What would someone who is blind experience when under the effects of LSD?
April 7, 2009 7:19 PM   Subscribe

What would someone who is blind experience when under the effects of LSD?
posted by peregrine81 to Science & Nature (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Awesome question. But would someone who is blind (particularly from birth) be able to effectively convey their LSD experience to a non-blind person?
posted by madh at 7:35 PM on April 7, 2009

- This forum post has a description from a blind woman.
- The Guardian's notes and queries has two secondhand anecdotes - the replies from Wiltshire and Rialto.
posted by Xere at 7:46 PM on April 7, 2009

I would say that the LSD exerience involves soooooo much more than the visual. If you're only curious with the visual effects (if any) for a blind person, I believe it would depend on why they were blind- eye problem or brain (visual cortex) problem.
posted by thatguyryan at 7:49 PM on April 7, 2009

Seconding thatguyryan, I'd say your question is similar to asking "What would someone who is blind experience when reading?" The answer is that it depends on what they are reading.

Someone who doesn't know how to read may think that reading is all about the shapes of the letters, that differences in fonts and type sizes would be really cool to focus on. And it's true, when tripping, that things like colors and trails are fun. But that's really not ultimately the main event.
posted by alms at 8:14 PM on April 7, 2009

I think they must be able to benefit from the wonderful closed eye visuals that you get.
posted by tumples at 8:25 PM on April 7, 2009

What a fascinating question. My trips (I've had my share) were always very psychological and the visual was always secondary, almost like an afterthought. I agree that the biggest obsticle would be the blind person conveying their trip, but I can't wait to hear more about this.
posted by Lullen at 8:26 PM on April 7, 2009

You could ask Stevie Wonder about conveying a blind man's trip. I don't know what drugs he's dabbled with, but Inner Visions and Talking Book are very psychedelic albums and I would be shocked if he hadn't taken LSD during the time he was working on them.
posted by BinGregory at 9:02 PM on April 7, 2009

I think they must be able to benefit from the wonderful closed eye visuals that you get.

Why, exactly? It would seem intuitive that if their visual cortex is fried, they likely will not experience light. This could be from birth, or from years and years of not having workable eyes causing their brain to reallocate that space to other tasks.
posted by floam at 9:05 PM on April 7, 2009

Great question, since my trips traditionally had at least a mild synthaesthesia experience, I wonder how would that miswiring of senses be different if I was missing one sense I currently take for granted.
posted by Jezztek at 9:09 PM on April 7, 2009

Go to Erowid, read the trip reports here: https://erowid.org/experiences/subs/exp_LSD.shtml

And then, just disregard all the visual content - which is a usually a very small component of most people's trip. I know a number of people who just don't get 'visuals' that strongly.
It'd be like asking "What is being stoned like, except if you didn't have the munchies?"

For myself.
When seeing things, my brain goes pattern matching-mad, and I see patterns that I didn't before, and which often aren't there.
When I'm thinking, I also go pattern matching-mad, and I see patterns that I didn't before in how I relate to the world, how the world works etc, some which may not be important.

With visuals - random concrete appears to have a fractal design etc.
I just assumed that, like with optical illusions, part of the issue is that I'm seeing how my brain is 'fudging' complex patterns - the leaves of that tree in the background is just being filled in as a fractal pattern, when I'm not directly staring at it, and I can see that even in things I directly stare at if I want to. I imagine this is a product of sight being very processor intensive, and that we do 'fudge it' a lot, so a number of these effects don't translate very well to other senses, as given by the tendency to be far more fascinated by optical illusions than say, auditory illusions.
I can also vividly daydream/imagine images until they actually 'appear'.

I've seen others imagine events, or see patterns that aren't really there (there's a plot etc - because here is the very unlikely pattern that would make it so).

Mostly, I'm more aware of where I'm 'fudging it' in my thinking and emotional reactions - I'm usually blind to all the places where I'm taking a shortcut in my thinking that seems logical, or is one I've had in place since I was a child, and sometimes I slow right down, and see the 'fudging' my brain is doing. Realising where I'm assuming that D+E=F, when that hasn't been true for years now. I slow right down, and become an 'observer' of my thoughts, just like I was an 'observer' of how I perceive my visual field.

