When you look at 60’s counterculture in the US, you think of the Peace and Love movement. And one large part of it was the growing trend of hallucinogenic substances like LSD and magic mushrooms. But not, these chemicals are being studied for possible scientific uses.
Specifically, researchers want to know if there are any medical benefits of having a psychedelic trip.
To that end, New Atlas talks about a few attempts at recreating the effects of a psychedelic trip in virtual reality experiences. One of them is by French filmmaker Jan Kounen, who designed a VR experience called “Ayahuasca (Kosmik Journey). Unfortunately, as writer Rich Haridy points out, it’s not nearly the same as taking a drug. At the end of the day, the VR experience was merely a display of lights and colours, in a spectacle falling short of the real thing.
Another attempt was ‘Visionarium’ by artist Sander Bos. He’s aware of the limitations of VR and trying to recreate a psychedelic trip with it, but he has faith. He believes that simply simulating a convincing psychedelic experience should be enough to “trick” a person into experiencing the physical effects as well.
Lastly is ‘Hallucination Machine’, a product of researchers at the University of Sussex. They used Deep Dream, Google’s AI experiment that takes photos and, by way of it’s programming, transforms them into something truly odd. So the researchers took panoramic Deep Dream photos and combined them with a 360-degree virtual reality headset to see how it turned out.
The researchers then had volunteers try out the machine, once as is and once after taking a psychedelic. When questioning the volunteers after both tries, they found similarities in the experiences they felt. It looked like the uniquely generated psychedelic-like experience of Deep Dream was the closest that could be gotten to the real thing.
“For more radical experiences such as ego-dissolutions or the sense of unity, we still don’t have any clues how to simulate them with VR for the moment,” Keisuke Suzuki, one of the Hallucination Machine researchers, told New Atlas. Still, he’s hopeful.
The way forward, he thinks, is to combine the technology with real-time neuronal/physiological feedback techniques. Then we could maybe study whether a simulated LSD trip could help you de-stress on the weekends.