By Kate Lis
People who dabble in psychedelics have long talked about the importance of ‘set and setting’ — a concept that goes all the way back to the start of the 1900s and became popular in the 1960s in psychedelic drug research. In brief terms, the ‘set and setting’ hypothesis argues that every experience with psychedelic drugs is a reflection of the set (mental state, preparation, expectation, personality and intention) and setting (the surrounding environment). In this piece, we’ll cover some of the do’s and don’ts that will up your chances of having the best possible trip. Use them as guidelines or inspiration for your next adventure.
Set Do’s and Don’t’s
DON’T: Trip if you’re struggling.
A psychedelic substance will usually enhance the mental state you’re already in. We don’t advise you to go tripping if you’re depressed, anxious, sad or in any other challenging state of mind. Since most psychedelic experiences tend to last quite a few hours, take a pause to consider if the timing is right for you.
It’s always recommended to go into the experience in a relaxed state. If you’ve been stressed or under a lot of pressure lately, try to wind down beforehand. You can release stress hormones from your body through some simple physical exercise (like shaking your body) or by doing some deep and relaxing breathing. Do whatever feels right for you, but at least make sure that once you start the trip, there will be no more stressors.
DO: Plan ahead.
Clear your schedule for the rest of the day — perhaps even the day after — and turn off your notifications.
DO: Have a wingperson.
If you’re venturing on a solo trip, it’s a good idea to tell a trusted friend what you’re up to. Perhaps make a deal that they check up on you (via text, call or visit) during the trip. It could also feel nice to meet up with someone after the trip for some care.
Psychedelics as Therapy
Some people like to take psychedelics as a form of self therapy. The impulse is understandable: there’s currently a psychedelic therapy renaissance in the fields of neuroscience and psychiatry. What does that mean? In short, psychedelics like LSD and psilocybin (mushrooms) — and even other drugs, like MDMA and ketamine — have demonstrated potential to help alleviate mental health issues like depression and PTSD.
DO: Have a support system.
The efficacy of using psychedelics as therapy usually depends on working with a medical professional — or having people and resources you trust around you. That can include close friends, a therapist, a 12-step program or something similar to help you process and integrate the experience after the trip.
DON’T: Rush using psychedelics as therapy.
Unless you’re an experienced user and have a strong support system in place, it’s not advised to use psychedelics for self-treatment. There are no shortcuts to better mental health.
Setting Do’s and Don’t’s
DO: Wear comfy clothes to allow for whatever movement you should desire.
Feeling physically comfortable is crucial to having a good experience with psychedelics.
DO: Choose the right space.
Are you at a packed venue? At a friend’s house? At home? Out in nature? It’s a given that the more familiar and less chaotic the setting is, the more at ease and relaxed you’ll be to venture into the trip.
DO: Mind the people around you.
Tripping will make you sensitive towards other people’s trips and moods. Preferably only be around people you feel safe and comfortable with.
DO: Try eating something.
Enjoying food while tripping can be a whole experience in and of itself. For example, fruit and small snacks can be extremely satisfying. One downside is that it can seem impossible to cook while tripping, so prepping your food in advance is a super pro move.
DO: Play with the atmosphere.
The right ambiance can really bump up the experience. Colours and textures are usually amplified when you’re tripping. Playing around with coloured lights and visual projections — or watching a beautiful film or documentary — can be an amazing experience.
DO: Choose your music.
Music can profoundly shift the trip. Many people prefer electronic, ethereal music, or classic or psychedelic rock. Whatever your personal preference, it’s nice to have a few different playlists to shuffle between. Several research institutions and NGOs have published their best takes on trip playlists — including John Hopkins and the Charuna Institute. Try experiencing music laying down and blindfolded with headphones on. It’s a whole new way of connecting to your favourite tracks.
DON’T: Be unprepared outside.
If your setting is outside in nature, there are a few other factors to consider. Do you have access to food and water? Are you familiar with the area? Is there enough juice on your phone? Do you have a power bank? What about cash for a ride home if you get tired? And warm clothes? The extent to which you prepare and pack before venturing outside can really make or break the fun of your adventure.
Above all, setting comes down to your own gut feeling. Do you feel safe with the people in question, and does the setting feel good? Some trips start off well, but might need some adjustment later; that’s totally fine. The more familiar you get with the psychedelic experience, the more you can experiment with different modes and settings.
If you find yourself in a bad headspace, with ruminating thoughts or anxiety, there are a couple of things you or the people around you can do to help.
DON’T: Fight it.
Fighting it will only cause you to dig yourself into a deeper hole. You need to accept the way you are feeling. Sit with your feelings and work through them with some support and a bit of a change in setting: changing the mood in the room by adjusting lighting and music can go a long way and really turn the vibe around.
It can also be comforting to know that the state you’re in doesn’t last forever, but is just a passing moment. Having someone near to remind you of this over a comforting hug is super helpful. Sometimes, that’s all it takes to ease your negative feelings.
DO: Get creative.
Moving your body or getting fresh air can ease the experience. You can also distract yourself by making some art, dancing, re-watching your favourite feel-good film — or doing something else you find comfort in.
If you want to stop the trip completely, you can turn to Benzodiazepines. If you’re able to get a hold of some, it might be a good idea to have a couple on hand, just in case. Urban legend has it that citrus fruits will help stop a trip, but no science supports that. If anything, it’s more likely that biting into a juicy orange will boost a mushroom trip.
It’s very important to understand that a challenging experience on psychedelics isn’t necessarily a bad experience. Sometimes, you can even gain valuable insights. Perhaps there’s something deeper within you that requires your attention or care. Or maybe you need some help tackling certain issues. The gift of psychedelics is an opening into the subconscious. If used properly, it can be a valuable tool for your personal growth and healing.
Finally, make it a habit to process the role that psychedelics play in your life outside of the trip itself. Talk to your friends or community about these experiences, write a journal about them, or find your own way of integrating your new thoughts and reflections into your everyday life.
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