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UCLA Researchers Use 'Second Life' to Study Meth Addiction

virtual meth house on second life
Addiction researchers at UCLA have designed a virtual meth house in 'Second Life' as part of a study looking at the triggers of addictive response. In studies like these, real addicts are often shown images or videos of drug paraphernalia or other people using, so that doctors can measure their physical and emotional responses to those cues. Second Life was chosen because it's ostensibly more immersive than a TV screen, allowing the users to virtually smoke a pipeful of methamphetamine without, of course, actually giving them the drug.

Based on descriptions of drug dens from drug users, neuroscience Ph.D. student Christopher Culbertson and designer Itay Zaharovits created a meth house filled with pipes, syringes, and other virtual Second Lifers using. As a control, they also created a "clean apartment" where participants in the study could virtually relax without any visual temptations, according to CNET.

The study involved 17 volunteer meth addicts who weren't seeking treatment. Researchers placed each addict into a room with only a monitor, video game controller and surround-sound system. There, the subjects were guided through the virtual meth house, the virtual "clean" room, a meth-craving-inducing film and a neutral film. In the Second Life meth house, users could use the virtual drugs if they wished, and then report their level of craving, as the researchers monitored their heart rates throughout.

According to the study, both high- and low-craving users' heart rate variations were more pronounced during the exposure to the virtual house, in comparison to the standard video. So virtual environments may be more helpful than video for inducing drug cravings and examining the physiological response to them. Too bad that toking on the virtual pipes didn't help sate the craving, too.

Tags: addiction, AddictionResearch, ChristopherCulbertson, drugs, gaming, ItayZaharovits, meth, methamphetamine, research, science, SecondLife, study, top, ucla, web