Companies and investors are turning their attention to virtual and augmented reality technology, to enhance the impact and accessibility of mental health treatments. Tripp has raised US$15million to create virtual reality (VR) applications to induce alternate states of mind, and recently acquired PsyAssist to develop best practice protocols for psychedelic-assisted therapy.
The guidelines have been created to enable treatments to be conducted both in clinical settings and at home, empowering patients to self-administer psychedelic compounds. This would overcome one of the biggest obstacles faced by drug developers, reducing the reliance on psychotherapists and consequently the resources required for psychedelic-assisted therapies.
By lowering the cost of treatments, they are more likely to be approved by regulators and insurers, supporting the industry to reach its US$100 billion market potential. As a result of the rewards of embracing virtual and augmented reality, drug developers are aligning with technology start-ups to enhance patient outcomes.
Tripp’s CEO and Founder Nanea Reeves was an early backer of virtual reality headsets, which have been widely adopted in the entertainment and gaming industries. The immersive nature of virtual reality, and the creation of real-world experiences, led to the exploration of the technology in the support of mental health.
Reeves said, ‘I had the good fortune of being an early investor in Oculus and through some experimentation on that platform, I could really see this very interesting effect of moving in and out of an alternate reality while you’re fully conscious’.
Applications that leverage VR technology to support patients through personalised interventions are not a new concept, with digital tools created to treat a number of mental health indicators, including PTSD, anxiety and depression. The therapeutic benefits have been linked to escapism, with patients able to disconnect from their current reality to explore new mindsets, mirroring the states of mind created by tryptamines.
‘The less real world the experience was, the more psychedelic in nature, the more you could just kind of immerse into it and feel this connection to something that was bigger than you…It’s its own unique experience to be in an alternate reality while consciously, you’re in your current reality,’ continued Reeves.
Through the acquisition of PsyAssist, Tripp hopes to conduct clinical trials to demonstrate the efficacy of the technology. Tripp’s CEO cautioned that while the technology could improve therapeutic outcomes, it could not be used as a standalone substitute for psychedelic-assisted therapy.
Reeves commented that the company’s intent was ‘empowering the end user with supporting tools, not to replace the therapy, but to support and enhance it’.
PsyAssist’s technology currently equips patients with the tools to self-administer ketamine therapy at home. Tripp hopes that through the acquisition of PsyAssist, and creation of joint venture Tripp PsyAssist, the companies can extend the applications of the technology and establish best practices for MDMA and psilocybin-assisted therapy. The technology’s impact will then be studied in clinical environments to identify tangible improvements in treatments when combined with VR technology.
Tripp is aware of a number of companies trialing the impact of virtual reality headsets in therapeutic settings, but remained confident that its technology was a significant upgrade on existing solutions.
‘They have been doing this organically already with our consumer product…we want to give them a more operational, friendly solution where the clinician can control the experience for the patient and also the content itself’, concluded Reeves.
Investment opportunities at the juncture of psychedelics and technology will be the focus of the PSYCH Investor Summit on 7 October. The investor-focused event will host panel discussions with industry thought leaders, expert insight from distinguished researchers, and presentations from organisations transforming the psychedelic industry through technology.
Complimentary tickets for the PSYCH Investor Summit: Data & Technology are now available.