Getting the ‘Setting’ right

Set and setting, when referring to a psychedelic drug experience or the use of other psychoactive substances, means mindset (shortened to “set”) and the physical and social environment (the “setting”) in which the participant has the experience

Your set and setting will play a really important role in your psychedelic experience. ‘Set’ is about your inner world: What’s happening on the inside? How are you feeling? What are your personal beliefs, your history, your current emotional state?

Setting’ is what’s happening in the external world.

Where are you?

Where is your physical location—indoors or outdoors, at your home or a friend’s home?

Are you at a show or a ceremony or camping?

Are there a lot of people or few people there?

Setting includes the art on the walls, the temperature in the room, the colours that might be around you, and whether you’re familiar with the people present. It’s important to understand that the things that impact your senses can have really large impacts on your psychedelic experience as well.

As external stimuli fight for attention, the internal landscapes of psychedelic-induced imagery may recede into the background, if overshadowed by the sensory overload from the outside world.

A study found that, in the absence of the drug (when subjects received a placebo), there is a direct link between the entropy of brain activity and the entropy of external stimuli: the more complex the environment is, the more complex the brain’s response becomes. 

More studies are needed, we can speculate on what neural and mental processes may be. However one interpretation is that brain entropy moves in a subtle dance – a delicate interplay between external and internal worlds.

This tug-of-war between the hallucinations conjured by the drug and the sensory input from the environment paints a picture of the brain grappling with conflicting signals, struggling to maintain coherence amidst the chaos. 

Integration is the process of digesting that change and manifesting its fullest expression. To quote Jack Kornfield, “after the ecstasy, the laundry.”

History of Setting

According to the 2018 book How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan, the concept of set and setting was observed by the “Johnny Appleseed” of LSD, Al Hubbard, visiting mushroom ceremonies in Mexico.

The terms were used at least as early as 1958 by Ludwig von Bertalanffy.  Timothy Leary in 1961 shared this notion, and it became widely accepted by researchers in psychedelic therapy. Norman Zinberg also extensively discussed this in Drug, Set, and Setting: The Basis for Controlled Intoxicant Use (1984).

Due to the importance of setting in early psychedelic therapy, Hubbard introduced a “treatment space decorated to feel more like a home than a hospital”, which came to be known as a “Hubbard Room”.

In 1966, Timothy Leary conducted a series of experiments with dimethyltryptamine (DMT) with controlled set and setting. The aim was to see whether DMT, which had then been mostly thought of as a terror-inducing drug, could produce pleasant experiences under a supportive set and setting.


It’s about knowing the type of experience you want to have and also remembering that these medicines and substances are going to do what they’re going to do.

It’s important to think about what you want to explore beforehand, so you can cultivate that inner set, but it’s also important to have an open mind. You can have a really clear intention, but then the medicine could take you somewhere very different.

I highly recommend getting a trained ‘sitter’ to watch over you should you need any thing or become emotionally stressed.

Author: PsyNurse

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