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Eye Health

20 September 2018

What do blind people see when they take LSD?

Taking LSD has been known to stimulate 'out of this world' visual and audio experiences. But how does taking LSD affect those who are visually impaired?

Acid, blotters, Lucy in the sky with diamonds, these are just a few street names for the psychedelic drug LSD.

LSD, short for Lysergic acid diethylamide, has been around since it was first synthesised in 1938 by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann.

The drug was initially used to treat respiratory depression. However, the counterculture of the 1960s started using the drug for recreational purposes, thus changing the market for the drug.

Ingesting LSD leads to the production of excess serotonin in the brain. This leads to an over-stimulation of the organ, which results in the user experiencing hallucinations, the blending of senses, and changes to their attention span, thought processes and emotions.

Hallucinations are the most common occurrence in users. But how does LSD affect those who are visually impaired? Researchers were recently given an in-depth account on the effects of LSD on a congenital blind man.

Seeing is believing 

The study subject goes by the name of "Mr Blue Pentagon", the name deriving from the subject’s favourite strain of LSD. Mr Blue Pentagon’s LSD "trip" did not occur under research conditions, but in the 1970s during his years as a musician.

Pentagon was born blind and has had no vision throughout his life. Taking LSD had no visual effects in his case. "I never had any visual images come to me. I can't see or imagine what light or dark might look like," recalls Pentagon in the research paper.

So how did the LSD affect him? “The music of Bach's third Brandenburg concerto brought on this waterfall effect. I could hear violins playing in my soul and found myself having an hour-long monologue using different tones of voices… LSD gave everything 'height'. The sounds coming from songs I would normally listen to became three dimensional, deep and delayed,” notes Pentagon.

There’s not much literature dedicated to the study of the effects of LSD on visually impaired people. The last study to be conducted before the examination of Pentagon’s account occurred in 1963. This study, however, focused on finding out the role of a functioning retina when a person is under the influence of LSD.

The reality

In an interview with Tonic, Dr Ilsa Jerome, a clinical researcher for the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), stated that, “Classic psychedelics produce the same changes in mood – they greatly intensify positive and negative feelings – and perception and sense of self as they do in people who aren't blind. The difference, as you might expect, is that people who are blind report seeing less complex imagery than people who aren't blind. They also report a greater number of auditory, tactile and somatic (body-related) sensations, perhaps due to their already heightened sense of touch and hearing.”

Being visually impaired herself, Dr Jerome sheds some light of the effects LSD has on partially blind people, “[Partially blind] people who report seeing more clearly may be doing so because the psychedelics make them draw more fully on their visual memory and past experiences. But psychedelics also increase the perceived importance of experiences. So, it might be the case that people with visual impairments who report seeing more clearly are being influenced by the intensity and significance of the experience, but not its actual clarity.”

Image credit: iStock

 

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Optometrist

Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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