Set and Setting

acid test by wes wilson

Set and setting describes the context for psychedelic drug experiences: one’s mindset and the setting in which the user has the experience. The term was coined by Timothy Leary, and became widely accepted by researchers in psychedelic psychotherapy.

‘Set’ is the mental state a person brings to the experience, like thoughts, mood and expectations. ‘Setting’ is the physical and social environment. Social support networks have shown to be particularly important in the outcome of the psychedelic experience. They are able to control or guide the course of the experience, both consciously and subconsciously. Stress, fear, or a disagreeable environment, may result in an unpleasant experience (bad trip). Conversely, a relaxed, curious person in a warm, comfortable and safe place is more likely to have a pleasant experience.

In 1966, Leary conducted a series of experiments with 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 was found that it could.

According to Leary: ‘Of course, the drug dose does not produce the transcendent experience. It merely acts as a chemical key — it opens the mind, frees the nervous system of its ordinary patterns and structures. The nature of the experience depends almost entirely on set and setting. Set denotes the preparation of the individual, including his personality structure and his mood at the time. Setting is physical — the weather, the room’s atmosphere; social — feelings of persons present towards one another; and cultural — prevailing views as to what is real. It is for this reason that manuals or guide-books are necessary. Their purpose is to enable a person to understand the new realities of the expanded consciousness, to serve as road maps for new interior territories which modern science has made accessible.’

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