The Role of Set and Setting in Psychedelic Usage

The Role Of Set And Setting In Psychedelic Usage

For those who have taken a psychedelic drug at the same dose in two different environments, they may have gained an appreciation for the concept of “set and setting”. This term is widely used within psychedelic communities to describe the relationship between the substance, the individual’s internal state, and the external environment.

An example could be remembering a positive experience tripping with close friends while camping, and comparing it to a negative experience of taking the same drug at a crowded festival, where one may feel overwhelmed with anxiety and discomfort.

The reason why the same drug can result in vastly different experiences is due to the psychedelic’s ability to make individuals highly sensitive to their internal and external environments. As a result, it is essential to have a clear understanding of what “set and setting” means when using psychedelics.

What is ‘Set’ and ‘Setting’?

The concept of “Set” and “Setting” refers to the factors that can influence a person’s psychedelic experience. “Set” represents the internal factors such as mood, personality, beliefs, and perceptions that can affect the experience.

On the other hand, “Setting” refers to the external environment that can influence the experience, including the room, people, music, time of day, and cultural forces. The term was introduced by Timothy Leary and his colleagues at Harvard in their 1964 book, The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Researchers have put much thought into the concept, with Dr. Ido Hartogsohn, the author of American Trip: Set, Setting, and the Psychedelic Experience in the Twentieth Century, stating that set and setting are socially constructed and that different societies in different historical periods would have different conditions that shape the character of the LSD experience in various ways.

The illegality of psychoactive drugs is one of the cultural set-and-setting conditions that can influence an individual’s experience. It is a widely known fact that these psychedelic substances are illegal and stigmatized in many parts of the world. People who take these drugs may experience anxiety and fear of getting caught or judged by others.

For example, while walking on shrooms, a stranger might start a conversation with them, and the person may feel uncomfortable, hoping that their dilated pupils and awkward speech are not noticeable. If substances such as shrooms and MDMA LSD were legal and socially accepted, the person’s experience may be entirely different.

How Does Set and Setting Work?

The phenomenon of set and setting is not limited to psychedelic experiences, as internal and external factors shape an individual’s perception and experience in any situation. However, set and setting are particularly important when discussing psychedelic experiences due to the profound amplification of these factors.

According to Dr. Ido Hartoghson, psychedelics act as a magnifying glass and mirror, reflecting and intensifying the user’s state of mind. This means that if a person is anxious, psychedelics may induce anxiety, while if they are creative, the substances may enhance creativity.

Hartoghson also notes that the shape shifting quality of psychedelics in research is due to the interplay between set and setting. For example, studies may report anxious outcomes in participants in uncomfortable laboratory settings with no mental health professional support, while studies with a safe and supportive environment may find participants more at ease.

It is also important to consider demographic representation in psychedelic studies when discussing set and setting. A 2018 review found that the majority of study participants in psychedelic therapy research were non-Hispanic white.

Cultural environment considerations may play a role in shaping an individual’s set and setting, and researchers must take this into account when determining the most supportive approaches for individuals receiving psychedelic-assisted therapies.

Why Are Set and Setting Important?

Set and setting play a crucial role in psychedelic drug experiences. Individuals have reported that a supportive set and setting can greatly enhance their experience while an unsupportive environment may lead to a negative or challenging trip. Though there is no guarantee of a positive experience, paying attention to the set and setting of a psychedelic session can increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome.

When considering the role of “set” in a psychedelic experience, it can be difficult to determine what constitutes a positive mindset. Experts suggest that individuals ask themselves whether they are using psychedelics to escape a particular emotion or situation before taking them. If so, it may be better to focus on emotional and psychological health through therapy or other forms of support prior to using psychedelics.

Although many hope to achieve therapeutic effects with psychedelics, they can also amplify emotional states. Those attempting to escape a difficult emotional experience may find that using psychedelics backfires in some way. Experts also recommend speaking with a psychedelic-friendly therapist to gain reflection and perspective on using psychedelics, especially if struggling with mental health problems.

Having a good support system in place is key. IIt can be tempting to use psychedelics to self-medicate, but without proper psychological and emotional support in life, this can actually exacerbate symptoms.

Microdosing and Set and Setting

In recent years, microdosing has gained popularity as a way to ingest subthreshold quantities of psychedelic substances on a regular basis while carrying on with daily life. The concept of microdosing revolves around administering psychedelic drugs in small enough quantities to make the provision of a sub-optimal context ethically justifiable, although this remains a future clinical research direction.

Experts have explored the effects of context on the psychedelic experience using more readily available data. They have examined preliminary results from a survey conducted on individuals who have visited specific retreat centers to receive psychedelic treatment in the context of their choice. According to the literature, their findings suggest a positive correlation between a favorable set and setting and long-term therapeutic benefits.

