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.
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.
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