The "Blue Star" LSD Tattoo Urban Legend Page

Answering such questions as:

Extra notes for journalists

Summary

The "Blue Star" LSD tattoo warning is a classic of the breed -- it has been terrorizing parents, fooling journalists, bewildering authorities and delighting urban legend researchers for over 15 years. It is an example of a "contamination" legend and can be classed with such other familiar legends as "Spider eggs in Bubble Yum," but it is also part of the growing ranks of "xeroxlore" like the "send a dying boy postcards" plea. More recently, the legend has picked up new virulence and new credibility through the internet, where it has appeared in mailing lists, newsgroups and on web pages.

Popular folklore chronicler Jan Harold Brunvand devoted a chapter of his book The Choking Doberman and other "New" Urban Legends to the "Mickey Mouse Acid" scare.

In a typical outbreak, a school, hospital, or police station will get a copy of a photocopied flyer warning that LSD-laden lick-and-stick tattoo transfers are being given to children in local schoolyards. The allegations in the warning typically include:


Is any of this true?

The answer in a nutshell: not much.

Do the "Blue Star" tattoos exist?
No. LSD is not packaged in the form of lick-and-stick tattoos, and I have seen no evidence of LSD having ever been found in this form. The rumors are the result of confusion; LSD is commonly packaged as small squares of blotter-paper that have been soaked in a solution containing LSD. These blotter-paper squares are sometimes marked with an identifying trademark (e.g. blue unicorns, Bart Simpson) printed on the blotter-paper. In 1980, a police report of a bust by the Narcotics Bureau of the New Jersey State Police referred to this marking of blotter acid as "stamps" and noted that "children may be susceptible to this type of cartoon stamp believing it a tattoo transfer."
(Examples of blotter acid)
Can LSD be absorbed through the skin?
Yes, but in the circumstances described in the warning flyers -- casual handling of blotter acid, or tattoos -- this is extremely unlikely.
What about the stamps, the "micro dot," or the "window pain?"
The above information applies to the stamps as well. LSD, as well as being packaged as blotter-paper, is also sold in a liquid solution, in a gelatin medium (known as "windowpane") and as pills or capsules (known as "microdot"). Some flyers insist that there are "stamps" or "tattoos" with pictures of multi-colored "micro dots" or "window panes" on them. Just confusion.
And the red cardboard box wrapped in foil?
These were details included in the police report from 1980 mentioned above. They have been commonly included in the flyers ever since, but just happen to be where one unlucky set of LSD users hid their stash. Heat and light degrade LSD, so some users use foil to wrap their blotter acid as protection from the elements.
Are the cartoon characters there to lure kids into the drug scene?
Cartoon characters are sometimes used as the trademarks printed on blotter acid, but I doubt this is like "Joe Camel" being used to target a younger audience, although the motivations of those who pick the trademarks aren't public knowledge. I have seen pictures of blotter acid marked with Bart Simpson (from the cartoon "The Simpsons") and Mickey Mouse (in his role as the sorcerer's apprentice from the movie "Fantasia"), but note that both of these characters are popular with both adults and children. There is little to be gained for a drug dealer or manufacturer from getting some child to inadvertantly try your LSD. The child isn't likely to want to repeat what will probably be a frightening and baffling experience, he or she doesn't have as much cash to pay for drugs as do adults, and a frying child will certainly catch the eyes of the authorities.
But if they try it once, they might get hooked, right?
LSD is not an addictive drug. In fact, there is a temporary tolerance built up to the effects of LSD (meaning that subsequent doses, if taken within a couple of days, will have a substantially blunted effect) which makes it, if anything, anti-addictive.
Doesn't LSD react quickly?
Depends on what you mean by quickly. Blotter acid usually starts showing effects between 45 and 90 minutes after the dose is taken.
And is it laced with strychnine?
Blotter acid is not laced with strychnine. This is another urban legend, taken as gospel truth even by many LSD users. This deserves its own FAQ, but until then, check out the explanation at hyperreal.
Might the accidental ingestion of LSD be fatal?
The fatal dose of LSD is fairly enormous compared to the active dose. The drug is active in the hundreds of micrograms range. The only fatalities or near-fatalities from LSD overdose that I know about happened when a quantity of purified LSD in crystal form was mistaken for another drug (cocaine or speed, probably) and was snorted, probably giving the unfortunate user hundreds of doses. (see: this page for details). In the circumstances described in the warning flyers, an overdose would be extremely unlikely, if not impossible. However, even a small dose, given to an unprepared or unwilling subject, could cause enough disorientation to make it dangeous for the subject in situations where hand-eye coordination or attention are necessary for survival (driving a bicycle in traffic, for instance). The emotional upheaval occasionally caused by "bad trips" can possibly lead to suicide, and this risk is heightened if the user doesn't know what to expect, isn't accompanied by people who have had experience with psychedelics, or has been dosed without knowing about it.
What are the symptoms associated with LSD use?
Too complex a question to answer here, try searching around the web for the many sites devoted to this question. A good start is the Sputnik Drug Information Zone's LSD page which has the text of LSD discoverer Albert Hofmann's book on the subject, and many other FAQs and links.
Have any children died from these tattoos?
No. Haven't you been paying attention? The tattoos don't exist.
What about the authorities who issued the warning?
A lot of them prove hard to track down. Mr. Guy Chaillé and J. O'Donnel, for instance, don't exist, or at least they can't be found at the institutions they allegedly sent the warnings from. Beth Israel Medical Center, Danbury Hospital, and other sources deny having issued the warnings. This isn't to say that all of these authorities are just fabricated. Police departments and hospitals get fooled by this legend just like the rest of us. And some of the people who deny having had anything to do with it may just be trying not to look foolish.
Should I contact the police if I see these tattoos?
No. You should contact me! I want to hear about it! For that matter, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know if you see a warning flyer. And if you could pick one up and mail it to me, that'd be an extra thrill for me. I love this stuff!
Should you spread the warning far and wide?
Please do!

