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Psychedelics and virtual reality: parallels and applications

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Abstract

Psychedelic drugs and virtual reality (VR) each have the capacity to disrupt the rigidity and limitations of typical conscious experience. This article delineates the parallels among psychedelic and VR states as well as their potential synergistic applications in clinical and recreational settings. Findings indicate that, individually, psychedelics and VR are used in analogous ways to alter sensory experience and evoke awe. They are also both used in tandem with traditional therapies to treat a variety of mood disorders; their shared capacity to transiently alter perspective and disrupt rigid patterns of mental experience may underly their analogous and transdiagnostic therapeutic uses. In terms of their combined applications, a number of recreational users currently utilize psychedelics and VR together to enhance their experience. We propose that VR may be a useful tool for preparing hallucinogen-naïve participants in clinical trials for the sensory distortions experienced in psychedelic states. Given the critical role of “setting” in psychedelic treatment outcomes, we also detail how VR could be used to optimize the environment in psychedelic sessions. Finally, we provide considerations for future studies and detail how advancements in psychedelic and VR research can inform one another. Collectively, this article outlines a number of connections between psychedelics and VR, and, more broadly, is representative of growing scientific interest into the interactions among technology, psychopharmacology, and mental health.

Aday, J. S., Davoli, C. C., & Bloesch, E. K. (2020). Psychedelics and virtual reality: parallels and applications. Therapeutic advances in psychopharmacology, 10, 2045125320948356. https://doi.org/10.1177/2045125320948356

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