A joint collaboration between Enosis Therapeutics, Swinburne University and the Psychedelic Society of Belgium proved that the use of virtual reality (VR) modalities during treatment with psychedelics improves therapeutic outcomes among study participants.
The study, the first of its kind in combining psychedelics with advanced technology capable of altering human states, was conducted and completed in the Netherlands.
Enosis Therapeutics Pty Ltd. is an Australian biotech and psychedelic research start-up focused on the study of VR for the contextual modulation of psychedelic therapy to further improve treatment results. At the intersection of research and industry, the company provides designed virtual reality scenarios and clinical protocols for their employment at specific points of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy.
Ultimately, Enosis aims to empower patients in their own healing journey by using virtual reality to avoid constraints imposed by the analog system. Its therapeutic approach promotes non-cognitive, experiential, emotional and embodied aspects of treatment.
So, how does it actually work? The patent-pending neuro-psychological treatment mechanism uses multisensory VR stimulation to anchor psychedelic insights and peak emotions in order to reinvoke them later during the integration process enabling a deeper, more profound exploration of those potentially life-changing experiences.
This is definitely an interesting attempt, as one of the most discussed topics of psychedelic-assisted therapies (PAP) is regarding their somewhat elusive contribution to a person’s mind re-setting. Or, put differently, one of the main concerns of those testing the aid provided to neural connections by psychedelics consumption is how the experience can be rooted into the person’s mind in the long run, without the need for another dose.
The trial’s primary results showed VR scenarios combined with a guided psychedelic experience within a supportive psychotherapeutic framework generated high levels of acceptance and satisfaction, reduced pre-session anxiety during the preparation session and increased the recall of psychedelic insights in the integration session.
Moreover, Enosis informed that the so-called “State of Mindfulness and Affect Checklist” scores, which account for participants’ transient introspective capacity and intensity of emotional response, were not only high immediately after the psychedelic ingest but were matched and even surpassed during the non-drug enhanced integration session with the VR scenario.
According to the company, both measures reached over 90% of their maximum scores, on the dosing day as well as on the VR integration day. These results are therefore relevant, as they suggest that tailored virtual reality designs could help by first rooting and then evoking psychedelic-induced psycho-emotional states without a new dose. A further detail: the awe-evoking control VR scenario did not generate the same effect.
Enosis co-founder Dr. Prash Puspanathan stated: "In contrast to passive scene-setting environments or interactive gaming-based scenarios, our data shows that by prioritizing a patient-centered experience design combined with carefully constructed clinical protocols, clinicians, scientists, therapists and institutions can utilize VR as a powerful new tool in their efforts to transform patients' lives."
"We believe that there is an opportunity right now to evolve therapeutic protocols and refocus them on the altered state experience. Current therapeutic process suffers in that it is close to impossible for patients to communicate their most profound insights and emotions when dosed, while the memory and the emotional impact of those insights wanes rapidly once the experience concludes. This puts a natural block between the patient, the therapist, and the meaningful triggers they want to explore," added Ms. Agnieszka Sekula, co-founder of Enosis Therapeutics. "Multisensory, immersive experience design, for example with the use of VR, can be a gamechanger in how we approach and structure treatment protocols that rely on psychedelic substances. High levels of comfort and positive subjective reports from the participants show that VR modulation of psychedelic therapy deserves further scientific exploration."
Enosis’ Future Steps
The positive study results contribute to the need for further scientific investigation of VR and other emerging tech modalities in treatments using state-altering substances or practices. As the company stated, pre-session anxiety and challenges in surrendering to the experience are common and reveal that adverse outcomes of psychedelic therapy should continue to be addressed.
Enosis plans to continue building on these validated results toward developing the world's first clinical trial of VR and PAP currently set to start in Q4 2022.