psychedelic experience, aiding in creating a comfortable state for clients and induce meditative-like states.
It can be used for training psychological flexibility, managing perceptual alteration and preparing clients for psycho-emotional experiences.
VR scenarios can help in practicing surrender into the psychedelic experience, and promote openness to new and unfamiliar psycho-emotional experiences.
The psychedelic experience is a parabolic effect. The effect comes up, reaches a peak state and then comes down.
VR can help navigate these transitions.
During the come up, VR can redirect attention back to the therapeutic intention through personalized environments, aiding in a deeper immersion into the psychedelic experience.
During the come down, VR can assist in recalling and interpreting the psychedelic experience through creative expression, and helping in the formation of memories and the consolidation of insights.
VR creates immersive environments, which can be used to provide a continuity across therapy sessions, providing familiar cues and themes.
These environments can help in transitioning from daily life into a therapeutic setting, which can foster a state of relaxation.
VR can also be used for self-practice post-integration, which could potentially improve adherence to therapy and allow for continued integration outside of clinical settings.
In challenging psychedelic experiences, VR can be a reliable tool for immediate stress relief.
It can provide an immersive, rich and attention-demanding environment, which can serve as a distraction from overwhelming experiences.
However, using VR as a rescue tool should be done with caution as it will change the experience dramatically.
Overall, VR’s flexibility and immersive nature make it a promising aid in psychedelic-assisted therapy, potentially enhancing preparation, transition and integration and providing a safety net in challenging situations.
The First Psychedelic VR Fusion Therapy
Enosis Therapeutics has created the AnchoringVR™.
They specialize in creating Spatial Therapeutics (STx), which are described on the Enosis Therapeutics website as:
“interactive, multi-sensory digital spaces where individuals can build and engage with detailed models of their mind.”
The AnchoringVR™ is the first Virtual Reality-modulated Psychedelic Psychotherapy (VRPP™) protocol which provides patients, researchers, and therapists with tools to assist in the healing journey.
With AnchoringVR™ a client can build their own mental model at home, own their own psychological record and share the mental model with their healthcare providers.
The simulation is a realistic moonlit beach environment where you can pick up floating star-like objects to speak into and record your thoughts. You can later retrieve these recordings and play them back.
If you opt for a more cathartic experience, you can throw these stars holding your recorded thoughts into an eternally burning beach bonfire.
Enosis sees a future where individuals can use AnchoringVR™ as a digital therapeutic to direct their own healing journey and leverage active intervention.
VR Experiences Alone Can Mimic Psychedelic Experiences
Isness-D is a group VR experience where participants, based anywhere in the world, are represented as diffuse clouds of smoke with a heart-like light. They can overlap their energy-clouds in the virtual landscape, creating a sense of connectedness and ego attenuation similar to a psychedelic experience.
Check out the visuals of the VR experience here.
The experience is designed to induce self-transcendence, a state where one feels a deep unity with others and the environment, dissolving the sense of a separate self.
This phenomenon can be achieved through various means, such as meditation and psychedelics. It is often described in near-death experiences, is an effect often experienced by astronauts, and now it can be experienced in VR.
Glowacki has also started a company, anuma, to bring digital group therapeutics enabled by VR to the public.
You can sign up to try anuma and join their waitlist.
VR as a full-spectrum tool
Over the last decade, the media has hyped that it is “the year of VR” time and time again.
Yet we are still waiting for it to truly take off.
However, with these new recent discoveries that VR has the capacity to disrupt the rigidity of the typical conscious experience, this reality of the “year of VR” may come very very soon.
The integration of VR into psychedelic-assisted therapy, and as a tool to reach deeper levels of consciousness with or without psychedelic-influence, represents a significant advancement for VR and its accessibility and adoption for mental health and other therapeutic interventions.
📚 Book of the Week
The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection by Michael A. Singer
Author Michael Singer tells the story of his epiphany at 22, committing to surrendering to life and reaching enlightenment. Throughout the book he provides examples of how completely surrendering allowed life to unfold beyond his wildest dreams.
He gives examples of how opportunities were presented to him, and his inner voice was telling him to say “no”, but he said “yes” anyway because that was what life wanted for him next.
I think this is where I had some doubts about his way of life. I believe in listening to your gut, and if your gut tells you “no”, you should say “no”.
The story reads as if all of the decisions he said “yes” to worked out. He grew a spiritual community, made impacts with his humanitarian efforts, and became a hugely successful entrepreneur and computer programmer. All held as evidence for his case of surrender.
However, he rarely mentions any loss of faith, or self-doubt, and failures. Which either makes one think that these were purposely left out or that his story is so miraculous and truly fascinating that surrendering to life will only lead to a life of everything working out and great success.
I do think that going with the flow, responding positively to life’s opportunities and surrendering to that flow can lead you to unexpected places, but his level of surrender is extreme, and one that very few can hope to replicate or obtain.
⚡️ Check This Out
These headsets are equipped with special software specifically designed to meet the mental health needs of astronauts. Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen will be the first to use them.
Additionally, the headsets have camera tracking technology adapted for microgravity which can monitor and maintain astronauts' mental health.
The ISS now has internet speeds of around 600 Mbps allowing astronauts to use data-intensive VR applications and connect with family and friends. (PAUSE, what!? Internet in space is faster than the internet in Germany…my average internet speed in Berlin was 50 Mbps…smh…50!)
The integration of VR technology into space missions required significant engineering adaptations to ensure functionality in microgravity conditions, as the original VIVE Focus 3 was dependent on many aspects of normal Earth gravity.
Astronauts are often isolated for months at a time while stationed in space, so here's hoping that VR can bring them closer to friends and family.
Edited by Wright Time Publishing