How did this legend start?

Here's the best theory I've heard. Other people disagree, saying that they believe these flyers were circulating before 1980.

In 1980, the Narcotics Bureau of the New Jersey State Police sent out a memorandum including pictures of blotter acid decorated with small pictures of Mickey Mouse. The photo showed foil packaging with a ziploc bag and a red cardboard box with a picture of Mickey Mouse on it (these details weave their way into some versions of the fliers). The memorandum uses the word "stamps" to refer to the pictures stamped on the blotter paper and warns that "children may be susceptible to this type of cartoon stamp believing it a tattoo transfer."

A Seventh-Day Adventist church community wrote and propagated a flier in 1980 using information from the police memorandum, and the legend was on a roll. Like a successful virus, this flier was highly contageous and subject to mutations that would make it more virulent.

Fear and ignorance about psychedelic drugs have led to a whole host of urban legends surrounding them. You've probably heard about the students who took LSD and then stared at the sun until they went blind; or the babysitter who took acid and put the turkey in the crib and the baby in the oven (I remember a speaker coming to my school to speak about the dangers of drugs who trotted that one out!); or that if you take LSD enough times you are considered legally insane; or that LSD crystalizes in the spinal column and is visible on x-rays.

I think it was Timothy Leary who noted that "LSD is a drug capable of producing madness and delusion in people who have not taken it." For many people, myths and legends constitute a primary source of information about LSD. Legends about drug dealers trying to hook children on drugs with "free samples" and other nefarious means have been around for a long time, and it was natural that there would be some cross-fertilization.

The legend builds up its own momentum. Someone receives a copy and makes several more for their day-care center or workplace. The process continues, with new copies being typed up (with occasional changes) as the multiply-photocopied versions become less readable.

The news media in towns hit by an outbreak of the flyers tend to take them seriously in page A1 headlines, and then to admit their urban-legend status a week later in page A-12 retractions. (The retractions, oddly, are often as full of nonsense as the original articles). Elements of the legend become part of the consensus background-knowledge about LSD and statements like "LSD is commonly disguised as children's stickers or tattoos" or "...the cartoon pictures, designed to attract children to the drug..." or "...police say they found several LSD 'tattoos' last year..." become part even of news stories that were not directly prompted by the flyers.

By 1987, the fliers include references to "Blue Star," Bart Simpson, butterflies, clowns, red pyramids, and colored microdots. LSD is now alleged to be able to cause "a fatal `trip'" and strychnine is said to be included in some stamps. Details about the ziplock bag, red box and foil are rarely seen on versions of the flyer found after the mid-1980s.

