You are getting very, very – VERY! – sleepy. In fact, you might even dream of being cut open by a team of surgeons and having a minor operation performed while you’re hypnotized.

If this sounds like a hokey act at a county fair, don’t be so quick to judge. Hypnosis could be the next big thing for common medical procedures on older patients suffering from ailments such as arthritis.

Instead of receiving general anesthesia intravenously, which can come with nasty side effects, patients in a new trial were found to react just as well to the much less invasive combination of local anesthesia and virtual reality hypnosis distraction (VRHD).

Announced June 1 at the European Society of Anaesthesiology annual meeting in Vienna, Austria, the study was conducted by doctors at the CUB Erasmus Hospital in Brussels.

It found VRHD — specifically, a calm virtual experience of traveling under the sea in a submarine guided by a soothing female voice — to be enough of an attention-getter that the patients reported low pain scores just like they do with general anesthesia.

However, there was one big difference: no negative side effects. While often used for everything from open-heart surgery to a tooth extraction, general anesthesia is not without significant downsides and all the risks of heavy drugs.

It could lead to addiction issues, memory loss or allergic reactions. Even in the best of cases, patients wake up feeling extremely groggy with possible headache and nausea.  

A calm, virtual experience is enough to get patients to report low pain scores.

Seniors and children are particularly prone to the side effects and stand the most to gain from an alternative like the one presented this month. Plus, patients get to cross submarine travel off their bucket lists!

“Virtual reality hypnosis distraction is feasible, well tolerated, and liked by patients,” said study co-leader Dr. Delphine Van Hecke from CUB Erasmus Hospital, Brussels, in a press release. “While it is not clear exactly how virtual reality works to reduce anxiety and pain, it’s thought that it creates a distraction that stops the mind feeling pain.

“Further studies should focus on other procedures suited for the use of VRHD, particularly its potential benefit in children as premedication or during low pain procedures.”

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