No two psychedelic experiences are alike, even if both individuals take the same exact dose of the same exact substance. This is in large part due to set and setting: an individual’s mental state and emotional landscape going into a psychedelic experience – and the external factors and environment surrounding them.
Set and Setting
Things to Know
- Set and setting refers to the internal and external factors that may influence the quality of a psychedelic experience
- The term “set and setting” was first popularized in the 1960s by psychedelic researchers Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert
- Curating one’s set and setting is a basic step in psychedelic harm reduction, or ensuring a safe experience
The first recorded use of the term “set and setting” was in 1958 by Austrian biologist Ludwig von Bertalanffy. It was then popularized in the 1960s by psychedelic researchers Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert who used it in the context of preparing for a psychedelic experience, which they discussed in the guidebook The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
A person’s set reflects their internal world, while their setting reflects the external environment around them. Both heavily influence the way a psychedelic experience will play out. Feelings of love, anxiety, fear, contentment, excitement, and more will influence what comes to the surface during the psychedelic session. As for external factors, everything from the weather, the time of day, the physical location, the people who are present, and other aspects of the surroundings will also have an effect on a psychedelic experience.
Ido Hartogsohn, author of American Trip: Set, Setting, and the Psychedelic Experience in the Twentieth Century, points out that set and setting refers not only to an individualized experience, but can also apply to the collective as a “social construct.” He writes, “Different societies in different times in history would have different set-and-setting conditions, which shaped the character of the LSD experience in different ways…A collective set and setting is composed by the society’s character, its knowledge and attitudes towards the psychedelic experience, as well as by the physical and social settings provided in that society.”
Cultivating one’s set and setting in advance of a psychedelic experience is the first step of harm reduction. Preparing a comfortable and supportive set and setting might include setting up a comfortable space to sit or lie down, nourishing and easily digested food, a careful selection of music, turning off your cell phone, or activities such as journaling and setting intentions. Having a psychedelic guide, trusted friend or trip sitter present, and creating an integration plan before the experience can all enhance a psychedelic journey.