Most versions of the warning that are being found these days attribute the warning to a "J. O'Donnel" from Danbury Community Hospital's Outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment Service. Danbury Hospital (in Connecticutt) has told reporters that it receives several calls each week asking for information, but does not have an employee by that name and knows nothing about any LSD Tattoo outbreak. (I wonder if the fact that "O'Donnel" can be read as "O.D. on 'L'" -- or, "overdose on LSD" -- might have significance. Perhaps this was planted by someone who was deliberately perpetuating the hoax? Or maybe it just means that Paul McCartney is dead.)

More recent versions of the flyer are including the ominous warning: "Young lives have already been taken!" (and the adjective "many" quickly attached itself to this phrase).

The flyers have hit several continents and have been translated into several languages -- lately, they've hit the infobahn, appearing in usenet newsgroups, on web pages and in mailing lists.


Scanned-in Versions:


199K gif Found in Gander, Newfoundland in September, 1990.

132K gif From Spain, but not in proper European Spanish. Not dated.

106K gif "Drogengefahr für Kinder!!" source and date unknown.

56K gif Posted as an "official notice" at the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru on 11 October 1988.

47K gif Directed to Muhlenberg College Faculty and Staff Parents, 5 February 1989.

114K gif "Look, listen, and learn," source and date unknown.

100K gif Distributed at a Texas elementary school in March 1996.

54K gif From the "Mosquito Squadron" newsletter, Winter 1995.

116K jpeg Found in South Africa in 1996.

181K jpeg Found in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1989.

132K jpeg Found in Italy in 1996.

117K jpeg Found in "The Village Voice" (a community association newsletter) in June, 1996.

Other documents:

If you find the warning in your area, or if you see an article about the legend in your local paper, please send me a copy so I can include it below. If you're in the media and are doing research for an article of your own, please send me a copy.

Versions of the warning from all over the globe:


A very early version, found in urban legend researcher Jan Harold Brunvand's book "The Choking Doberman and Other 'New' Urban Legends." This version dates back before the "blue star" motif upstaged Mickey Mouse.

A strange version that was posted on several usenet newsgroups in June, 1996. Oddly, the text is naturally right-justified, and many new details have been added -- this version seems to be a rare occurance of this urban legend having been deliberately engineered as a hoax. (A later version, posted by the same author, had all of the text aligned in the shape of a diamond).

This "Warning from Langley Hospital" was posted to usenet groups in May of 1996.

This version hit alt.parenting.solutions in May of 1996. "This may not be in your area yet!!!!! But I am passing it along as an awareness process." (Yes, five exclamation points).

Mail headers show how this version hopped around Cornell University.

This version hit Dyess Air Force Base in June, 1996, and was circulated widely from there.

An email version from NASA Langley Research Center in May, 1996. This version, circulating in military sites, was an epidemic that quickly hit civilian locations.

This email warning, from InterGraph in May of 1996 was quickly passed to MicroSoft.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers circulated this email warning in May 1996: "Military leaders, if students/children will use it, so will your soldiers."

This email warning his the U.S. Census Bureau in May of 1996, but is different in format from others circulating at around the same time: "I got this through the agency so it must be really going on in the streets."

This version hit ParcPlace-Digitalk by email in May of 1996: "I have not personally substantiated it, but the topic is too important to ignore out of hand."

Qualcomm, Inc. from San Diego was hit by an email outbreak in May of 1996: "Please give this your widest possible dissemination."

Of course the legend was posted to the usenet group misc.kids (May, 1996)

The newsgroup triangle.general (May, 1996) was also hit: "[W]hether it is true or not, I thought that its content was serious enough that it warranted posting."

Los Angeles Air Force Base was hit by the email virus in June of 1996, and their home page was briefly invaded.

A member of the entheogen mailing list considered this version of the flyer a "well-crafted piece of propaganda."

This email version hit Pennsylvania in the Spring of 1996: "I'm just passing it on because if there is an inkling of truth, then it's important!"

Found in New Jersey in January of 1996: "The content is so important that I want to post it here."

Two outbreaks discussed on the newsgroup alt.folklore.urban in March of 1996: "How can I convince my kids' school that they've been duped?"

Jeff Sam's Child Safety & Parenting Page put this "Warning to Parents" on the World Wide Web.

