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New VR Tech Emulates Psychedelic Experience

We are witnessing a resurgence in psychedelic use. There have been numerous studies showing that substances like psilocybin or LSD may help treat mental illnesses like treatment-resistant depressive disorder and PTSD. As people become more aware of the benefits of psychedelics, they are also becoming increasingly curious about them.

Technology is constantly evolving at an incredible pace. This raises the question, “Could tech like virtual reality offer comparable benefits to psychedelics?” According to Isness D, a VR experience that mirrors specific transcendent psychoedelic effects, the answer appears to be yes.

David Glowacki is the creator of it all. 15 years ago, he fell while walking through the mountains. He fell to the ground and was ejected from his body. During this experience, Glowacki’s field of perception began to shift, peering down at his own body and finding he was made up of balled-up light, MIT Technology Review reports.

He said the intensity of the light was related to the extent in which he inhabited his body, though watching the light slowly dim wasn’t frightening—It was transformative, leaking out of his body and around his environment. The experience was a sign that his awareness can transcend and outlast his body. It ultimately brought him peace.

The Nature Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist from Jill Bolte Taylor experiences similar sensations after experiencing a left-hemisphere stroke. Taylor said, “I could no longer define the boundaries of my body. I can’t define where I begin and where I end, because the atoms and molecules of my arm blend with the atoms and molecules of the wall, and all I could detect was this energy… I was immediately captivated by the magnificence of the energy around me. Because I couldn’t identify my boundaries, it made me feel enormously and expanded. I felt at one with all the energy that was, and it was beautiful.”

Glowacki pondered the accident and related it to death. He tried to recapture transcendence by asking curiosity.

It is suitable for small groups, up to five people. The technology can also be applied anywhere around the globe. Participants are shown as a cloud made of smoke and a ball of lights around their hearts. Energetic coalescence is a feature of the experience that allows participants to gather together in a virtual landscape. This makes it difficult to see where they are at any given time. It also creates a feeling of connection and reduces ego.

The study found that people often have a tendency to think of themselves as separate entities and conceptual relationships with others. This is in contrast to connected and coupled concepts. Authors define the term “self-transcendent experiences,” or the transient mental states in which “the subjective sense of one’s self as an isolated entity can temporarily fade into an experience of unity with other people or one’s surroundings, involving the dissolution of boundaries between the sense of self and ‘other,’” essentially what Glowacki is chasing with this new VR technology.

Can people achieve these breakthroughs with just VR, as well as intense life experiences, that are possible through psychedelics?

From August to September 2020, researchers conducted 29 Isness sessions. The results were analyzed with 75 participants. Participants were asked to rate the intensity at which they had experienced each of 30 items. mood and mystical experiences, answered questions about the connection they felt with others and scored how ego-dissolving it was.

The study authors discuss how the participants’ experiences in the study, which were based on questionnaires, is comparable to those of psychedelic experience in naturalistic or laboratory settings. The qualitative analysis also indicated similarities, with participants observing how the VR program was “similar to experiences that I have had as somatic visions through medicine plants. The interconnective nature of energy/intention and the ‘strings’ that appear to interconnect us with all living matter [is] also related to childhood dreams I had prior to any ‘psychedelic experience.’”

Many others also noted the Isness D experience as a profound sense of connectedness. This was something they could only have previously felt if they were able to use psychedelics in the right setting. While some people attribute a spiritual dimension to their experience, the dominant qualitative theme of Isness D participants is connectedness.

“I felt connected with myself but also with everyone else here… I think ‘connected’ is the word for me for the end of this session,” one participant said. Others said that Isness-D offered “a completely other way of connecting that I’m not familiar with, [where] all the usual stuff disappears.”

The researchers concluded that their research confirmed the theory that VR experiences such as Isness-D offer self-transcendent experiences comparable to psychedelics. This technology may be able to ease loneliness and isolation, particularly in the wake of ongoing COVID-19 epidemic. 

While there is still more research to be done, namely on the long-term effects of these experiences and what specifically about Isness-D offers these reported outcomes, we could very well see a future where seeking psychedelic-adjacent, self-transcendent experiences is as simple as popping on a VR headset.