How Does VR Compare with Drugs?
Current treatments for pain mainly involve narcotics, like hydromorphone and morphine, for moderate to severe and chronic pain. Narcotics are notorious for their diminishing effectiveness over repeated use which can lead to dosage escalation and dependence. There is a global epidemic of misuse of pain medication and in many cases the remedy has become worse than the symptom.
Hoffman et al. (2007) compared the VR game, SnowWorld, to opioid pain relievers. Each person in the study (n=9) experienced heat pain in 4 conditions: no treatment control, opioids only, VR only, opioids with VR.
The findings were astounding. VR significantly reduced pain and the time thinking about the pain (catastrophizing). VR was also a lot more fun than the no-treatment control, but participants actually rated opioids as worse than having no treatment. This study was a significant milestone to demonstrate that VR has the potential to out-perform drugs.
Virtual Reality for Chronic Pain
Dr. Diane Gromala’s research team is pioneering VR therapy alternatives to narcotics for moderate to severe and chronic pain. Firsthand is collaborating with Dr. Gromala’s to build virtual worlds that combine the immersion of VR with biofeedback and mindfulness techniques. These and other studies are beginning to show that virtual reality can increase resilience, thereby providing an effective combination or alternative to narcotic pain medication.
Diane Gromala is an expert in art, design and computer science. Dr. Gromala developed virtual reality (VR) for phobias, anxiety, Parkinson’s and for children who were undergoing chemotherapy. Her VR creations are in use at over 20 hospitals worldwide. Video time: 16 minutes Watch on TEDx