I'm more aware of the emotional content of my thoughts - eg, realising there's a certain issue that I have a fear response to, when I didn't realise I was afraid of it before. My emotional reaction is magnified, which is good in my case, as it allows me to examine it more closely.
posted by Elysum at 10:14 PM on April 7, 2009

Ah, and it summarises a study within this report -

"Because hallucinations and illusions were reported only when ERG and dark adaptation changes occurred, a possible primary retinal role has been considered in the etiology of LSD hallucinations.
To test this, Krill, et al. (25), did a double-blind controlled test with 24 blind subjects. Thirteen of 24 subjects including some with bilateral enucleations reported visual hallucinations with LSD, making it evident that a normal retina is not needed for visual hallucinations to be produced by hallucinogenic drugs. The ERG in 2 blind subjects with total optic atrophy was similar to those seen in normals with LSD but these blind subjects did not have hallucinations. Hallucinations occurred in blind subjects reporting prior spontaneous visual activity. (Two previous uncontrolled studies(27,28) had reported visual hallucinations in blind subjects on hallucinogenic drugs while one study(29) reported no visual hallucinations produced in 2 subjects with bilateral optic atrophy.) It was concluded that LSD hallucinations can occur without a functioning retina and that LSD causes independent retinal and higher visual pathway effects. That the visual system must be at a minimum functioning level is evidenced by the fact that some spontaneous visual activity must be present for hallucinations to occur.

So visual hallucinations only happened in blind subjects who didn't have total optic atrophy, but could even if they no longer had retinas etc.
posted by Elysum at 10:36 PM on April 7, 2009

Fascinating question, fantastic responses.

Psychedelics can be used quite constructively to access states of mind/perceptions which are not normally within reach. I what effect psychedelics would have on someone like this man?

It could end in a pretty rough come-down.
posted by BadMiker at 4:53 AM on April 8, 2009

interesting question... as others have noted, it would depend upon the individual's condition & history - for instance, folks who have suffered some form of optic degeneration can be prone to hallucinations (see Charles Bonnet Syndrome) - however, someone who has been blind since birth is a different story

one possible path to this answer might be to look into what what a blind person experiences when they dream... check out this study: The dreams of blind men and women

my experiences with LSD have always had a strong visual component, but there was one notable exception: at the beginning of it i sat down in a dark room, closed my eyes, and listened to music with headphones - when the music was done i turned on the light, fully expecting to see all the familiar trails and swirls - and saw nothing other than my desk and lamp, solid and dull

i then spent the rest of the night experiencing incredibly intense auditory hallucinations (and virtually no visual ones) - it gave me a very different appreciation of what the drug can do

i think this is why researchers emphasize the importance of set and setting in the LSD experience - LSD doesn't so much add anything as it alters what's already there - what it's working with is where you are and what your mindset is going into it - the fact that a person blind from birth has little or no visual experience in their life probably simply means that their trip, as others have noted, will be experienced via their other senses - at least the sensory aspect of the trip - as for the psychological, that's a whole other story - i think it's a challenge for anyone to communicate that part of it
posted by jammy at 5:38 AM on April 8, 2009

I'll just point out that "blind" is a blanket term covering a large number of vision disorders. A friend who spent a large chunk of his childhood in schools for the blind used the phrase, "blinks, bats and blurs" to describe people who had problems processing vision, people with no vision, and people with severely reduced vision. Someone with severe glaucoma has a very different type of blindness compared to someone whose optic nerves never properly developed.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:38 AM on April 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recall some extremely powerful "visual" effects while tripping with my eyes closed. I recall them being very electric/organic in a "watching synapses firing" sort of way.
I suspect that the brain of a blind person could very possibly "see" visuals. Depending on the actual reason for the blindness, of course, as others have pointed out.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:37 AM on April 8, 2009

Very few people get true hallucinations on LSD -- it's more like distortion. So I would expect a blind person would experience the same; distortions of whatever visuals they experience as a blind person.

I'd be more interested in knowing what a blind-from-birth person experiences on a drug like DMT... although I would guess there'd be no context to explain it.
posted by glider at 9:14 AM on April 8, 2009

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