Forget LSD, virtual reality is just as trippy

Forget LSD, virtual reality is just as trippy

You want to have out-of-body experiences? Put on your VR headset. Virtual Reality sends you on a psychedelic trip.

Psychedelics are serious substances. LSD, "magic mushrooms," and similar substances are illegal drugs that cause severe mental damage if abused. So it's better to stay away from them. The good news is that you don't need them to get on a mind-expanding trip anyway. Virtual reality, take over!

A dose of VR headsets, please

David Glowacki had a near-death experience fifteen years ago. He fell on a mountain hike, suffering severe internal injuries. About to suffocate, he saw his body bathed in light. His angle of vision changed and the light merged with the surroundings.

For Glowacki, it was clear after this experience that consciousness can transcend. With the VR experience "Isness-D," he now wants to reconstruct this state and make it possible for others to experience it. The experience in the VR headset reportedly resembles the effect of a medium dose of LSD or psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms.

Here's what to expect on the VR trip

Groups of up to five people can participate in Isness-D. In the VR environment, users are depicted as a diffuse cloud of smoke with a ball of light near the heart. During the so-called "energetic fusion" all participants gather in the virtual landscape and superimpose their shadowy bodies.

Thus it is no longer recognizable where each person ends or begins. A feeling of deep connection with simultaneous weakening of the ego is to develop. Feelings that psychedelic substances also evoke.

Study: VR experience similar effects to LSD

Glowacki and his team had 75 subjects enter Isness-D for their study. The emotional reactions triggered by the VR experience were measured according to standards from psychedelics research. The researchers then compared the participants' responses with the results of previously published psychedelics studies.

The responses measured in Isness-D could not be distinguished from those of medium-dose psychedelics. In some cases, the intensity of the VR experience reached levels comparable to the experience reports of people who had taken 20 milligrams of psilocybin or 200 micrograms of LSD.

Psychedelics & VR are used in medicine

Psychedelics such as LSD or psilocybin affect perception through our senses and the way we process information. There are clinical studies that demonstrate the successful use of these substances in therapies for obsessive-compulsive disorder, addictive behavior, or post-traumatic stress disorder. A recent study shows that the use of psilocybin can lead to breakthrough success in the treatment of depression.

The intoxication experienced can be like a release and makes it easier to deal with one's own feelings. Psilocybin can produce long-term positive effects after just one or two treatments. Virtual reality is also being used in medicine. In the UK, VR headsets are replacing anesthetics in surgery, and in the U.S., therapists are treating chronic pain with virtual reality.


Brennan Spiegel, who treats chronic pain with a VR experience, describes how VR works in his book "VRx: How Virtual Therapeutics Will Revolutionize Medicine" as follows: “Bombard the eyes with spectacular and dynamic visions, and next thing you know, those three billion neuronal firings per second will ricochet through half the brain to process the overwhelming load of visual data.”

As a result, according to Spiegel, pain disappears in patients. It's like taking a hallucinogen, he says.

Self-transcending experience through virtual reality

"What happens in VR is that sense of completely forgetting about the existence of the external world," explained Agnieszka Sekula.

Sekula is a doctoral student at the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology in Australia and a VR therapist herself. "So there is definitely similarity there to this sense of experiencing an alternative reality under psychedelics that feels more real than what is actually out there."

But there are definitely differences between a psychedelic experience in VR or in real life, she says. In her opinion, Isness-D only shows a new path to transcendence instead of imitating an already existing one.

The goal of Isness-D was never a recreation of an LSD trip anyway. Glowacki wanted to create a self-transcending experience, as he had experienced in his near-death experience. In the process, his definition as an independent individual dissolved and a deep feeling of unity with other people or the environment emerged.

Astronauts report a similar state when looking at the earth from space. Years of learned meditation can also lead to this state of self-transcendence. Compared to this, the path via VR headset would already be a tantalizingly easy one.

Sources: MIT Technology Review