“A year ago, I observed — firsthand — seasoned clinical professionals absolutely terrified in a conference room at Providence, terrified at the prospect of taking just a single step forward. So why? Why would that be? Was there something dangerous, some hot coals in front of them? No, not at all. They were enjoying a VR experience that had effectively taken over their brain and convinced them that if they took that one step, they would fall 30 stories off a very tall building. And many of them literally locked up, they could not take that one step even though it was level ground.” — Darren Connor, Providence Health Professional It’s true: Virtual reality does this magical thing . When the HMD completely covers the wearer’s head and redirects their senses, one can’t blame the body for convincing the brain, “I am here.” where it whisks people away and convinces them that they’re doing something else Why does that matter in-context? Well, it’s simple. Many of us will get sick or sustain injuries throughout our lifetime, and understandably these injuries and ailments will come with some chronological period of intense or debilitating pain. And what do humans want to do with debilitating pain? Assuming that you’re human and you know what I’m talking about firsthand — we want to get of that pain as fast as possible, so that we can get back to important matters in our productive lives. rid Sorry, what epidemic? When I needed to get my wisdom teeth pulled at age 15, I was in so much pain that I ended up spending a 5-day stint laying on my parents’ upstairs couch conked out of my mind on Vicodin. Which is totally normal, . ask anybody who’s ever had their wisdom teeth pulled Opioids, such as Vicodin, are the pharmaceutical for transporting patients away from their pain. Unfortunately, the same qualities that make them highly effective also make them painfully addictive. industry standard This class of painkillers, made notorious by globally high addiction rates to both legal products ( ) and illegal products (heroin), is now culpable for hooking prescribed to similar medications over longer stretches of time. morphine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, etc. as few as 1 in 4 patients Generally, it isn’t uncommon to see cases of people shifting their addictive dependencies from one type of opioid to another. As a result, western society has which has only escalated over time. silently endured an opioid epidemic So where does VR tie back in? Well, drugs probably aren’t going away anytime soon. , and I’m not so bold as to believe that I can feasibly crack this nut by making obtuse claims such as “VR will absolutely, totally replace opioids!” or similar. There‘s too much money on the line Frankly, that isn’t what this article is even about. Instead, let’s return to the root of VR’s appeal: the experience. Imagine this: The lenses go over your eyes, a cozy pair of headphones covers your ears, preferably you’re holding some sort of “hand” controllers such as the Rift’s system or the Vive’s . You’re engaging with something that feels both real and completely fantastic. Maybe you’re being toured through app and you find that objects react logically to your treatment of them, or for the first time and you look down and you your new body. Touch Wands Oculus’s First Contact maybe you’re experiencing zero-gravity see And then it clicks; . Or at least you identify as being there, which is what makes these experiences feel so real in hindsight. It wasn’t just a character on a screen — no, it was . you’re there you Your brain is no longer stuck in the body of a person who is in pain and reliant solely on pharmaceuticals to get through that pain. You are convinced that you've been going on journeys as somebody who is not in pain, and that you had while you were there. a believable presence It was one hell of a trip. You can’t wait to go back. Providence Certain medical practitioners are beginning to catch up with the reality of virtual reality. real In Providence’s study, which included the administration of to a relatively small sample of underneath 50 participants, 29% more pilot patients experienced a decrease in resting pain after exploring virtual reality than did their VR-deprived counterparts. Firsthand Technology’s therapy apps “COOL!” and “GLOW!” Granted, the data is limited by the sample size, but what we’re observing is the placebo effect at work. Here’s the clincher: We know VR does something for pain, and that “something” is real for those who are affected. PORTLAND, OR — FEB 26, 2018: (Gabriel Moss) Joshua Young (Design Reality PDX) prepares to transition after Raina Tamakawa & Darren Connor (Providence Health) present their findings to a crowd of VR enthusiasts at New Relic’s office in Portland, OR on February 26, 2018 Again, where does this translate back into the opioid epidemic? What if addicts started kicking their opioid cravings because they could instead redirect their physiological dependencies onto something that both completely removes them from their own head and ? provides long-term health benefits What if such physiological dependencies never begin in certain patients, because they’d been prescribed a lesser dose of opioid medications due to the effectiveness of VR treatment in bolstering their prognosis? At this time, it’s difficult to tell if/when VR treatment will be administered on such a scale. What we know, however, is that this iteration of VR is still young and that adjacent industries have plenty of room to grow and learn alongside it. do Someday, the availability of this technology might make all the difference in the world for your friend or loved one. And that’s the point, isn’t it?