“Set and setting” is a concept that is well-known within the psychedelic community, only just now entering mainstream parlance. The phrase was coined by Timothy Leary – American psychologist and psychedelic advocate – in the early 1960s. Recently, the idea is being applied to cannabis in an attempt to maximize therapeutic potential and to understand the nature of memorable experiences – both positive and challenging.
The nature of a psychedelic trip
Psilocybin is the compound in magic mushrooms that creates the remarkable experiences these fungi are known for. It shares a chemical structure that is very similar to the neurotransmitter serotonin. After eating magic mushrooms, the influx of serotonin-like molecules tricks the brain into exciting the pathways related to happiness, well-being, cognition, and learning. The result is a “psychedelic trip” and distortions of perception, time and space.
Like most psychoactive compounds, psychedelics provoke a somewhat consistent set of results. Caffeine and cocaine will speed you up, cannabis and alcohol can slow you down, magic mushrooms and LSD make you trip. Unlike the first two, the latter trip can come in many shapes and forms, often playing out in your mind alone. While it may seem unpredictable – a rollercoaster of thoughts and emotions – there is an approach to psychedelics that helps to guide a trip.
What is set and setting?
Set and setting (S&S) are more of any exercise in mindfulness than anything else. It can equally be applied to any drug or activity. In regards to magic mushrooms, set and setting are arguably more important than the dose when it comes to the psychedelic experience.
It’s an understanding of both the world around you and your mind, before even taking a substance in the first place. Psilocybin may have the power to heal both physically and emotionally; set and setting are the best way to maximize the positive outcomes of a psychedelic experience.
Set: Short for ‘mindset’, this aspect of S&S is the consideration of your current state of mind, and the factors that are influencing it. This allows you the opportunity to predict what the general ‘vibe’ of the trip might be. Set also includes your goals and intentions, even if you’re only planning to have a purely recreational experience. You have the power to guide yourself in any direction you hope to explore, understand, or overcome.
Setting: Your environment. Where you are, what time it is, who you’re with – they all have a huge influence on a psychedelic trip. With experience, you can understand more clearly how these factors might influence you. To accelerate the process, consider keeping notes on your setting, to assist in evaluating the impact of individual factors on your trip.
The prime therapeutic value of psilocybin as a tool is the requirement for only a single session, as opposed to a life-time of pills. So, what is set and setting? Considering the potential impact of a trip, preparation and education are incredibly useful for making the most of what could otherwise just be a fun experience. Understanding what psilocybin can do to your brain can unlock a universe of potential exploration and self-improvement.