By Hunter Dublin | February 22, 2023
Last year Australian researchers traveled to the Netherlands for an out of this experience to test the effectiveness between psilocybin and virtual reality. The researchers wanted to find out if this combination of technologies could be helpful for people with mental health issues. The results were encouraging.
Participants at a two-day psychedelics retreat were invited to take part in the research by consuming psilocybin, the psychoactive component found in certain types of mushrooms. Once the effects of the psilocybin had started to wear off, the participants put on virtual reality headsets and experienced an immersive virtual environment.
The Virtual World of Psychedelics
In this virtual world, individuals enter a tranquil and calming environment filled with stars that twinkle like glowing fireflies against the dark sky. These stars can be used as audio recorders to capture their experience during the peak of their psychedelic journey. Each star creates a sparkling constellation that serves as a representation of the individual's story.
The following day, the individual can go back to this world, and tap into the stars again to uncover the thoughts and emotions behind their trip. They are free to nurture some of these stars while discarding others through a virtual bonfire. This allows them to create an environment that is tailored to their specific experience, allowing them to grow and find peace within themselves.
This immersive experience allows participants and therapists to explore the depths of their psyche, and gain a greater understanding of themselves and their journey. They can use this virtual world as a safe space for self-exploration, and ultimately gain insight into how to move forward. It also offers a powerful opportunity for individuals to create an environment where they can be comfortable and supported in the midst of their experience.
This is what makes the VR world of starry nights an incredibly powerful experience—it offers a space for individuals to explore their innermost thoughts, emotions, and desires in a safe environment that allows them to grow and find peace within themselves.
How is Psychedelic Therapy Conducted
Psychedelic therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses psychedelics to help patients explore their emotions and problems in a guided experience. The process typically begins with the patient and therapist deciding on an intention for the experience, followed by a dosing phase where the patient takes the psychedelics alone, with the therapist present to provide support if needed. After this, the integration phase begins where the therapist helps to unpack and identify any underlying themes that emerged during the experience.
With the help of virtual reality, this integration process can be made easier by allowing patients to recall their experiences more accurately and create a "multi-sensory canvas" that belongs to them. Through this process, patients can process their experience with more clarity and thus, gain greater insight into their state of mind.
As psychedelic therapy continues to be studied, virtual reality can help bridge the gap between dosing and integration, providing a powerful tool for therapists and patients alike.
Psychedelic Therapy Research and Future Development
Agnieszka Sekula, a Ph.D. candidate at Swinburne University, has been exploring the potential of psychedelic psychotherapy combined with virtual reality, taking part in various studies to gain more knowledge and insight. Together with medical doctor Prash Puspanathan, she founded Enosis Therapeutics in 2020, which has since conducted several studies, with plans for more and larger ones in the future.
The goal of their research is to better understand how psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy works and how it can be harnessed to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Their findings thus far have been encouraging, providing compelling evidence that virtual reality combined with psychedelics has the potential to be a powerful tool for psychological healing.
Though the results from the retreat have not been published Ms. Sekula did share some quotes from people who had the opportunity to use VR with their psychedelic experience.
"There were more memories than I thought. I thought I didn’t need the star to record this but then I actually said more than I remember."
"VR helped me to reflect on the experience, it kept the marvel; you're not tripping anymore but you are reminded by this magic vision."
"The stars fuelled with memories were helpful in structuring the mind."