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Myth Debunking
LSD Users Stare at the Sun Until Blind
by Snopes
v1.1 (first published 1994)
From the Hyperreal Drug Archives
Citation:   Snopes. "Urban Folklore: LSD Users Stare at the Sun Until Blind". Erowid.org. 1994; erowid.org/chemicals/lsd/lsd_myth6.shtml
[Erowid Note: While stories of eye damage resulting from LSD use probably outnumber actual incidents by a signficant factor, David Nichols cites two documented cases of eye damage resulting from staring at the sun under the influence of LSD reported in peer-reviewed journals. They are Schatz & Mendelblatt, 1973, and Fuller, 1976.

Psychedelics cause pupil dilation and reduced pupilary contraction responses in addition to changed responses to pain and day dreaming-like slow reactions. Those on LSD and other psychedelics should consider eye protection if outside in bright sunlight in highly reflective situations (boating, playing in the water, snow) to protect the eyes from ultra violet radiation.]

Snopes has an updated version of their debunking of this story http://www.snopes.com/horrors/drugs/lsdsun.asp
From: snopes@netcom.com (snopes)
Date: Fri, 14 Oct 1994 17:31:03 GMT
Newsgroups: alt.folklore.urban,alt.drugs
Subject: LSD users stare at sun until blinded UL

    Responding quickly to a tip offered me two months ago by the keen-
memoried Mr. Phil Gustafson, I headed out to the library last weekend with my
lovely and eager research assistant in hand to dig up some dope on the "LSD
users stare at the sun until blind" UL. 

    Eschewing my usual method of sitting amidst dusty stacks of magazines
and reading every page of each issue until turning up some interesting
tidbits through blind luck, my assistant brazenly reached for the bound
indices I had already sworn didn't exist and quickly flipped to the 'LSD'
subject heading.  After this awkward but propitious beginning (and the
heartbreak of finding a few badly-needed pages torn out of their volumes), 
we soon located some useful information, vintage 1967.

    First up was a blurb which _The New York Times_ picked up from the
Associated Press:

----------------------------------------------------------------------
_The New York Times_  May 19, 1967

    Four Students Under LSD
      Hurt Eyes by Sun-Gazing

  SANTA BARBARA, Calif. May 18 (AP) -
The vision of four users of LSD has been
impaired for life because they stared at
the sun while under the drug's influence,
a spokesman for the Santa Barbara Opthal-
mological Society said today.
  The spokesman said the sungazing resulted
in the burning of the macula, a small part
of the cornea, and caused total loss of
reading vision.
  Four students at the University of Cali-
fornia campus here and a City College stu-
dent reportedly sought treatment for eye
injuries and said they stared at the sun
while under the influence of the hallucin-
atory drug.  Damage to the fifth student's 
eyes was reported not serious.
  One student said he was "holding a 
religious conversation with the sun."  
Another said he had gazed at the sun "to 
produce visual displays."
----------------------------------------------------------------------

   Not much useful information here -- just a date, a place, and a 
basic story, but no names or other confirmatory information.  Since 
this story was apparently a Southern California phenomenon, we turned
to the _Los Angeles Times_ for the same day.  They had a much more
detailed version of the story, which they had covered themselves rather
than picking up from the wire version:

----------------------------------------------------------------------
_Los Angeles Times_  May 19, 1967

    Four LSD Users Suffer Serious Eye Damage

    (Exclusive to The Times from a Staff Writer)

  SANTA BARBARA -- Four college students have
suffered permanent impairment of vision as a
result of staring at the sun while under the
influence of LSD, according to a spokesman for
the Santa Barbara Ophthalmological Society.
  One of the youths told his doctor he was
"holding a religious conversation with the sun."
  Another said he had gazed at the sun "to 
produce unusual visual displays."
  The students, all males, suffered damage to
the retina, the sensory membrane which receives
the image formed by the lens.
  In the same way that a piece of paper will burn
when bright light is beamed through a magnifying
glass, a pinhead-size hole was burned into the
retina of each eye of the students as sunlight
passed through the lens.
  What this has left the students with is not
total blindness but a blind spot in the center
of their vision.
  As a result, the victims have lost their
reading vision completely and forever, the
ophthalmological spokesman said.
  "For example, if you wanted to read," he said,
"you might see all of the corners of the page
and most of the print -- except you wouldn't be
able to see that one word you were looking at.
  "If you were to look at a traffic stoplight,
you might see the pole and trees and cars --
but you wouldn't see the stoplight itself.
  "That little black hole always moves directly
where you want to see," he said.
  Solar burns of the retina, the spokesman said,
are not uncommon, particularly among children
watching eclipses of the sun.  But he knew of no
previous cases which resulted from someone being
under the influence of LSD.
  In the cases here, the victims admitted they 
were users of LSD.
  Three of them attend UC Santa Barbara, the
other goes to Santa Barbara City College.  Their
ages range from 18 to 24.
  The spokesman said it was his impression that
each of the sun-staring incidents occurred 
separately.  He did not know whether the students
knew each other.
  The four had no awareness of pain or discomfort
while the sun was burning through the eye tissue,
the spokesman said.  The damage is permanent,
because tissue so damaged does not regenerate
itself.
----------------------------------------------------------------------

   By now there should be a three-shergold UL alarm going off in the
firehouse of your mind.  Nowhere in this entire article is a single name
mentioned: the reporter is unidentified ("a Staff Writer"), the information-
providing "spokesman" is anonymous, none of the students' names is given, nor
is there any mention of the doctor(s) who presumably treated the alleged
"victims".  All the details of this article are provided by a single source
-- the unnamed "spokesman for the Santa Barbara Ophthalmological Society". 
We have typically bizarre quotes given to the doctors by the students (e.g.,
"I was holding a religious conversation with the sun"), yet nary a word from
any of the doctors themselves.  This story is already starting to smell like
a hoax.

