Because the effects of taking psychedelic drugs can very so much between experiences and persons, the concept of set and setting is used to help establish and predict the course of the trip. Set refers to the mindset of the person ingesting the drug, while setting refers to the environment and circumstance surrounding the trip.
Long-term set: temperament & psychology
A person’s lasting psychology is comprised of personality, temperament, beliefs, fears, dreams, and any other number of parameters that may become spectacularly manifested during a psychedelic trip.
The naturally-prepared psychonaut is ready to confront their inner self, eager for new lessons, and possesses joyous curiosity and self trust; this sort of open and confident personality is more likely to find enjoyment in strange and novel aspects of the psychedelic trip. Experienced meditators are excellent subjects for psychedelic therapy since they already possess a working understanding of their thought processes, and can exercise some control over it.
Someone who is rigid, paranoid, or demands control over a situation in order to feel comfortable will be more prone to struggling against the psychedelic experience. This personality should make sure to have prepared thoroughly before taking psychedelics, making sure to establish feelings of safety and predictability as much as possible. It may be helpful to employ a qualified guide in this situation. Before the psychedelic trip, any fears or paranoia can be reviewed with the guide, and a plan on how to handle troubling feelings can be agreed upon.
Short-term set: mood & expectations
One should enter a therapeutic psychedelic session calm, centered, open to new ideas, and perhaps inevitably a little bit nervous in anticipation of the experience. If the psychedelic trip happens to fall on a day where the patient feels unwell or unready, it is best to reschedule the trip so that difficult emotions are not magnified by the effect of the drug. Common factors that increase the chance of a difficult trip include sleep deprivation, hunger or malnourishment, physical illness, anxiety about pressing real-world concerns, or extreme mental states (depression, mania, anger).
Besides how one is feeling, the expectations one brings to a psychedelic trip exerts significant influence on the experience. A person who goes into a trip relaxed, open-minded, and mentally centered has a much better chance of successfully integrating therapeutic or ecstatic content. Conversely, someone who takes the drug while nervous or with narrow expectations is more likely to be overwhelmed or caught off guard by novel effects of the drug. Any attempt at understanding the psychedelic trip during its course will alter one’s experience of the trip itself.
Here are a few examples of how expectations may color a trip, several taken from The Psychedelic Experience:
- someone expects to trip purely for entertainment or rebellion may find themselves unprepared for the strange depth of the psychedelic experience
- someone who is hyperfocused on the medical significance of drug effects may become concerned that they need immediate attention from a doctor
- someone who is afraid of being interrupted by an authority figure (such as an unwitting family member, the police, or an employer) during the course of the trip may become paranoid and hyperfocused on the possibility
- someone who is quick to intellectualize or rationalize their experiences may find themselves overwhelmed by the amount of new data to interpret while on psychedelics, rather than “letting go” and allowing themselves to enjoy the ride.
Generally, one finds that any attempt at “controlling” the trip through willful intent only results in further novel or disorienting perceptive changes. The best method for orienting a psychedelic trip is through manipulating set and setting. In each of the above cases, a mindful tripsitter could attempt to de-escalate any worries and restabilize the patient’s mindset. Meditating and other relaxation exercises can also help placate any anxiety prior to tripping.