Will VR be the New Opiate for the Masses?

Virtual reality is going to change everything. Consumer companies like HTC and Facebook (Oculus) have been building headsets, banking on it being the next big consumer gaming platform. Whether that will happen is a matter of quite some debate, but what nobody is debating is the impact that VR is having across a number of smaller vertical markets.

From training to engineering to therapy, new research and use cases are emerging weekly.  One of the most recent studies on the impact of VR on pain management comes from the journal Plos One.  The study was authored by Brennan Spiegel, director of Cedars-Sinai Health Services Research in Los Angeles. “VR changes the way the brain perceives pain”, said Spiegel.

They divided the patients into two groups, all of which were hospitalized and experiencing pain.  One group was instructed to use Galaxy Gear VR headsets to manage their pain in at least three 10 minute sessions per day. The other was instructed to watch the health and wellness channel on TV as much as they liked.

Virtual reality reduced pain by as much as 3X as watching TV did, on a scaled of 1-10 averaging a two point drop. The drop was more significant in patients who reported higher levels of pain.

“When the mind is deeply engaged in an immersive experience, it becomes difficult to perceive stimuli outside of the field of attention,” Speigel wrote. “By overwhelming the visual, auditory, and proprioception senses, VR is thought to create an immersive distraction that restricts the brain from processing pain.”

An NPR article covering the report added that “Going back more than 15 years, studies have shown the technique to be useful in a range of settings — from helping people cope with anxiety to helping reduce acute pain during medical procedures, during physical therapy or during dental procedures. And, there’s some evidence VR can help with chronic pain, too.

This is all great in a clinical setting, but what about when VR use becomes more widespread? We love a good distraction. From Facebook to drugs and alcohol to pornography, distraction is a multi-billion dollar business.

More on that next week…

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