Can blind people have visuals on psychedelics?

The first thing we think about when mentioning psychedelics is maybe flying dragons, machine elves, lizard people, kaleidoscopes, or any other sort of visual malformation and hallucinations.  Even those who have never tried a psychedelic compound will likely describe it to you as a substance that will make you see several forms, entities, pretty colors, or cartoons!

You’ve probably read thousands of reports online of people claiming to meet DMT entities, seeing kaleidoscopes and weird figures after taking a tab of LSD, or even seeing a jaguar people figure in the Amazon after taking Ayahuasca with an indigenous shaman.




But have you ever wondered how someone visually impaired would perceive these effects? Do they still hallucinate? 

Our first thought would be “Well, probably not, considering they cannot perceive an image. Hence, all visual data given by hallucinogens wouldn’t be noticeable.” 

A few years ago, I would probably agree with this statement until I crossed paths with the work of Professor Paul Bach-y-Rita and his concept of sensory substitution.

The work of Bach-y-Rita in psychedelic research is often belittled, and I could count on my hand if I were to ask people if they had heard about Bach-y-Rita or his work.

Despite being known as the father of sensory substitution, Bach-y-Rita was one of the first people to take the concept of neuroplasticity seriously. He was, in fact, an avid believer that our brain could adapt and could change after we lost one sense, for example. Thus, he set sail to understand and study the concept of sensory substitution. Maybe after losing one sense, for example, losing our vision, our brain could adapt, and we could still “see” using other senses that we still had available.




This train of thought led him to one of his many creations, a chair that would allow blind people to see. To the reader, this concept might sound crazy. A chair that makes blind people see?

However, it’s not that out of reality. Visually impaired people still appreciate reading or art by using their touch, and auditory impaired people still like to listen to music by feeling its vibrations. Vibrations were what Bach-y-Rita focused on. For this reason, he used a bank of four hundred vibrating plates resting against the back of a blind patient. These plates would vibrate in connection with a camera placed above the chair, pointing forward. Depending on the patterns of stimulation coming from the camera, it enabled the patient to “see” and helped them to be able to recognize an object coming towards the camera.


Bach-y-Rita’s tactile vision substitution system to treat blindness.


Using the same train of thought, what if instead of having visual hallucinations, visually impaired people could feel these effects by other senses when consuming DMT or LSD, for example, or what if auditory impaired people could feel the auditory hallucinations of DiPT with non-related senses, an effect of synesthesia* perhaps.

In 2018, Sara Dell’Erba, David J Brown, and Michael J Proulx published an interesting case report in the International Journal of Consciousness and Cognition.

The researchers studied a particular case of an ex-rock singer by the pseudonym Mr.Blue Pentagon (BP for short), inspired by the type of LSD Blue Pentagon that he used to take during the 70s.


BP has permanent congenital blindness caused by problems during his birth. BP described his experience with psychedelics as:

“I started taking drugs at a very young age, but the one I felt the most connected with,  apart from cannabis, was called ‘Blue Pentagon’, basically LSD! Every time I did acid, I  experienced something new and spectacular. Obviously through the senses which are available to me! I never had any visual images come to me. I can’t see or imagine what light or dark might look like. With LSD and cannabis though, I experienced so much  through my hearing, touch, and emotions that it was already enough for me to take!”


While under the effect of psychedelics, BP would describe his sensory awareness and connection to emotion as being significantly heightened. He felt drawn towards playing with his voice, often calling out loud with strange voices and personas:

“There was a marked difference between hallucinations and dreaming. On acid, I  definitely knew that I was awake, although in unfamiliar territory: not like dreaming.  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 synaesthesia. 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 voice. I remember they sounded extremely unique! LSD gave everything ‘height’. The sounds coming from songs I  would normally listen to become three-dimensional, deep, and delayed. It seemed that music began coming apart and unraveling. My favorite track began to echo in my mind as if my brain would hear the music played in the present, but while still hanging on to what I  had heard a second before. It was like a tape loop that kept on echoing. This led me to look within and I became more aware of myself and the understanding of life, of people, and the music I was listening to. I felt like my brain was overloaded with information and I could not take all of it in at once! On one of my trips, I remember finding myself touching a tree,  on the way to my friend’s house. This felt amazing! Just like a tree from the forest, or the jungle. Walking that day felt almost as if I wasn’t heavy on land and I was racing at such  a tremendous speed that it felt like I was actually flying.”


When variations such as music enter the experience, BP suggested that the experience was almost tactile, with somatosensory sensations from the auditory experience of the 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.”


When listening to human voices under the influence of LSD, he described them as distorted and difficult to make sense of the words spoken. He felt like he lost the ability to comprehend and formulate language, a temporary episode of sensory aphasia.

“Because I have no visual mental imagery through which I can speak, I perceive things in the senses I possess. In 1971, at a party, I remember being able to hear every individual word of what people were saying, but not understanding their meanings. This was quite a frightening experience as I could recognize language and therefore know that they were speaking in English, but it did not make any sense to me. Almost as if I unconsciously forgot  it.”


As for tactile experiences, BP described them as the following:

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 realize. 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.”


BP also described a distorted perception of time:

“I often felt it took me so long to do certain things, it was like LSD also made time last longer. I know it is not scientifically possible to stretch time, but that’s what it felt like.  Once I was with an ex-girlfriend of mine and just after taking LSD, the time we spent  together absolutely never ended!”


BP also shared his thoughts on the long usage of LSD and how the compound affected him:

“I realized that the drug often altered the way I thought about things, as I had much deeper thoughts. My dreams have always been very vivid in the past, but when I was under the influence of LSD, I would occasionally find myself dreaming in prose. I‘m unable to use my visual imagination and therefore whenever I dream of something, places are not important and I rarely know where I am. The only things I remember are the sounds and the events happening in the dream. When I took LSD, I couldn’t always sleep, but if I did my dreams would be extremely detailed, sometimes even in very wordy Shakespearian language, often lasting longer than my normal dreams.”


BP’s experience only tells us about the potential role of synesthesia in patients with congenital blindness, but one specific study by Ring and Cooper in 2008. The team interviewed congenitally blind people to describe near-death experiences, and surprisingly, two-thirds of the 14 congenitally blind participants reported having seen visual percepts.



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Such reports lead us to one of Paul Bach-y-Rita’s famous quotes and beliefs.

We see with our brains, not our eyes.


Additionally, it is to be noted that there is still a lot we don’t know regarding psychedelic-induced visual hallucinations in individuals who have lost their vision due to recent trauma or lesion, perhaps, if the brain once had the capability of seeing, it could replicate the experience of generating visual information, and the same with auditory impairments, the brain would be able to recreate auditory data if it had access to such data previously.

Currently, one of the only research directed towards the subject of the origination of hallucinations and studies between the connection of psychedelics and the eye are the studies being done at Maastricht University by Zeus Tipado (Read more about Zeus studies here!) If you are visually impaired, or know someone visually impaired and would like to participate in research regarding psychedelics try to reach out and make history!




*Synesthesia is a phenomenon that causes sensory crossovers, such as tasting colors or feeling sounds. Some people describe it as having “wires crossed” in their brain because it activates two or more senses when there’s only a reason for one sense to activate.

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