In order to discuss the similarities between virtual reality simulations and the effects of narcotics, it is important to first understand the distinction between drugs and narcotics, the latter being the category specified in the question. As the attached eNotes document on “Drugs and Narcotics” notes, there is a fundamental distinction between the two, with narcotics defined as substances that dull the senses and are highly addictive. Narcotics can be considered to be stimulating, also, but drugs, as opposed to narcotics, are more analogous to virtual reality, as commonly accepted definitions of “drugs” state that they “can affect a human’s or animal’s biological and neurological states,” and psychoactive drugs,
“which alter the mind or behavior. Some psychoactive substances produce psychological highs or lows according to whether they are stimulants or depressants, respectively. Others, called hallucinogens, produce psychedelic states of consciousness; lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and mescaline are examples of such drugs.” [www.legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Drugs+and+Narcotics]
In any event, for purposes of discussion and clarity, legal distinction between “drugs” and “narcotics” will be blurred.
Virtual reality, of course, refers to computer-simulated locations or situations that are artificially created for the purpose of placing the individual(s) in an environment other than the immediate real world in which the individual(s) is situated. That artificial environment can be the cockpit of an aircraft, the bridge of a ship, a foreign locale, or the surface of the moon. The key characteristic of virtual reality, though, is the simulation of alternative environment. As one British organization defines it, virtual reality is “a three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person.” [www.vr.org.uk/virtual-reality/what-is-virtual-reality.html]
Just as virtual reality is used to transfer an individual’s presence from his or her actual reality to an artificial one, so are drugs used to replace one’s reality with an alternative version. Albert Hoffman, the Swiss chemist who “discovered” LSD during the 1930s, and experimented with its use himself, described the transformative effects as like being in a “dreamlike state” in which he “perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.” [Quoted in Shana Freeman, “How LSD Works,” www.science.howstuffworks.com/lsd1.htm] How that compares to virtual reality is dependent upon how virtual reality is used. Its most common uses are to transfer an individual to another location or activity, generally remaining close to reality. In other words, virtual reality is just that: reality. The effects of drugs and narcotics, on the hand, are distortive of reality; they are used to escape reality and transfer the individual’s subconscious to an unreal world. To the extent that virtual reality is used to simulate a fictitious or imaginary world, than it would be similar to the effects of drugs and narcotics. To the extent computer simulated environments are restricted to the depiction of actual existing environments, then they are dissimilar.