How to Ensure a ‘Good’ Set and Setting

Your ideal set and setting will be unique to you, but there are a few questions to ask yourself before you decide whether to trip:

  • Check in with yourself – Are you in a good headspace at the moment? Have you finished any pressing tasks you need to do? Are you feeling positive about tripping, or are you feeling really anxious about it? Save your trip for another day if your head isn’t in the right place.
  • Think about who you’ll be with – Are you planning to be with people you trust and feel comfortable with? Are your housemates/mum/landlord likely to burst in mid-trip? Are you going to have a trip sitter? Having trusted people around will make the experience more enjoyable and will mean bad experiences will be managed more safely.
  • Think about which location will make you feel safe – Do you feel more safe/comfortable in your house, out in nature, at a friend’s place, or elsewhere? It’s down to your preference, but make sure you’ll be safe, not somewhere so remote that getting help would be tricky.
  • Plan activities/distractions – Have you thought about what music you’ll want to listen to? Does drawing/painting etc. relax you and have you got the stuff you need to do that? Do you have a favorite cozy jumper/blanket/something else that you find calming? Planning distractions means if things start going in a negative direction you’ve got stuff on hand to try and turn the trip around.

Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy environments, for example, tend to be quiet and private spaces with a couch and a few non-intrusive home-like decorations to create a natural sense of comfort and safety. Psychedelic group rituals can offer an entirely different environment, one that enlists the support of participants to “hold space” for one another. Whether you prefer a more private, individual journey or one of collective experience depends on your own values, needs, and social identity.

Although some prefer to experience psychedelics in solitude, it is recommended to have a trusted and sober person—called a “trip sitter”—with you in case social support is needed.

If you choose to take psychedelics, it is strongly recommended to have a sitter. Ideally, this person is familiar with the psychedelic state and is someone you can trust to be a responsible, calm grounded presence.

Now if you plan to surround yourself with other people during the experience, it’s better that they be friends you already feel safe and comfortable with. Many who have taken psychedelics with people they don’t know well will say that few experiences offer a more powerful (and awkward) reminder of the complexity of human interaction.

Other Things to Consider in Creating a Safe Set and Setting

When preparing for a psychedelic experience, it is important to consider factors beyond just set and setting. Here are some additional tips to help ensure a safe and positive experience:

  • Research the drug you plan to use: Learn about the expected effects, duration of the trip, appropriate dosages, and any substances to avoid while under the influence.
  • Check in with your companions: Psychedelics can affect people differently, so it’s important to communicate with your friends about how you are feeling and what to look out for in case someone starts having a difficult time.
  • Have a plan in case of a bad trip: If you have a trip sitter, make sure they know how to support you if you start having a negative experience. If you don’t have a sitter, consider making a plan for what to do if things start to go south, such as calling a trusted friend, changing your surroundings, or putting on different music. Remember that bad trips are temporary and the effects of the drug will wear off over time.

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Set and setting can significantly affect the psychedelic experience. “Set” refers to the mindset, expectations, and beliefs of the person taking the psychedelic, while “setting” refers to the physical and social environment in which the person is taking the psychedelic. Research has shown that a positive set and setting can enhance the therapeutic effects of psychedelics, whereas a negative set and setting can increase the risk of a bad trip or adverse psychological effects. A positive set, characterized by a sense of openness, curiosity, and willingness to explore, can lead to a more profound and transformative psychedelic experience. In contrast, a negative set, characterized by fear, anxiety, or resistance, can lead to a challenging and potentially traumatic experience. Similarly, a positive setting, characterized by comfort, safety, and support, can enhance the therapeutic effects of psychedelics. In contrast, a negative setting, characterized by discomfort, unfamiliarity, or lack of support, can increase the risk of a bad trip or adverse psychological effects.
Yes, a negative set and setting during psychedelic use can potentially lead to long-term psychological harm. The intense and profound effects of psychedelics can be unpredictable, and psychological distress can leave a lasting impact on a person’s mental state. In some cases, this can manifest as symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression. It is therefore crucial to carefully consider the set and setting before using psychedelics and to ensure that they are used in a safe and supportive environment with proper preparation, guidance, and integration.
Having a trip sitter when taking psychedelics is recommended for several reasons. First, psychedelics can alter one’s perception of reality and cause intense emotional and psychological experiences, which can be overwhelming for some individuals. A trip sitter can help keep you calm and grounded, provide reassurance and comfort, and prevent you from engaging in risky behaviors.Additionally, having a trip sitter who is sober and familiar with the psychedelic experience can be helpful in case of an emergency, such as a medical issue or a psychological crisis. A trip sitter can also help guide the experience and create a safe and supportive environment, which can enhance the overall therapeutic benefits of psychedelic use.
Dealing with a bad trip is essential when it comes to psychedelic use. There are several strategies you can employ to minimize negative effects. First, it’s important to recognize that the experience will eventually end. Remind yourself that what you’re going through is temporary and that you will return to normal once the effects wear off. Second, try to change your environment. Sometimes a simple change of scenery, such as moving to a different room or going outside, can help shift your perspective and calm you down. Thirdly, listening to calming music or practicing breathing exercises can help regulate your emotions. Lastly, it’s always recommended to have a trusted friend or trip sitter present during your experience. They can offer emotional support, help distract you from negative thoughts, and provide reassurance that everything will be okay.