Sam Seguin, Technical Director at JAR Audio ; Jamie Kronick, Professional Musician and Photographer
Roughly 300 million people have a colour vision deficiency. But with a few mushrooms and some magic, those who experience colourblindness might be able to see a whole range of colors for the first time.
Phoebe Melvin, Producer at Genome BC
Jamie: Okay, what’s the tone of this? Are we super serious?
Sam: This is a fun show.
Jamie: Oh, it’s fun.
Sam: It’s light, it’s lighthearted.
Jamie: So I can giggle a little?
Sam: You can giggle, you can laugh.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: It’s yours truly, Dr. Kaylee Byers.
Phoebe Melvin: And Phoebe Melvin, Intrepid producer.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: And hey, welcome to Nice Genes.
Phoebe Melvin: I think you mean jean shorts, Kaylee.
Jamie: You can do that.
Jamie: Okay, I’m just hanging out with my friend, Sam.
Sam: You’re just hanging out. So I have Jamie.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: Okay. So that’s one of our sound designers, Sam and Sam’s chatting with one of his friends who’s colorblind.
Phoebe Melvin: Yeah, that’s right.
Sam: You have colorblindness?
Jamie: I’m colorblind.
Sam: So have you ever tried psilocybin mushrooms and did you notice, did it have any effect on your colorblindness? Was that something you were even conscious of when you were taking them?
Jamie: I wouldn’t say that I was specifically conscious of it, but…
Dr. Kaylee Byers: See, you might be wondering why is he asking him about mushrooms? The lucid variety.
Phoebe Melvin: Believe me, it’s the last conversation that I thought we’d be having on this show, but I was doing some research for our podcast and I found this really cool story and I wanted to share it with you. That’s about people who are affected by colorblindness.
Sam: What kind of colorblindness do you have?
Jamie: I have red green colorblindness, which I believe is called deuteranopia. So oftentimes I mix up my greens and browns, my blues and purples, my yellows and oranges.
Phoebe Melvin: Being colorblind makes his life really tricky. It’s hard to differentiate different colors from one another.
Sam: And my wonderful partner, I asked her one day, can you get my brown shirt from the closet? And she said, you don’t own any brown shirts.
Phoebe Melvin: Hard to tell if meats fully cooked through.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: Oh, no.
Phoebe Melvin: Yeah.
Sam: Yeah. I do work as a professional photographer. Having difficulties with reds and oranges and yellows is particularly challenging when dealing with skin tones. I’ve worked with a former teacher of mine where I basically send her all of my finished files and say, how’s the skin looking? And she says, oh boy.
Phoebe Melvin: And actually colorblindness sometimes called color vision deficiency or CBD is a condition that is caused by recessive mutation on the X chromosome in genes, which codes for components of the cones at the back of our eyes that perceive color. Roughly 300 million people around the world live with some form of colorblindness, so it’s probably more prevalent than people realize.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: And what’s the story? How do the mushrooms get in here?
Phoebe Melvin: Well, this study was published in drug science policy and law this year, and it focused on a 35 year old college student who lived with colorblindness, and they had a past history of substance use, and they had noticed that when they took psychedelics like the magic mushrooms, psilocybin, that they noticed changes in their color vision. And so they decided to do a little bit of research on their own. They took what’s called the is Ishihara test. So when you’re looking at the test, you see it’s sort of a big circle composed of many little dots. And each of those dots, well, they’re similar colors. One series of dots might be green, and the other series of dots might be red, and hidden away in all of these little dots there is either a number or an image made up from the dots of one color.
If you’re someone with average vision, you’ll be able to see a clear number or shape made up from the different dots. But if you’re colorblind, those numbers are a little clouded, sort of indistinguishable from one another. And so it’s really difficult to discern what’s the number or the shape that’s on that plate. Or actually, you might even see a completely different number or shape than people with standard color vision.
So the patient did the Ishihara test. They set a baseline for what their color vision was. It came back as sort of mildly colorblind, and then they took quite a large dose of psilocybin. It was about five grams. Then they just observed their color vision, and they did a Ishihara test looking at those plates again at the 12 hour mark. And they saw that their color vision was what is ” standard vision.” And so they were able to improve their color vision according to this study, just by imbibing psilocybin. So magic mushrooms help them see the full rainbow for the first time.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: It is really interesting. And also, I mean, this isn’t the first time that a scientist has done the experiment on themselves.
Phoebe Melvin: Absolutely.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: Which is exciting to see in this particular study. So let’s say what they’re seeing is real, right? They actually are experiencing this improved color vision, what could be happening here? Like…
Phoebe Melvin: Yeah, look, what I am not sure that anyone necessarily has the full answers. One thing that we are sure of is that because colorblindness or color vision deficiency is it caused by… Typically caused by genetic factors. It’s not that the psilocybins interacting with the DNA and changing that so that they no longer have the genetic code that makes their color vision a problem, completely separate to the DNA. It’s more the mind can see colors that the eyes can’t. And so it definitely requires further study to know more about it.
Jamie: I mean, it’s a common trait, but I definitely remember colors, vivid colors.
Sam: More so than you would in your day- to- day?
Jamie: Oh, a hundred fold.
Phoebe Melvin: One thing to note is that back in 2020, researchers… The Global Drug Survey announced that they had collected, I think it was about 45, 47 reports of colorblindness improving following the ingestion of LSD or psilocybin by patients. And so they suggested that let’s do more research, but none was officially done. This study that we’ve been talking about might be a sort of stepping stone in the right direction, but future studies would need to be more scientifically rigorous to provide us with any real scientific knowledge or understanding of what’s really happening in these people.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: So what we need is we need more regulated studies out of research. We don’t necessarily need a whole bunch of more DIY projects at home.
Phoebe Melvin: Yeah, I think that’s sound advice.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: Well, thank you so much for coming on and really bringing some color to our day with this interesting story, Phoebe.
Phoebe Melvin: It’s been a pleasure. I always love sharing new scientific research with you and some of it of the fast and loose variety, and some would be more stringent.
Dr. Kaylee Byers: We’ll be back with more of those gene short stories soon. And if you thought this story was thought- provoking, I suggest you hop back to season one’s episode the right meds. And in that episode I speak to some folks who are looking at how you could use your own unique DNA to give targeted medication treatment for a range of mental health issues. Until next time.