Set and setting

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The "set" and "setting" are critical to avoid a "bad trip"

Set and setting, when referring to a psychedelic drug experience or the use of other psychoactive substances, means one's mindset (shortened to "set") and the physical and social environment (the "setting") in which the user has the experience.[1] Set and setting are factors that can condition the effects of psychoactive substances: "Set" refers to the mental state a person brings to the experience, like thoughts, mood and expectations; "setting" to the physical and social environment.[2] This is especially relevant for psychedelic experiences in either a therapeutic or recreational context.


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 and popularized by Timothy Leary in 1961, and became widely accepted by researchers in psychedelic therapy.[1][3] 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".[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.[5]

Set and setting has also been investigated from a religious perspective.[6]

The concept of set and setting has more recently been extended beyond psychedelics. Zinberg "sought to integrate the ideas of set and setting into a theory of harm reduction which examined not only psychedelic use but also drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, and heroin"[1] and, more recently, the concept has been used to understand the circumstances of opioid overdoses.[7]


Social support networks have shown to be particularly important in the outcome of the psychedelic experience.[8] They are able to control or guide the course of the experience, both consciously and subconsciously. Stress, fear, or a disagreeable material, social, cultural environment, including situations of racism or discrimination,[9][10] 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.

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.

Research has shown that a curated music playlist can be part of a favourable setting.[11][12][13] Set and setting are critical in the design of psychiatric facilities and modalities of psychedelic-assisted psychotherapies.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Hartogsohn, Ido (2017). "Constructing drug effects: A history of set and setting". Drug Science, Policy and Law. 3: 205032451668332. doi:10.1177/2050324516683325. ISSN 2050-3245. S2CID 53373205.
  2. ^ Zinberg, N. E. (1984). Drug, Set, and Setting: The Basis for Controlled Intoxicant Use. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-03110-2.
  3. ^ "Ataractic and Hallucinogenic Drugs in Psychiatry: Report of a Study Group" (PDF). World Health Organization Technical Report Series (152). 1958.
  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.
  5. ^ Leary, T. (1966). "Programmed Communication During Experiences With DMT". The Psychedelic Review. 1 (8): 83–95. Archived from the original on 2017-01-07.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Ataiants, Janna; Roth, Alexis M.; Mazzella, Silvana; Lankenau, Stephen E. (2020). "Circumstances of overdose among street-involved, opioid-injecting women: Drug, set, and setting". International Journal of Drug Policy. 78: 102691. doi:10.1016/j.drugpo.2020.102691. PMC 7302961. PMID 32086154.
  8. ^ Shewan, David; Dalgarno, Phil; Reith, Gerda (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. doi:10.1016/S0955-3959(99)00038-9.
  9. ^ Neitzke-Spruill, Logan (2019-09-19). "Race as a component of set and setting: How experiences of race can influence psychedelic experiences". Journal of Psychedelic Studies. 4 (1): 51–60. doi:10.1556/2054.2019.022. ISSN 2559-9283. S2CID 204363168.
  10. ^ Pilecki, Brian; Luoma, Jason B.; Bathje, Geoff J.; Rhea, Joseph; Narloch, Vilmarie Fraguada (2021). "Ethical and legal issues in psychedelic harm reduction and integration therapy". Harm Reduction Journal. 18 (1): 40. doi:10.1186/s12954-021-00489-1. ISSN 1477-7517. PMC 8028769. PMID 33827588.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Lhooq, Michelle (2021-10-22). "Countdown to ecstasy: how music is being used in healing psychedelic trips". The Guardian. Retrieved 2021-10-28.
  14. ^ Noorani, Tehseen (2021). "Containment Matters: Set and Setting in Contemporary Psychedelic Psychiatry". Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology. 28 (3): 201–216. doi:10.1353/ppp.2021.0032. ISSN 1086-3303. S2CID 240529037.

Further reading[edit]