Not far in the future… doctors might prescribe a virtual beach vacation to calm aches and pains, in lieu of taking a pill. Insurance companies might offer scenic tours of Icelandic fjords to lower blood pressure, instead of doubling up on drugs. Psychiatrists might treat social phobia by immersing patients in a virtual dinner party.
It’s starting to happen right now because of virtual reality (VR) – the mind-bending technology that offers immersive, multisensory environments that nudge our brains into thinking we are somewhere else.
For decades, scientists have been discovering the surprising health benefits of VR for ailments ranging from burn injuries, to stroke, to posttraumatic stress. Thousands of studies reveal that VR has an uncanny ability to block pain, calm nerves and boost mental health – all without drugs and their unwanted side effects. But the technology has been too expensive, unreliable and unwieldy for the research to translate beyond the pages of academic journals and doctoral dissertations.