Psychedelic replications in virtual reality and their potential as a therapeutic instrument: an open-label feasibility study

This open-label study (n=12) assessed the ability of Psyrreal, a VR experience that mimics the phenomenological components of psychedelic and mystical experiences, in alleviating depressive symptoms in people with mild-to-moderate depression. Results suggest that VR-augmented therapy could be beneficial in treating depressive symptoms, with participants showing a significant reduction in depressive symptoms two weeks after the experiments.

Abstract

Background: Recent research has shown promising results for the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics. One popular view claims that these benefits are mediated by the subjective experiences induced by these substances. Based on this, we designed a virtual reality experience, Psyrreal, that mimics the phenomenological components of psychedelic experiences.

Aims: We aimed to investigate the therapeutic efficacy of Psyrreal and psychedelic VR experiences in treating depressive symptoms as well as explore the effect of Psyrreal on subjective factors which have been suggested to mediate the therapeutic benefits of psychedelics.

Methods: In this open-label feasibility study, thirteen participants with mild-to-moderate depression underwent a 2-day therapeutic intervention implementing Psyrreal. Depressive symptoms were evaluated by the Emotional State Questionnaire (EST-Q2) at the start of the intervention and 2 weeks after. A thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews after Psyrreal was also conducted as an additional assessment of the method.

Results: A 2-day intervention implementing Psyrreal led to significant decreases in depressive symptoms at the 2-week follow-up (n = 10, p = 0.007, Hedges’ g = 1.046) measured by the Emotional State Questionnaire (EST-Q2). The analysis of semi-structured interviews suggests that Psyrreal could lead to insight and alterations in the sense of self in some people.

Conclusion: This work proposes a novel method using virtual reality to augment the treatment of psychological disorders as well as to precisely investigate the mediating subjective factors of the therapeutic effects of psychedelic substances. Our preliminary results suggest that VR experiences combined with psychological support show potential in treating depressive symptoms and further research into similar methods is warranted.”

Authors: Karl K. Kaup, Madis Vasser, Kadi Tulver, Juhan Pikamäe & Jaan Aru

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