A double tragedy has sent a Western University graduate on a journey to research how states of consciousness can be combined with technology to treat trauma.
Londoner Heather Hargraves is the lead scientist on a project by Divergence NeuroTechnologies Inc. that will help clinicians make the best use of psychedelic medicine while treating patients for trauma.
Hargraves, who graduated from Western in 2017 with a master’s degree in psychology, returned to school in 2011 seeking answers as to why and how yoga and meditation helped her work through her own trauma.
On Dec. 31, 2000, Hargraves, then 21, barely survived a life-altering car crash that ultimately required six surgeries. After eight months off school, she returned to study philosophy.
A few weeks after she graduated in June 2004, her brother Stephen died in a car crash, spinning her into a state of deep trauma.
Hargraves used yoga, reflexology and meditation as part of her recovery strategy. She even lived in an ashram in India for three months. She eventually became a yoga and meditation instructor, but didn’t really understand the science behind how the experience helped people process trauma.
“When my brother passed away, it was a hard thing to recover from,” she said. “When I started doing yoga and meditation, I . . . was feeling better. It was really helping me. I became very curious about how it helped. I wanted to understand more about the neuro-anatomy changes that I was experiencing.”
Returning to Western in 2011to study psychology, Hargraves learned about the process of healing from trauma.
“They were looking at everything from meditation to disassociation to various altered states,” she said. “I felt like my grief had been rewired from the trauma. (At Western) it was the first time I heard someone say the brain can get rewired from stress and we can use technology to help rewire it back.”
Now a specialist in neuro- and biofeedback technologies for retraining the brain, Hargraves is interested in various states of consciousness caused by meditation and psychedelic medications such as DMT. ketamine and psilocybin..
Part of that work is developing an app that will track data from an EEG, a test that detects electrical activity in the brain. The app is expected to be released in the spring.
The software will use machine learning and artificial intelligence to guide drug dosages during psychedelic therapy sessions.
“It’s always been my platform that we can use technology to help access, support, prepare and integrate people around psychedelic experiences,” Hargraves said. The depth of someone’s psychedelic experience is “not something someone can easily share or tell,” she said.
The Londoner is partnering with Toronto-based Entheon Biomedical Corp., which has been working to develop psychedelic therapies to treat addiction.
When I started doing yoga and meditation, I . . . was feeling better. It was really helping me. I became very curious about how it helped. I wanted to understand more about the neuro-anatomy changes that I was experiencing.
The new app will ultimately be used to guide dosages so that patients interested in psychedelic therapies won’t have to worry about having a negative experience, Hargraves said.
“This a clinical tool to enhance clinical assessment and feedback for clients,” she said.