Set and setting

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Set and setting, when referring to a psychedelic drug experience, means one's mindset (shortened to "set") and the physical and social environment (the "setting") in which the user has the experience. This is especially relevant for psychedelic experiences in either a therapeutic or recreational context. According to the 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 and popularized by Timothy Leary in 1961, and became widely accepted by researchers in psychedelic therapy.[1][2] Norman Zinberg has also discussed this in Drug, Set, and Setting: The Basis for Controlled Intoxicant Use (1984).

"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.[3] 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. A curated playlist can be part of a favourable setting.[1][2][3]

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.

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".[4]

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 was found that it could.[4]

Set and setting has also been investigated from a religious perspective.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Naftulin, Julia (2020-11-06). "Listen: The playlist scientists used to unlock 'elevated states of consciousness' in people tripping on 'magic' mushrooms for a research study". Insider. Retrieved 2020-12-02.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. ^ Strickland, Justin C.; Garcia-Romeu, Albert; Johnson, Matthew W. (2020-12-29). "Set and Setting: A Randomized Study of Different Musical Genres in Supporting Psychedelic Therapy". ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science. 4 (2): 472–478. doi:10.1021/acsptsci.0c00187. PMC 8033606. PMID 33860177.
  3. ^ Lhooq, Michelle (2021-10-22). "Countdown to ecstasy: how music is being used in healing psychedelic trips". The Guardian. Retrieved 2021-10-28.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  4. ^ Pollan, Michael (15 May 2018). How to Change Your Mind. p. 164. ISBN 9780525558941. But though this mode of therapy would become closely identified with Osmond and Hoffer, they themselves credited someone else for critical elements of its design, a man of considerable mystery with no formal training as a scientist or therapist: Al Hubbard. A treatment space decorated to feel more like a home than a hospital came to be known as a Hubbard Room, and at least one early psychedelic researcher told me that this whole therapeutic regime, which is now the norm, should by all rights be known as "the Hubbard method." Yet Al Hubbard, a.k.a. "Captain Trips" and "the Johnny Appleseed of LSD," is not the kind of intellectual forebear anyone doing serious psychedelic science today is eager to acknowledge, much less celebrate.
  1. ^ "Ataractic and Hallucinogenic Drugs in Psychiatry: Report of a Study Group" (PDF). World Health Organization Technical Report Series (152). 1958.
  2. ^ Hartogsohn, I. (2017). "Constructing drug effects: A history of set and setting". Drug Science, Policy and Law. 3: 205032451668332. doi:10.1177/2050324516683325.
  3. ^ Shewan, D.; Dalgarno, P.; Reith, G. (2000). "Perceived risk and risk reduction among ecstasy users: the role of drug, set, and setting". International Journal of Drug Policy. 10 (6): 431–453. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/S0955-3959(99)00038-9.
  4. ^ Leary, T. (1966). "Programmed Communication During Experiences With DMT". The Psychedelic Review. 1 (8): 83–95. Archived from the original on 2017-01-07.
  5. ^ Rosegrant, John (1976). "The Impact of Set and Setting on Religious Experience in Nature". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 15 (4): 301–310. doi:10.2307/1385633. JSTOR 1385633.

Further reading[edit]