   Sure enough, _Time_ magazine picks up the tale in their next issue, 
lumping it in with some other standard LSD horror stories:
  
----------------------------------------------------------------------
_Time_  May 26, 1967

    More Bad Trips on LSD

  Irresponsible users of LSD in Southern
California, already noted for having tested,
with fatal results, the notion that they can
fly from tall buildings, last week added more
dangers to the list of the drug's effects:

  o In Los Angeles, a machinist, aged 29, was
  charged with "driving under the influence of
  LSD" after police said he had run through a
  red light, injured a woman and her daughter
  in another car.  He later told police he
  remembered nothing about it.

  o At the wheel of a speeding, careening
  truck in downtown Los Angeles, police said
  they found a driver "naked and incoherent"
  on LSD.  He insisted he remembered nothing
  about the trip.

  o Four Santa Barbara college students lost
  most of their reading vision by looking
  straight at the sun.  Under LSD they could
  do this for three or four minutes, hardly
  squinting and feeling no pain, so their
  eyes were wide open to the sun's infra-red
  rays, and the macula, the point of clearest
  vision in the retina, was badly burned.  
  There is no effective treatment.  Explained
  one boy, "I was holding a religious conver-
  sation with the sun."
----------------------------------------------------------------------

   Seems as though everyone just loves that quote about the "religious 
conversation" with the sun.

   In an interesting twist, _Newsweek_ doesn't pick up the story until
several months later, by which time it has mutated into a slightly different
version: 

----------------------------------------------------------------------
_Newsweek_  January 22, 1968

    Darkness at Noon

  "It's a real tragedy," Norman M. Yoder of
Pennsylvania's state welfare department said
sadly.  "And the parents are asking, 'How can
something like this happen?"  It can, and did,
happen this way.  Six young men -- all college
juniors studying for careers in engineering,
all "nice kids, not hippies" -- slipped out
into a woodland clearing a half-mile from their 
campus in western Pennsylvania and tripped out
on LSD.  Then the six nice kids flopped on their 
backs in the grass and, each in a trance roughly
akin to a fit a catalepsy, gazed unblinking up
into a blazing springtime sun.  Though each had
sampled LSD at least once before, classmates got
worried and went looking for them.  Six hours
after the trip began, they found the six kids,
all still in the clearing -- and all totally,
permanently and helplessly blind.
----------------------------------------------------------------------

   The locale has shifted from southern California to western Pennsylvania,
the number of students has increased from four to six, and the "victims" now
have not merely damaged their vision but are "totally blind".  Plus we have
some extra bits of morality in this version: these students were "nice kids",
they were "not hippies", and they were presumably clean-cut "engineering"
majors.  (And no bizarre quotes from these kids, no sir.)  In other words, 
watch out: this could happen to YOU (or your children). 

   A few weeks later, _Newsweek_ prints a letter to the editor taking them to 
task for printing what was apparently known to be a hoax, along with their
admission that they, like others, ran the story "in good faith":

----------------------------------------------------------------------
_Newsweek_  January 22, 1968

    Letters to the Editor

 o In your finest offhand prose you depicted
 the grotesque situation of six young men
 from Pennsylvania going blind under a blazing
 springtime sun while tripping out on LSD.  As
 you must be painfully aware by now, the entire
 affair was the ill-conceived hoax of individuals
 who possibly share your zealotry for evoking
 before the public's terror-charged eyes the
 many perils presumably awaiting the hallucino-
 genic traveler.  Your eagerness to vilify LSD
 (thereby disregarding its unexplored potential
 for good) betrays a wrong-minded fear of the
 unknown.

                         CHRISTOPHER BARR
                         Denver, Colo.

  +  In common with the rest of the press, 
     _Newsweek_ ran [the story] in good 
     faith, and is now glad to set the
     record straight.
----------------------------------------------------------------------

   So, what we are left with is an apparent hoax, but no details to indicate 
the who, why, or how behind it.  Who pulled this off, why was it done, and 
how was the information disseminated to the press in a believable manner?
(There is no such organization as the Santa Barbara Ophthalmological Society
today, if indeed there ever was one.)

   We're still trying to obtain more information on this story from the 
sources who printed it, but a 27-year-old trail may not be so easy to follow.
If anyone has anything to add to this story or can provide some leads to 
track down, we'd be most grateful.

   - snopes


         snopes: Keeper of the list of shows better than pink tofu.
     Ask me about the Auckland Festival of Missions, 18-25 April, 1993.
      I never change my mind; it always works right the first time out.
                          
  

From: rich@weeds.xs4all.nl (Richard v.d. Horst)
Date: Sat, 15 Oct 1994 17:43:00 PST
Newsgroups: alt.drugs,alt.folklore.urban
Subject: Re: LSD users stare at sun until blinded UL

snopes@netcom.com (snopes) writes:

>   We're still trying to obtain more information on this story from the 
>sources who printed it, but a 27-year-old trail may not be so easy to follow.
>If anyone has anything to add to this story or can provide some leads to 
>track down, we'd be most grateful.

'Play Power' by Richard Neville (appeared +-1970 in the UK. I have a Dutch
translation):

"...Later on the story was shown to be a hoax. A Dr. Yoder from the
Institute of the Blind in Pennsylvania admitted he had made up the story
"because I am concerned about the illicit use of LSD and other drugs".

--Richard