How do blind people experience psychedelic drugs? This is the topic of an interesting, but unusual, paper just out in Consciousness and Cognition.
The paper’s authors are University of Bath researchers Sara Dell’Erba, David J.Brown, and Michael J.Proulx. However, the real star contributor is a man referred to only as “Mr Blue Pentagon.”
Blue Pentagon (“BP”) is the pseudonym for a 70 year old blind man who reports taking large quantities of LSD and other drugs during his career as a rock musician in the 1970s. (“Blue Pentagon” was his favorite brand of LSD.)
How the researchers came to meet BP is not stated.
Much of the paper consists of BP’s accounts of his experiences under the influence of hallucinogens, and this is what makes the article rather unusual, as parts are more reminiscent of a late-night conversation than an academic paper.
For instance, here’s how BP describes the impact of LSD on the perception of music:
During my psychedelic experiences, whenever I listened to music, I felt as if I was immersed in the most beautiful waterfall ever. The episode of the waterfall was the nearest I ever came to experiencing anything like synesthesia.
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. I remember they sounded extremely unique! LSD gave everything ‘height’ … The waterfall experience was limited to one specific piece of music: Bach’s Brandenburg concerto number 3. It was almost tactile, but it was so outside my normal parameters of experience that it was the only way I could express it.
BP goes on to discuss trippy tactile experiences:
I felt like I was in a fairyland, in a surreal reality where everything I touched was extremely velvety, almost as if it had a very soft patina on top. Sometimes I could not clench my hands as tight as I wanted to, or maybe I did and did not realise.
Once I took acid and marijuana at the same time and I wanted to feel everyone’s faces so that I could tell each person what I thought of them just by touching their faces. It was a very strange experience as their skin felt so soft, but their eyes, noses and mouths were in some way distorted.
One thing BP says he never experienced were visual hallucinations. Notably, he was born blind, and had never experienced sight in his life.
Dell’Erba say that this is the first qualitative account of LSD experiences in a congenitally blind individual. The lack of visual hallucinations in such cases has, however, been reported previously.
The authors also emphasize the synaesthesia-like nature of some of BP’s reports, notably the Bach-waterfall experience quoted above, which they say could be described as auditory-tactile synaesthesia, albeit the experience may have gone beyond these two senses: “BP … could only make reference to the non-auditory aspect of the musical experience by describing it in tactile terms”
At the end of the day, then, it sounds like ‘you had to be there’ in order to know what it was like for BP to take LSD.