A UCLA student created a “meth house” in the virtual world of Second Life in order to assist a study into how environmental cues factor into addiction.
Chris Culbertson, a doctoral student at the school, was inspired by “reports of alcoholics and smokers developing cravings while visiting virtual worlds devised by addiction researchers” according to Scientific American, and created his own adaptation. Once built, he invited 17 meth addicts to UCLA to try it out, measuring their heart rates and having them fill out questionnaires as they navigated the 3D space.
On the UCLA Experiential Technologies Center (ETC) website, the goal of the project was stated as attempting to “elicit cue-induced cravings for methamphetamine, which then may be manipulated using novel pharmacotherapies in an attempt to elucidate the underlying neurological mechanism involved in drug craving and relapse.”
Two environments were actually created, with a “clean” apartment (acting as the control) created in addition to the meth version. Visitors to the “meth apartment” are served up visual cues such as “pipes, lighters, bags of meth, syringes, lines of meth,” and audio clips, prompting them to “Click on the pipe if you want a hit.”
Again, the intent is to see if the virtual cues can introduce real cravings in a user. In science-speak, it’s hoped that the “cue-induced” cravings, might then be “manipulated using novel pharmacotherapies in an attempt to elucidate the underlying neurological mechanism involved in drug craving and relapse.”
The study is being conducted in a private section of Second Life, so don’t try to visit it.