If you ask someone to share some tidbits from their experiences with psychedelics, apart from the spiritual whizzbangs, one of the first things they will mention is what they saw. ‘The walls were breathing!’, ‘I saw fractal patterns’, and, in extreme cases, ‘I looked upon the face of god!’ Even at very low ‘sub-perceptual’ amounts, such as when microdosing, people report colours appearing more vivid. Everything just seems generally more visually interesting.
Great! Sounds groovy — let’s get fractal!
All in good time buddy! Because we just got to wondering: if psychedelics like magic and mushrooms and truffles are such a visual experience — how does a person without sight encounter them?
What Is It Like For A Blind Person To Trip?
It’s a fascinating question, and one that has only recently started being looked into by scientists. But there is some research going on within the field. Ilsa Jerome is a clinical researcher for MAPS, herself visually impaired. Recently, she decided to try and answer the question of what a blind person might ‘see’, or otherwise, when under the influence of psychedelics.
Of course, it makes a vast difference whether the person was born totally blind, partially blind, or lost their sense of sight over time. For those who once had a form of sight, or still retain some, there will likely be a visual aspect. Jerome explains;
‘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…
She also describes a study from 1963, where 24 people without sight were administered LSD and reported
“…seeing spots, lights, dots, and flickers. Very few reported “complex” visual imagery—like faces or objects—or even colors. But these were eye researchers, not psychologists…Unfortunately, those researchers weren’t interested in the experience as a whole, which is too bad.”
So, as you can see, the research is for now, quite scant. However, Jerome is on the case! With the support of MAPS there are sure to be advancements in this area very soon.
But, of course, visually impaired people haven’t only been enjoying psychedelics when they’ve been given them in clinical trials by scientists. There is a pocket of anecdotal evidence, self reported by our blind psychonaut contingent. Platforms like Reddit have made it possible for people to share their experiences, and while individual experience cannot be used to make a definitive conclusion it helps to build an answer. No one’s psychedelic experience is ever the same anyway — whether blind or otherwise!
In a study published in 2018 by Consciousness and Cognition, the experiences of a man who had been born blind (so had no memory of sight to draw upon) were explored. The man in question was a 70 year old former rock musician, and referred to in the article as ‘Mr Blue Pentagon’ (after his preferred type of LSD). He shared the psychedelic experiences he had during his music career in the ‘70s. He stated;
“I never had any visual images come to me. I can’t see or imagine what light or dark might look like…”
A New Kind Of Synesthesia
However, ‘Mr Blue Pentagon’ did experience a strong form of synesthesia. Whereas people with sight often experience a synesthesia that involves the fusion of vision and sound (i.e. seeing music or hearing colours), the former rock musician enjoyed auditory and tactile hallucinations (i.e sound and touch). This gives a fascinating insight into the brain’s re-wiring methods when one sense is removed. It’s a long understood fact that when one sense is taken away, a person’s other senses can become heightened.
Mr Pentagon shared an example of this sound-touch phenomena;
“The music of Bach’s third Brandenburg concerto brought on the waterfall effect. I could hear violins playing in my soul and found myself having a one 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.”
Serotonin For Everyone!
The sensory mixings caused by psychedelics is dependent on the individual, it would seem. Mr Pentagon was a musician so perhaps he was extra attuned to the auditory sphere, as a sighted musician might be. Of course, more research needs to be done. But it is safe to say that psychedelics like magic mushrooms and truffles will have an effect for everyone. Because, as you know, the visual is hardly the only arena in which psychedelics shine. Whether you have 20/20 vision, are partially sighted or totally blind, we all have the serotonin receptors that really get going during your psychedelic trip. As Jerome explains;
“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…
…from what the research shows, the experience does not appear to be any more or less frightening or pleasant.”
Do you have any similar experiences? We’d love to know in the comments below!