Digital therapeutics funding has been breaking records year after year.
Health-related mobile applications available to consumers on top app stores worldwide now surpass 350,000, with more than 90,000 digital health apps added in 2020 — an average of more than 250 apps per day, according to Iqvia Institute, a data science company.
Investments in digital therapeutics companies in the United States have grown by an average of 40 percent a year since 2011 to reach more than $1 billion in 2018.
Products include video games as a digital therapeutic platform that incorporates neurological music therapy, sensors, and artificial intelligence (AI) to help patients who have suffered a stroke or other neurological disorder to rebuild motor skills.
Now there are a growing number of psychedelic companies getting involved in digital therapeutics.
Tripp, a wellness platform company founded on the idea of making mental well-being popular through virtual reality and augmented reality, recently acquired EvolVR, a virtual reality social meditation company. “We believe that alternate realities can be used to break the limits of what’s possible, immersing users in experiences they can’t have in the real world to help them feel mentally and emotionally supported in any world,” Nanea Reeves, CEO and co-founder of Tripp wrote about the company in her blog.
One of the unique digital therapeutic apps is SoundSelf, developed by Andromeda Entertainment. Getting into the experience is simple: To play, all you need is a gaming computer, headphones, and a microphone. Lower the lights or don your virtual reality headset. Listen to music rising and harmonizing with the viewer’s own voice, leading the viewer through swirling vortexes of light and color. “The symmetry of image, sound and body takes advantage of loopholes in perception to bring you a new experience of yourself and your world,” according to the description of the experience as described in a press release.
It’s a device that mimics the psychedelic experience and is designed to give people a sort of preview of what an actual psychedelic experience might be like if they have never done one, or help them relive moments of their own psychedelic experience, or try before an actual psychedelic trip. Or, perhaps, be a substitute to ingesting any plant substance with unknown consequences, but still experiencing a psychedelic-like self-awareness that can help them with various mental health conditions.
SoundSelf, still in development today, was started in 2012 by Robin Arnott, a game designer and sound designer. Together with Lyle Maxson, they formed Andromeda Entertainment in 2017 where Maxson is co-founder and chief strategy officer. “Robin and I combined knew a lot of what I call conscious developers in the virtual reality space who were programming really interesting entertainment products focused around mindfulness-state-shift exercise, kind of creating a positive mind body effect,” Maxson told Psychedealia.
In mid-2021, he and Arnott decided to bring SoundSelf into the psychedelic therapy world. Unlike other biofeedback experiences, this experience is all very passive, he said. “You are just monitoring the body’s own biorhythms. It’s an active participatory experience where you use your voice, and your vocal intonations are fed back to you almost like a choir.”
The device user’s voice is amplified and fed back, making it sound better. “It’s designed to create a trance,” he said. “So it’s unpredictable, meaning that the feedback loop doesn’t give you your voice input as soon as you tone. It’s generating that as you go.”
That feedback is not only done with the user’s voice, but also with the visuals, he said. “We pair it with haptic technology (the science and technology of touch) to create the kinesthetic self experience. So it’s actually a vibrational biofeedback.”
Maxson does not recommend using the product during an actual plant-substance induced psychedelic experience, he said. “With psychedelics, we like to say that we want the medicine to speak for itself,” Maxson said.
“What we’re looking at (SoundSelf) as is an adjunct to the therapy, and really as a priming tool and an integration tool—priming to essentially create this relaxation response and get you into your body and really clear your mind before going into a psychedelic journey,” he said. “It’s enhancing set and setting. Then, as an integration tool, it’s a way to essentially bring back very similar brainwave states as what you were experiencing on your psychedelics, which allows you to integrate much more deeply, have the epiphanies come back to you, bring back some of the memory and the sensations you felt from your journey.”
They have recently redesigned the original virtual reality version of SoundSelf for light therapy. “With the light therapy, your brain is creating those visuals for you,” he said. “The visuals are changing, and it’s creating something called a liminal state, which is very similar to a dreamlike state. Your body’s starting to go deep into an hallucinogenic type of process just through the brainwave entrainment and audio visual stimulation.”
He thinks a product like SoundSelf will be more effective and more enticing to people than taking a pharmaceutical, which can have all sorts of side effects. “But, you know, ultimately, we are game designers first. And then we’re validating it with science second, which is a very unique approach,” he said. “I think it’s something that other companies should really lean into. Because in order to make this mainstream, it has to be fun. It has to be instantly gratifying and enjoyable and accessible. And that’s really where I think we can make this a world changer.”
“Videogames are an incredibly powerful tool for shaping a person’s consciousness,” Arnott said, as quoted in press release. “We have an opportunity to flip the distraction of games into a healing interaction.”