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Tripping with health tech – the other way to get high

Posted by Shehroz Siddiqui on 4th May 2022

Apparently, Jim Morrison once said drugs are a bet with the mind. If so, he wasn’t wrong.

There are all kinds of substances that give people enjoyable and even psychedelic experiences — whether it’s alcohol, marijuana, or LSD. That said, it’s difficult to overlook troubling stats and horror stories involving hallucinogenic episodes.

UK government data from last year showed the number of drug-related deaths are up 60% from 2011. They also found alcohol was a leading cause of illness, disabilities, and mortality.

These realities are disturbing, yet it’s natural for people to seek means toward happiness. So what if there were healthier ways to experience a psychological high?

I’d like to present you with the potential offered by the world of health tech, where there’s a range of devices and apps that improve mental wellbeing in a way that’s so advanced it’s almost sci-fi. With these, you’ll be able to feel better without risking your health or committing a felony.

Health tech for biofeedback

Practices like mindfulness and daily meditation have moved from belittlement to becoming scientifically validated therapy. That said, committing to these practices is easier said than done.

You can sit down to meditate, but it’s easy to dwell on a previous argument, or the guy who cut you off, when you should be counting your breaths. That’s where devices offering biofeedback can be useful, as they’ll log physiological activity to help people stay mindful.

For example, there’s ElectroEncephaloGraphy (EEG), a test that detects changes in brainwaves. Canadian start-up Muse developed an eponymous headband with EEG capabilities to help people meditate by translating brain activity into guiding sounds of nature.

When meditating, you’ll hear crashing waves or blowing wind when the mind wanders, but these settle into quiet ripples or a slight breeze when you bring attention back to your breath. You’ll get this feedback by connecting the Muse to a phone, and the accompanying app gives you a dashboard for tracking progress.

Activity trackers are similar in this respect. Devices like the Feel Emotion Sensor combine physiology monitoring and app-based analytics with cognitive behavioural therapy to identify emotional patterns and provide online treatment.

Shocking yourself into a state of calm

Most would say there are existential consequences to shocking your brain with electricity. They’d be correct in most cases, but giving it a mild shock turns out be safe, even beneficial. That’s called neurostimulation, and it’s led manufacturers to produce innovative devices that address mental health in a slightly bizarre yet effective way.

For example, we’ve got tDCS, otherwise known as transcranial direct current stimulation, which has proven to be effective in treating conditions like Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The Flow tDCS headset uses this method to deal with depression from home, with a load of academic research saying it’s even more effective than antidepressants.

A related entry from the field of neurostimulation is the Feelzing Energy Patch, which you can wear behind your ear to send a different kind of mild electrical pulse to the brain to induce a feeling of calm and focus for increased productivity.

Health-as-a-Service – the friendly subscription

All the devices above are effective and based on scientific research. That said, some of these cost hundreds of pounds, which might prompt consideration of cheaper alternatives. That’s where subscription apps are stepping in to fill the gap.

Some of these are more about giving users tools for self-help. Meditation apps like Headspace give you a portable mental health practice, where you’re able to access both guided and unguided meditation sessions, plus advice from experienced practitioners on a range of meditation obstacles.

Other apps like Happify approach mental health from a gamification angle, with a series of science-backed activities to build mental resilience.

Or there’s Talkspace and Sanvello designed to aid mental health practitioners. They connect psychiatrists and counsellors with the right patients, who can fill out assessment forms for tailored online sessions that suit them.

Lastly, eMoods allows you to input data on your mood to build a report that you can send to a doctor to help them in appointments.

Revolutionising wellbeing

There’s no shortage of options offered by health technology, whether its innovative devices or easy-to-use apps. That said, this isn’t a sales pitch. Some of these will be more relevant than others based on the person. You might not require any of these to experience psychological contentment.

But given the range of tech on the market, and the potential investors see in the sector, there’ll always be something that helps. Last year saw record global investment in health technology, with all kinds of start-ups seeing billions in venture capital.

What’s more, governments are also contributing. For example, the UK is already investing £260 million in a range of new technologies to assist the NHS, which is hardly surprising given the drug concerns they’ve identified.

That’s one of the main benefits when investing in health tech over a drug dealer. You become less dependent on substances to feel better – even those getting high on their own supplies will envy that.

Drugs may have short-term benefits, but they also come with long-term harms. Meanwhile, health tech is all good.

Take a look at this blog for more examples of how health tech can help.

Shehroz Siddiqui