The Blue Star LSD Tattoo

Return of an urban legend

Message from a reader dated Sep. 21, 1998:

I heard about an email going around that warns parents about tattoo decals that are popular with kids (too young to get the real thing). These decals are alleged to contain LSD capable of sending the unsuspecting user on the trip of a lifetime. Any truth to this, or have we another legend???


Email chain letter dated Oct. 7, 1998:

10/07/98

This was faxed from Valley Hospital in Ridgewood.

A form of Tattoo called "Blue Star" is being sold to school children. It is a small piece of paper containing a blue star. They are the size of a pencil eraser and each star is soaked with LSD. The drug is absorbed through the skin simply by handling the paper. There are also brightly colored paper tattoos resembling postage stamps that have the pictures of the following:

Superman, Mickey Mouse, Clowns, Disney characters, Bart simpson, and Butterflies.

Each one is wrapped in foil. This is a new way of selling acid by appealing to young children, These are laced with drugs. If your child gets any of the above, do not handle them . These are known to react quickly and some are laced with Strychnine.

From: J. O’Donnel, Danbury Hospital
Outpatient Chemical Dependency Treatment Service.

Please copy this, give it to your friends, send a copy to your schools. This is growing faster than we can train parents and professionals.


Press release from Danbury Hospital, Connecticut, June 11, 1998:

"BLUE STAR TATTOO" IS A HOAX

DANBURY, CT – June 11, 1998 – Since mid-1992, a FALSE memo has circulated bearing Danbury Hospital’s name warning of a drug-laced "blue star tattoo" being sold to school children. While the memo is UNTRUE, it has generated thousands of telephone calls from communities throughout the U.S. and beyond.

The memo – typically titled with "Warning to Parents" – has been sent (often without anyone questioning its validity) via fax, Internet and flyers by parents, school officials and law enforcement agencies. Danbury Hospital has had no involvement in the distribution of the memo, which has traveled across cyberspace and generated thousands of phone calls inquiring about its genuineness.

According to Hospital officials, the memo was posted there in 1992 and mistakenly attributed to the institution ever since. As today’s on-line technology easily allows people to share this information with others, the issue surfaces from time to time as new information.

IF YOU SEE OR RECEIVE THIS MEMO, PLEASE DO NOT PASS ON THE INFORMATION. IT IS SIMPLY UNTRUE.


From Mickey Mouse Acid to the Blue Star Tattoo

Folklorist Jan Harold Brunvand first addressed rumors about incidents involving so-called "Mickey Mouse Acid" in his 1984 book, The Choking Doberman and Other "New" Urban Legends. He described it as "the most insidious urban drug legend" going because it implied, as do more recent variants, that drug dealers purposely decorate their wares with colorful cartoon images to make them attractive to small children.

In the words of photocopied flyers proliferating throughout the 1980s, "Mickey Mouse Acid (LSD) has been circulated widely throughout some parts of New England as a part of or in the form of a 'sticker' or label. It may be available to school age children... All Disney cartoon characters have been used in the distribution of this LSD."

Citing a 1982 press clipping describing a "children's 'tatoo' [sic] which may contain LSD," Brunvand theorized that the notion may have originated in an earlier (1980) police memorandum pointing out a particularly worrisome feature of a form of LSD known as "blotter acid" (tabs of paper impregnated with LSD and imprinted with colorful images of cartoon characters): "Children may be susceptible to this type of cartoon stamp believing it a tattoo transfer."

Dave Gross, keeper of the online Blue Star LSD FAQ, concurs. All it took after those first cautionary mentions, he adds, was a church group copying the vaguely-understood information into an anti-drug flyer for the urban legend to be "on a roll." By 1987 the tattoo warning had mutated into more or less its current form, with references to strychnine contamination, images of a "Blue Star" (a commercial trademark), and illustrations ranging from butterflies to clowns to cartoon characters from Disney and elsewhere.

As noted above, the flyer specifically purporting to originate from Danbury Hospital in Connecticut first surfaced in 1992. Since that time it has circled the globe many times over via photocopied posters, faxes, and forwarded email.

Both Brunvand and Gross, having tracked the legend for years, maintain there has never been a documented case of a child mistaking blotter acid for a "tattoo transfer" and accidentally ingesting a dose of LSD. The media have sometimes reported this accurately, sometimes not.

Longevity

How to explain the longevity of this urban legend and its periodic surges in popularity? For starters, there are no horror stories more compelling than those involving threats to the well-being of children.

Consider the tale of drug smugglers using the corpses of children to transport cocaine across the U.S. border, a legend which has been around even longer than warnings about LSD tattoos (and which also undergoes frequent revivals).

To whatever extent new eruptions of these legends can be described as cyclical, perhaps they correlate with changes in cultural attitudes toward drugs. In the 1980s, following what are often described as the "excesses" of the 1970s, there was a backlash against drug use which coincides with the moment these stories made their earliest public appearances. The "Just Say No" attitude of the Reagan era gave way to a renewed curiosity about drugs among young people coming of age in the 1990s, which in turn sparked another anti-drug backlash. And so it goes.

Underlying truths

As I've often pointed out in these pages, contemporary legends tend to represent our collective anxieties, particularly those for which there aren't any obvious or simple remedies.

Though the stories themselves may not be corroborated in real life, the fears they represent often are. Just last month (September 1998), CNN ran a terrifying news story about some fourth-graders who fell ill after consuming LSD which had been injected into a vial of commercial breath freshener. According to police, one of the children had innocently shared the contaminated product with her classmates after finding it on her way to school.

Are children literally in danger of getting dosed with LSD through drug-laced tattoos? It appears not. Are they endangered by the careless drug use of the adults around them? Clearly they can be. It's an example of how a false story can paint a true picture of the things we're most afraid of.

Sources and further reading:

The 'Blue Star' LSD Tattoo Urban Legend Page
Created and maintained by Dave Gross

Blue Star Acid
Encyclopedia of Urban Legends by Jan Harold Brunvand (W.W. Norton, 2002)

Last updated 11/11/10