The "techwr-l" email list got hit in July of 1995 with the warning: "Read This If You Have Kids..."

The "Cave's [sic] of Ice" home page reprinted this "RCMP bulletin regarding a new way to marking [sic] drugs to your youngest children" dated July 1995.

Posted to the "Vet to Vet" mailing list in June of 1995: "I hope it isn't true, but I will talk to the boys about it anyway, just in case."

Posted to an equine medicine mailing list in June of 1995: "If this is real, the jerks have really sunken to new lows."

Posted to a feline medicine mailing list in June of 1995: "What I don't understand, is ho [sic] anyone could be so greedy to do this to anyone... let alone a child. I am speachless [sic] with disgust."

The Nagarathar Discussion Forum was host to a version with lots of new authorities listed.

The South African newsgroup za.schools saw this "Urgent Warning to Parents" in April of 1996: "I know nothing else about these drugs, I simply posted this message when I read about it today."

There was an outbreak of flyers in California in 1994, discussed on the newsgroup alt.folklore.urban.

In January, 1994, an IBM employee found this version of the warning.

And the legend spread by email at Sun Microsystems in January 1994: "This is not a joke. Please read this note and pass the word around. We have some sick people on this planet!"

The on-line newspaper of Community High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, announced in May of 1995: "Warning to Parents!!!! Kids get addicted to paper!"

In June of 1995 this alert was posted to the Frame-Relay email list.

This version was found on the Elk Grove (California) Unified School District web pages.

This version was posted in February, 1996 to the usenet newsgroup alt.child-support: "I do not know the source or if it is true but it sounds real enough to me."

This version ("Dangerous Drug") hit the usenet newsgroup soc.culture.vietnamese in February, 1996.

This version ("Warning to parents! Drugs in school!") hit the usenet newsgroup soc.culture.vietnamese in February, 1996.

This note from Norway describes a "Bart Simpson" LSD scare there.

In 1992, a newspaper in Abu Dhabi announced: "Mystery Message on LSD hits shops too: Dubai police investigating source of the fax."

The media swallows the legend and spits it out again


From the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger, April 1982: "I don't know how much apparent danger there is. We just felt like we could not ignore if it was occurring. It was enough of a sufficiently gray area that I felt like I didn't want to take a chance."

From the Norfolk Virginia-Pilot, February 1982: "Most kids love to save sticker and stamps to collect them. I can just see a kid licking one of them and killing himself."

From the Buffalo, New York Evening News, March 1982: "The same cartoon characters that send the children in Western New York off on flights of fantasy are being used by area drug dealers to send teen-agers into a different kind of orbit."

From Germany's Kronenzeitung, March 1989: "Ich will damit keine Panik und Hysterie auslösen, sondern auf das ernste Problem hinweisen!"

An English translation of the above Kronenzeitung article: "I don't want to start a panic wave, but I would like to point out a serious problem!"

From the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Patriot, April 1989: "We're not saying it is present in any particular community, location or school. We just want people to know that the possibility exists" -- "LSD is a bait-and-switch drug. Dealers may sell it or give it to children, then move them on to more dangerous drugs like crack cocaine."

From the St. Petersburg Times, June 1995: "It might sound like an urban legend, but..." -- "Experts agree that, by itself, LSD is generally not a killer, but it can be lethal if mixed with strychnine or the drug PCP.

KFWB in Southern California ran with the rumor: "We at the Arciadia Police Department did not issue this warning as the flyer states, but we do feel that parents should be on the lookout for this."

A French TV police drama worked the legend in: "It's called Blue Star and it comes from America."

But some folks tried to set the record straight


From the Sacramento Bee, July 1995: "It's increasing the speed of the spread... Things are just whipping around really fast. This stuff never really seems to go away."

From the Akron, Ohio Beacon Journal, December 1986: "Surely it is a dreadful thought, but just as surely it is a folk fantasy."

From the Santa Fe New Mexican, May 1996: "I really don't know much about these kind of things. I lead a semi-sheltered life. If my son comes home hallucinating with a blue star in his mouth, I'm going to blame you."

One Texas mother tried to uncover the truth when her child's school was hit by the warnings, but the powers that be liked the legend better.

