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Picture this: you have chronic lower back pain, but getting hooked on painkillers is not an option. Still, the discomfort is bad enough to interfere with your daily life. So, you make a doctor’s appointment. After your doc performs an exam and picks through your medical history, she surprises you: She hands you a prescription for a meditation regimen that you can access through an app on your phone. The app will dispense your daily treatment by way of specific, pain-reducing meditation techniques that will ease your discomfort.
This is the future Headspace Health is painting as they seek FDA-approval for a medical app, which is primed to change the role meditation plays in the American health landscape.
What Is Headspace?
You might know Headspace as one of several wellness apps that’s already helping people find inner calm. Since 2010, Headspace has grown to 1 million paying subscribers—plus many more log on for free. Based on that success—and a ton of scientific studies that confirm meditation’s ability to treat conditions ranging from nicotine addiction to IBS—the company’s founders are taking their app to the healthcare space.
The new service, called Headspace Health, will will tailor meditation to unique conditions and individual patient needs. The company will be adding even more data to that pool of meditation research, with plans for more than 65 evidence-based research studies analyzing meditation’s effects on ailments from asthma to cancer to sleep disorders.
Getting FDA Approval for Headspace
Obtaining FDA approval will involve further clinical trials in conjunction with research partners like Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon, and Kaiser Permanente, which will help nail down exactly how much (and what types of) meditation are most effective and for which conditions. If the FDA goes for it, you could find yourself with a meditation prescription by 2020 (not to mention a little more room in your medicine cabinet).
“Over the past few years, we’ve been increasingly expanding our scientific research pipeline,” says Jones Bell, the chief science officer at Headspace. “Given the promising results we’ve seen, the next logical step was to invest in the healthcare space.”
The original Headspace wellness app already claims 30 million users worldwide, equal to a little less than 10 percent of the 2018 U.S. population. Meanwhile, 16 percent of the U.S. population takes psychiatric drugs—mainly, antidepressants—and 103 million U.S. adults have high blood pressure. Studies by the National Institute of Health indicate that both those conditions, along with several others, can be treated with meditation.
Meditation and Holistic Healthcare
This equals big potential for patients wanting holistic healthcare, and for docs who practice integrative medicine. Headspace Health will be a virtual pharmacist dispensing mindfulness medicine, which will make it even simpler for patients to access the powerful practice of meditation, whether they’re looking to treat acute IBS or lose a few pounds gained from stress eating.
Some docs, like Tennessee physician Matthew McClanahan, are already deeply familiar with the app’s potential: “I know of no better tool than mindfulness and meditation to cultivate critically important inner qualities with such far reaching physiological effects.”
Fortunately, you don’t have to wait until 2020 to give meditation a try. The FDA might not have approved prescription meditation yet, but with Headspace’s huge library of offerings on a variety of themes, you can start meditating now.
See also The Dark Side of Meditation