How hallucinatory art led to a better understanding of migraine neurobiology


Man was hard-wired to design Zubaz.

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If there is a God, He is probably very poorly dressed.


There are reasons that people have done research into LSD as a migraine medication

I don’t get migraines, fortunately, but I have had a couple of times that I had some kind of headache that led to mild visual waviness. It was interesting, much milder than the effects of real psychedelics; probably some variant on sinuses pressing on my eyeballs or inner ears or something.

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I’ve had these since I was a kid. I always assumed I had a tumor or something and in my typical denialist style, just sorta ignored it. Then in about 2002 or so I did some Googling and found illustrations like this one. I recognized it right away, just as I recognized the topic of this post as soon as I saw the illustration; before I’d read a word.

Funny, that. It seems like such a subjective thing, as it appears only before my eyes and I have no symptoms anyone around me can see. Whenever I read descriptions of ocular migraines, it always feels a bit like someone reached into my mind and printed out the contents.


The later stage migraine illustrations are very similar to WW1 Dazzle Camouflage .

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I don’t get migraines, but I can see those patterns if I’m in a dark room and I hold my eyes still for several seconds. Can change how they appear by applying pressure to the corner of an eye with a finger too. I always thought it was a dumb trick that wasn’t worthy of note, it’s amusing that there’s a bunch of research done on it.

Not sure I could ever draw them though, they flicker way too quickly to get much of a sense the shape. The fact that they disappear when I move my eyes doesn’t help either.


My occular migranes don’t produce these patterns, or if they do, I don’t register them as that. Instead I see flashing geometric shapes: triangles, rhombuses, that sort of thing. Kind of like a strobe, but only out of the corner of my eye. It took me a while before I had an episode with someone around so that I could ask if the lights were really flashing or not.

The second I saw that artwork, I knew what it was representing. I’ve been seeing that for years now. That’s a very accurate representation of my migraines. I actually didn’t want to look at it for too long, for fear of it setting one off.


Hah - I have the same reaction to these kinds of images. I get auras without migraine, and after going months and months without any, one descended the other day as I was watching the output from a software-defined radio - just a constantly scrolling stream of FFT data, with little speckles, waves, and all.

At some point I remember noticing how scintillating it looked out of the corner of my eye, and wouldn’t you know it: full-blown aura minutes later.

Did it necessarily trigger the aura? I don’t know. But I sure tense-up a little whenever I see something that even looks vaguely aura-like.

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I had the ocular migraines without headache (i.e., just aura) for about 30 years – just the patterns you described. Then, about 17 months ago, I started with almost-daily migraine headaches, generally without the aura. The neurologist still calls them ocular migraines, and my eyes do ache at times. At this point, I’m grateful for all those years of no headaches, and certainly hopeful to find the right mix of diet and medications to find some relief.

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The pattern is instantly recognizable even if not identical to what I see. I’ve described it as looking through a clear glass kaleidoscope.
I’ve had these for 30+ years- had the painful ones when I was younger, and started getting visual migraines instead when I was about 30. I much prefer the visual type. They can be disruptive if I’m driving or trying to read as they sometimes take over my entire visual field, but they are not of long duration. And I can detect them coming on so there is plenty of time to pull over or get in a relaxed situation. My daughter gets them as well.


Oliver Sacks in his excellent book “Migraine” has some interesting passages about migraine auras (of which the occular type is the most common, but there are some pretty crazy ones involving smells, sounds, and even feelings of impending doom or explosive energy…).

Ikr? I had a migraine most of yesterday and today (It’s finally eased off enough for me to look at things again) and I cringed when I saw it.

I had several of these a decade ago, and at the time my research identified them as a “scintillating scotoma.”

Never any headache, just the display. It only happened two or three times, but it really freaked me out the first time… I was worried I had detached a retina. A quick examination of the cited paper showed that they also used the term scotoma.


I get both of them - what the article describes, and what you describe. Occasionally it will look like a flickering Piet Mondrian painting. It’s so good to know others experience this the same way!

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I’m glad you’re feeling better. (selfishly a bit - it gives me hope!)

Wow - I had the first instance of this happen about two weeks ago and had another instance happen last night. I was wondering how I was going to explain this to the eye doctor. No pain at all during the event.

It was in both eyes at the same place in my field of view - lower left and then occurring in the upper left, both images in a rough quarter round shape. The images also remained even when I closed my eyes. The duration was just a few minutes each time.

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I used to get extreme visual effects with my migraines, but they stopped over a decade ago. Now I just get the bad parts… although at least I never get nausea, that’s the one symptom I’ve been spared, and I’m deeply deeply thankful for that.

Oliver Sacks believes that Hildegard von Bingen’s visions were ocular migraines, based on her illustrations in Scivias and elsewhere.

Yes, that’s what I see. I’ve actually described the aura as a sparkly, in color, quarter moon. That blocks anything I’m trying to look at…