From Newsday magazine, May 1995: "Running the Legends to Ground"

From The Tennessean, March 1996: "If it is a hoax, it's still important to look out for the safety of our children. If anything, it could make parents more cautious of what their children have. If you err, err on the side of safety. I don't know that we've erred."

When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police got to the legend, it was hard to stop. The Gold River Record (Sept. 1995) tried to track down the facts: "Coquitlam RCMP said that no bust was made, no known sightings of the Blue Star has ever been made to their knowledge, and that this story just does not want to die for some reason."

From the Los Angeles Times (April 1992): "We don't know where these come from, but they're bogus. It's like UFO sightings. They show up everywhere."

From the Newark Star-Ledger (January 1992): "The notices come out every year."

From the Addiction Research Foundataion (Toronto, Canada) Journal (Jan/Feb 1996): "Like a chain letter, the written warnings usually ask the reader to spread the information to anyone who has children. And so, with the unwitting help of well-intentioned officials and concerned parents, Blue Star has become a classic urban myth."

From the San Jose (California) Mercury News (April 1994): "I feel like a dodo head. I have children of my own and thought I was doing the school district a favor."

From ClariNet (UPI), November 1993: "'It's like the Energizer bunny, you can't kill this thing,' said Bill Ruzzamenti, Chief of Public Affairs for the United States Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington, D.C. 'In some cases even law enforcement organizations are putting it out.'"

From the New York Times Magazine, November 1993: "Perhaps parents of a certain age are experiencing a collective paranoid flashback, afraid that their generation's hallucinogenic sins will come back to haunt their children."

Resources at other sites:


HOW DO THEY SPREAD?

Well-meaning folks see the fliers, which have enough of a smell of truth about them and which exploit commonly-held prejudices about the predatorial nature of drug use and drug users, and feel as if they are doing a good deed by spreading the warning around. After a few bad xeroxes, the fliers get retyped. The new versions are usually slightly different, which enables urban-legend fans to track the progress and origin of new epidemics through memetic means.

People enjoy spreading this warning so much that even when its baloney status is spelled out to them, they often insist either that it's really true anyway, or that even it it isn't true, it's a good idea to tell people about it just in case. Here's an example: "It was in very bad taste to think that this message is not something to worry about and that people circulating this message were over reacting!"

David Langness, the [Hospital Council of Southern California] association's vice president of communications, said the warning was then mailed to all member hospitals. "When we hear about these things, we don't attempt to confirm or deny them," he said. "We simply send it out to emergency rooms across the region in case they see a medical problem associated with this kind of drug." Los Angeles Times
9 December 1987
"They're like a chain letter," said David Langness, a spokesman for the Hospital Council of Southern California, which represents about 250 hospitals in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, Ventura, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara counties. "They capitalize on anti-drug hysteria, and as far as we can determine, they are a total hoax." Los Angeles Times
18 April 1992

Appendix:

In The Narc Officer magazine (July/August 1994), there is an "Intelligence Bulletin" dated May 1994 and titled "Hallucinogens: A New York Perspective," published by the Unified Intelligence Division, "a joint cooperative intelligence venture comprised of personnel from the Drug Enforcement Administration, New York State Police, and the New York City Police Department." This appears on page 58:
"The blotter paper is commonly imprinted with popular cartoon characters (such as Mickey Mouse or Bart Simpson), zodiac signs, psychedelic prints or other patterns, and are usually perforated into one quarter stamp size individual dosage units or 'hits.' It is often feared that the cartoon character motif will entice young children to try the drug. In one extreme example that started in the early 1980s drug alert fliers, allegedly distributed by police agencies, parents' associations, and other groups, warned of a LSD tattoo called 'BLUE STAR.' One flier stated the tattoo appeared as a small sheet of white paper containing blue start the size of a pencil eraser. The flier further advised that the star is impregnated with LSD and can be removed from the paper and placed in the mouth. Parents were also caustioned that LSD laced stickers, featuring cartoon characters, were also available. The sticker could be placed on the child's skin or in the mouth. Although there have been numerous 'BLUE STAR' incidents documented across the country, they appear to have been a hoax. There is no evidence showing any such tattoos/stickers or records of any child being injured by touching a LSD-laden tattoo."
Thanks to Robert Jesse (bob@csp.org) for this quote.

See also:


This page created and maintained by Dave Gross. He can be reached at nepenth@media.internex.net.
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