How VR Company TRIPP Simulates Psychedelic Euphoria to Address Depression and Anxiety

Keerthi Vedantam

Keerthi Vedantam is a bioscience reporter at dot.LA. She cut her teeth covering everything from cloud computing to 5G in San Francisco and Seattle. Before she covered tech, Keerthi reported on tribal lands and congressional policy in Washington, D.C. Connect with her on Twitter, Clubhouse (@keerthivedantam) or Signal at 408-470-0776.

TRIPP

By the time Nanea Reeves was 16, she had seen the disastrous effects of substance abuse on her mother and sister, and had spent time recovering at a psychiatric hospital where a therapist introduced her to meditation and breathing techniques that helped her cope with the chaos that surrounded her.


"It was a tool that really gave me space to insert pauses when I was having these big feelings, and start to train my brain on the decisions I was making at any given moment," she said.

Since then, both Reeves' mother and sister passed away from drug abuse. A new tragedy, the loss of her husband to cancer, spurred her next venture, aimed at spreading the coping techniques she'd been taught.

In 2018, she co-launched TRIPP, a virtual-reality meditation experience that mimics aspects of psychedelics to help people cope with chaos or destruction in their lives. The company announced on Friday it raised $11 million led by Mayfield and life science VC firm Vine Ventures, bringing its total funding to $15 million.

Its technology guides users through a breathing meditation that lasts anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes while their eyeline is littered with neon-colored shapes, pulsating flowers, blurred, slow-motion movements and other abstract, kaleidoscopic visualizations. The experience is meant to mimic what one might see while hallucinating on psychedelics without having to actually take psychedelics. Users can customize their own visuals through a program called TRIPP Composer.

The company did research on soundscapes and gameplay mechanics to bring users a sense of euphoria and calm throughout the meditation.

"What could you experience in VR that you can't in real life? A sense of feeling like you're floating in space, and moving through environments while you're sitting still in reality," Reeves said. "We wanted to trigger states of awe and wonder."

The psychedelic visual leans into what longtime Johns Hopkins psychedelics researcher Matthew Johnson called "the mystical experience" - the part of consuming psychedelics that isn't rooted in secular sciences, but rather in individual feelings.

TRIPP is one of many VR apps available on Playstation VR and Oculus (she was an early investor of Oculus herself) that facilitates meditation. Subscriptions go for $4.99 a month; the company has streamed more than 2 million wellness sessions to date.

But it's not the only one using gaming technology to trigger a biological response. Last year, Boston-based video game company Akili Interactive developed the first Food and Drug Administration-approved video game to treat ADHD, an executive function disorder, in children. Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center is using VR for physical therapy, since it has the ability to connect the brain with its ambulatory functions. L.A.-based AppliedVR recently teamed up with the Department of Veterans Affairs to combat chronic pain among veterans.

TRIPP, like Santa Monica-based Headspace, another wellness app, is also undergoing clinical trials to test its efficacy as a therapeutic device. And, as the larger industry of psychedelic therapies grows, TRIPP plans on leveraging its platform to integrate with therapy trips.

"We're not trying to replicate or simulate, but there are certain inherent properties that can trigger awe or self-connection. It's not aggressive or taking you over completely like a psychedelic," Reeves said.

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