Psychedelic Preparation: Set And Setting
Updated: Jan 9
The sun is peaking through the trees and gently landing on the couch overlooking the backyard from the living room, I can see the beauty of the season on the trees outside and the rowdy pack of crows making their presence known, the sweet scent of palo santo fills the air, a cozy fire is lit in the corner, I can feel the softness of the sheepskin under my feet, a simple altar hosts a statue of Lord Ganesha and a precious assortment of crystals, gems keepsakes, and pictures of my ancestors, the sound of calm healing harps caress the senses, the couch adorned with soft cozy blankets and far too many pillows is too hard to resist... as I lay down, I feel my entire body let go, release, and merge with the comfort of the space as I take in all the sensory delights carefully curated to hold me as I dive deep...
As I close my eyes, a deep sense of inner peace and silence takes over... I have been practicing for this moment for many days; tuning in, quieting the mind, finding my breath, meditating, journaling, spending time in nature, and abstaining from media, news, movies, and all other disagreeable influences. As I lay here effortlessly releasing my thoughts, I recognize that this deep sense of peace and calm is the culmination of my efforts to prepare.
If you've been tuned into the psychedelic sub-culture space, you've likely heard the term "set and setting". First coined in 1964 by Timothy Leary, the term refers to the internal and external circumstances that influence the psychedelic journey.
Identical doses of a psychedelic substance consumed in different settings will produce widely different experiences, for example, a psychedelic substance taken on a camping trip with friends will produce very different effects than an identical dose of the substance taken by the same individual at a crowded concert. Choosing the right setting and curating the influences within a space can produce profoundly varying experiences. Here are some important factors to keep in mind for designing your setting:
Safety: choose a safe environment where you can have relative privacy and comfort. Make sure you have a sitter (someone who is present, sober, and has agreed to support you should the need arises).
Options: having options is critical since your needs and desires can shift rapidly during a psychedelic experience. Layers of clothing to accommodate changing internal and external temperatures. Option to lay down or move around. Access to indoors and outdoors.
Music: Psychedelics magnify the impact of music and lyrics on the psyche. Avoid melancholy, violent, or intense music, opt-in for calming, meditative, upbeat, and ideally instrumental music to listen to during the experience.
Alignment: make sure your intention and setting are in alignment. Calm, quiet, and serene nature environments are ideal for deepening inner connection while a music festival offers a very different experience.
While the external environment (setting) plays an important role in the psychedelic journey, it is not sufficient to support a positive experience. Indeed, our inner environment and mindset (set) play an even more important role in shaping our psychedelic experience. Here are some key considerations to support a calm and positive experience:
Mental Diet: in the days leading up to the journey, it is best to avoid disagreeable influences like mainstream media, news, horror and thriller movies, and intense music genres. Opt-in for inspiring media, documentaries, podcasts, and calming music. It is also advisable that you take time away from commitments the day of and the day after to allow yourself peace of mind to be with the experience without worry or stress.
Spiritual Diet: in preparation for an uplifting and calm experience, practice slowing down, spending time in nature, meditating, praying, engaging in creative endeavors like playing music, painting, and cooking. It is ideal to set an intention for your journey and a ritual (even as small as giving thanks!) to connect with and honor the spirit of the substance. Yes, they have spirits!
Physical Diet: optimal body chemistry is an important and often overlooked aspect of preparation. It is best to avoid other substances, especially alcohol and amphetamines a few days prior to your experience. Avoiding high caffeine content is also advisable to prevent heightened anxiety. Having a light meal a couple of hours before injecting the substance is ideal to ensure stamina during the journey while avoiding the common experiences of nausea and discomfort.
Support System: it is imperative that you have a support system to tap into in case of overwhelm. If you are new to high-dose psychedelics (under 20 experiences), it is strongly advised that you have a sober, trusted, and experienced sitter present.
It is important to note that while these guidelines apply to all psychedelic experiences, highly potent substances like the ayahuasca brew, 5MEO-DMT, and ibogaine should not be consumed without the presence of a skilled and experienced facilitator. In addition, strict preparatory protocols are often in place for these substances to ensure physical and psychological safety.
As the popularity of psychedelic substances grows and legal barriers are slowly lifted, it is imperative that we share the importance of set and setting as a key foundation for psychedelic harm reduction. If you or a loved one is in need of support during a challenging psychedelic journey, the Fireside project offers a free peer-supported "trip sitting" hotline! Simply dial "62-FIRESIDE" for support.