Set and Setting when taking psychedelics

The 19th of April is Bicycle Day which celebrates the day that Albert Hoffmann, a Swiss chemist, experienced the first full psychedelic experience on LSD. It gets its namesake from the transformative bike ride he made back to his house as he succumbed to the trip. This Bicycle Day, we will talk about the central pillars of psychedelic harm reduction – ‘set’ and ‘setting’.

Image of blotter art depicting Albert Hoffman riding a bicycle

So what is ‘set’ and ‘setting’?

‘Set’ is shorthand for your mindset. You can think of this as your mental state before your trip and in the days preceding. Your mindset is affected by all sorts of different factors from work stress and relationship dramas through to impending deadlines and your expectation of what the trip will be like.

‘Setting’ is the environment that you plan to trip in. This includes the room or space you plan to be in, the people you’re with, the music you have on and even the time of day/night.

Why are set and setting important?

People find that set and setting have a profound impact on the psychedelic experience. The more supportive the set and setting, the more likely the experience will be positive. In opposition, a less than ideal set and setting will increase the likelihood of a negative or challenging experience.

Whilst being mindful of set and setting doesn’t guarantee a ‘good trip’, it’s a effective way of nudging the experience of taking psychedelic drugs in a positive direction.

How do I make sure my set and setting are ‘good’?

Your ideal set and setting will be unique to you, but there are a few questions to ask yourself before you decide whether to trip:

· Check in with yourself – Are you in a good headspace at the moment? Have you finished any pressing tasks you need to do? Are you feeling positive about tripping, or are you feeling really anxious about it? Save your trip for another day if your head isn’t in the right place.

· Think about who you’ll be with – Are you planning to be with people you trust and feel comfortable with? Are your housemates/mum/landlord likely to burst in mid-trip? Are you going to have a trip sitter? Having trusted people around will make the experience more enjoyable and will mean bad experiences will be managed more safely.

· Think about which location will make you feel safe – Do you feel more safe/comfortable in your house, out in nature, at a friend’s place, or elsewhere? It’s down to your preference, but make sure you’ll be safe, not somewhere so remote that getting help would be tricky.

· Plan activities/distractions – Have you thought about what music you’ll want to listen to? Does drawing/painting etc. relax you and have you got the stuff you need to do that? Do you have a favourite cosy jumper/blanket/something else that you find calming? Planning distractions means if things start going in a negative direction you’ve got stuff on hand to try and turn the trip around.

What else should I do to stay as safe as possible when I trip?

Set and setting aren’t the only things to think about before you trip so here are some extra tips:

· Read up on the drug you plan to use – find out how long the trip will last, what size dose to take, what the expected effects will be, and what other substances to avoid whilst on it.

· Check in with your mates about how they’re feeling – people react differently to psychedelics. Let each other know how you usually respond and what things to look out for that could be a sign you are having a bad time.

· Plan what to do if something goes wrong – If you’ve got a trip sitter, let them know what you want to happen if you start having a negative experience. If you don’t, make a plan about what you will do – this could include phoning a trusted friend, having a change of scenery or even something as small as putting on some different music. If you have a bad trip, remind yourself that you’ve taken drugs and that they will wear off.

4 minute read

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