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Can Virtual Reality Simulate the Psychedelic Experience?

A company hopes to recreate psychedelic-like experiences through immersive virtual experiences.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The future of psychedelics will be more than simply taking FDA-approved medications, as such potent compounds call for a more holistic and experiential approach to therapy. For this reason, digital platforms will likely play a key role in developing this fast-growing sector.

One company hoping to position itself as a leader in this space is Entheo Digital, which offers psychedelic therapy with immersive virtual experiences. Here are some excerpts from my interview with CEO Robin Arnott. 

Related: Will Psychedelics Continue To Grow In 2021? Fund Managers Weigh In On Potential, Bear Markets, and More

The origin of the company

“Entheo was founded to distribute digital therapeutics for psychedelic therapies, specifically for immersive, experiential digital experiences that can be used as tools for psychedelic therapists and patients," says Arnott.

With a background in the gaming industry, Robin is an award-winning sound designer and for the last several years has been developing a dynamic VR experience called SoundSelf. Originally intended for VR platforms in the entertainment industry, Entheo Digital is now developing SoundSelf as a protocol for psychedelic therapy.

“As the psychedelic medicine industry developed we saw an opportunity to shift the product’s usage towards therapeutics, something that SoundSelf seemed perfectly suited for. We saw that it could be far more impactful in medicine work and in conjunction with a trained therapist. The focus now is to develop the software for therapeutic purposes.”

Simulating psychedelic states 

SoundSelf utilizes sound and visuals to give people access to psychedelic-like states. 

Using singing, chanting, or toning, SoundSelf uses dynamic music and visualizations that respond to everything the user does with their voice. 

“It can move users to unitive states of consciousness within 10-15 minutes. The default mode network goes quiet and there are similar brainwave patterns to someone in a deep psychedelic drug experience or deep meditative state”, says Arnott. 

SoundSelf has several potential uses. On the patient side, it can help better prepare patients for therapy, thus increasing chances of better outcomes and the likelihood of continued use of psychedelic therapy. 

“Let's say a patient is going in for their first psychedelic journey. There could be anxiety and trepidation about such a potentially intense experience. Being able to give patients a taste of a similar state of consciousness that psychedelics will provide, can help relieve some of the anxiety and improve positive outcomes.”

On the therapist and corporate side, there are many potential uses that can improve on both service and costs.

As Arnott explains: “One of the big issues in the growth of psychedelic therapy is the trained therapist bottleneck. This is a place where an effective digital therapeutic that can actually render an altered state of consciousness can lighten the burden on therapist training. 

Delivery at scale

Getting psychedelic drugs approved by the FDA is just the first step of commercialization. You then need to get the treatments out to people at scale, which will require therapists and therapeutic settings (unlike traditional mental health medications, psychedelics generally require an experiential or therapeutic environment and treatment plan). And this building up of therapist networks can be costly, for both the company and the consumer.

“During training, you are going to have to run a patient through an altered state, that eventually has to be part of the training. What are you going to use for this? You can use Ketamine and other controlled substances, but those are more expensive processes. With digital therapy tools like ours, you can enter the more expensive stage of training having already had practice and experience under your belt with these kinds of altered states.”

Entheo Digital is looking for a tight network of therapists and healers to build the protocols for the new software

“We’re a private company just founded in June of this year, and we’re in the middle of a private funding round that's wrapping up soon with good momentum. The immediate goal is to develop SoundSelf for application in therapeutic settings and to build out our distribution network of psychedelic therapists. 

“For immediate milestones, once we complete the raise, we’ll be rebuilding the software for therapists. We’re in therapeutic beta now and we’re rebuilding it with therapists and patients in mind. We expect that it will be ready in about 8 months. In the meanwhile we’re looking for a tight network of therapists and healers to help us build the protocols for the new software, this will be a primary focus.

“Anybody who is interested in building rapport with their clients, or better outcomes in their treatments, should definitely reach out to us.”

As companies like Field Trip, Cybin, and Numinus plan the roll-outs of their clinics and therapist training, the psychedelic medicine industry could indeed use help overcoming some bottlenecks and keeping costs down. 

Just about every major publicly-traded psychedelic company is developing some sort of digital platform or division, yet for now most are quite basic and focus on reporting and general support, rather than an integrated experience that could substantially help both therapists and patients. 

If the development of SoundSelf delivers on its promise, Entheo is hoping to have its hands on a potentially disrupting digital tool.