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We conducted interviews to gain insight into what it’s like to smoke cannabis, eat mushrooms or drop acid when you’re completely or partially blind.
There are as many experiences of being high as there are individuals, and people’s physical differences can mean that they encounter a completely altered version of what another person sees.
For those with partial or total blindness, getting stoned can be a rather different experience than it is for those with full sight. Depending on the circumstances, this might mean no visuals at all or completely heightened ones.
“Even though my parents remember me interacting with the world visually for those first three years, I can’t remember any of it, which means to me things like light and color are purely abstract concepts. The first time I tried cannabis was in 2011 in a high school bathroom, much like any other teenage user, I’d expect. I actually didn’t really like it the first time I tried it, mostly because the people I smoked with weren’t ideal people to be around, so they enjoyed egging on the paranoia that’s already at an all-time high for a first-timer. The next time wasn’t until college with significantly better company, and I had the best time. I remember feeling this incredible sense of euphoria, of finding the funny in everything and feeling incredibly positive,” says Delgadillo.
For Delgadillo, the sensation of getting high is entirely physical:
“Sadly I’ve never gotten any sort of visual hallucinations, and that extends to my trying mushrooms and LSD also. My highs are purely bodily. […] I feel a kind of weightlessness from my chest down, like I’m almost floating. […] My muscles, which are usually pretty tense, relax and I feel looser.”
Using the psychedelics and hallucinogens, Delgadillo mentioned elicited a similar response,
“I feel a pretty extreme lightness [when stoned], but with these [drugs] the euphoria is even more intense. Everything suddenly seems to have equal urgency, and everything’s important and amazing and fantastic. I remember once taking a few tabs and then going to the grocery store and being so impressed by every aisle.”
Even without the visual effects, Delgadillo experienced a core element of taking psychedelics and hallucinogens—something that, while not necessarily ego death itself, plays with the borders of the sense of self. “Instead of hallucinations,” he says, “I guess my mind just opens up.”
Though not being able to see seems to turn Delgadillo’s focus inwards, it’s not necessarily always a positive experience:
“One of the pitfalls of doing drugs and not being able to see [is that] the paranoia gets exacerbated by the fact that you can’t see what’s going on around you. This [one] time [during a mushroom trip], for instance, I thought everyone at the pool party I was at was planning on drowning me.”
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His eyesight has been degenerating since he was 18, a year after he’d first tried weed and “got an immediate taste for it.” A side effect of his vision loss is photopsia, flashes of lights that are common in people with aura migraines or epilepsy. Greg explains that this “can be really trippy” and that his hallucinations can closely resemble the psychedelic visuals that people see in television and film tropes about pot. He says he
“Used to get [this] ‘60s hippy wash type of vision [solely while smoking] weed [or taking] acid. […] Now I get it all the time and smoking weed makes it more intense. [It’s like] those ‘60s films like Head, where you get a kaleidoscopic view of the world. […] Because of the gaps in my vision my brain is always trying to fill in the blind spots with guesses at what should be there. Mostly it’s just bursts of color, but sometimes it’s figures of people or animals (this is known as Charles Bonnet syndrome). It’s very similar to an acid trip with intense colors and shapes morphing into recognizable or grotesque ‘focus.’ […]
“With weed [unlike with acid,] I find I can always snap back into responsible mode if need be but […] I prefer the detachment that it gives me from the world around me. […] With sight loss it’s not so much how it alters your vision—it’s much more about how you interact with what’s going on. I find my hearing especially is able to focus on detail [such as music], clarifying and purifying my reaction to it. I’ve heard sighted friends say that they can get really into an activity […] when stoned. For me it’s music or writing… I can blot out the rest of what’s going on and give myself over to the pleasure of a single thing.”
Both Des and Greg see getting stoned as a therapeutic counterpart to an occasionally stressful daily experience. Greg explains,
“[The hallucinations] helps me be able to switch off to the torture of slowly being blinded by a disease that I can’t do anything about and that some days takes a small bit of vision and some days takes much more.”
Certainly, both of these experiences differ markedly from the typical sighted one. And the significance and value of these trips seem to be different as well: in a world of darkness or shrinking vision, these two men undeniably find some comfort in the lightness of being high.