How to Make the Best of Set and Setting

Why is Set and Setting so Important?

Set and Setting – if you’re new to psychedelics (i.e. psilocybin mushrooms) or other techniques to generate altered states (such as holotropic breathwork), these are concepts and practices that will become an essential part of your toolkit. If you’re an experienced psychonaut, then taking the time to see if you need to update them can reinvigorate your experience. But first, what are we talking about?  

Set is short for ‘mindset’, which is everything about where you’re at mentally and emotionally when you have an experience. Are you stressed, anxious, depressed, happy, calm, or excited? It can also include your intentions for undertaking an activity. Are you doing this for your mental health, spiritual growth, or to have a different view of reality?

Setting is the environment you’re in when you have your experience. It’s where you are and what is going on around you. Are you in a clinic, your bedroom, or a forest? Is it loud or quiet? Who is with you, and how do you feel about them? 

Together, Set and Setting form the internal and external context of our psychedelic experiences (Carhart-Harris et al., 2018). They’re essential because they can have an enormous influence over the experiences we have when using psychedelics. Regardless of why you might be choosing to go down this path, paying attention to Set and Setting will help you stay as safe as possible and get the most from your experience. So, how can we do that? 

Ready, Set…

The conventional wisdom on psychedelics is that they can amplify your emotions and bring up thoughts and feelings that you might only be vaguely aware of in everyday life. So “Set” – your mindset – can make a big difference during a psychedelic experience. 

Research points to several internal factors that can influence psychedelic experiences. Having a clear intention – knowing why you are using psychedelics – seems to help people have less unpleasant and more constructive experiences (Haijen et al., 2018), as does the capacity to let go of everyday concerns.

You don’t be in a perfect headspace when having a psychedelic experience. (If you did, psychedelics wouldn’t be effective at helping people overcome treatment-resistant depression and existential anxiety.) But if you are feeling negative emotions or stress, you should be prepared for a potentially challenging time, due to the amplifying effects mentioned above. In psychedelic-assisted therapy, the work that patients do before an experience is vital. Preparation is one of the ways an experienced integration specialist can be helpful. So, if you are new to psychedelics, or are utilizing them to address mental health concerns, really consider seeking out this advice.

Set includes things about your mind and brain that are hidden or dormant. That is why being aware of any family history of certain mental health issues is extremely important, especially schizophrenia and related conditions. If this applies to you, it is crucial to seek professional advice and consider not using psychedelics at all. 

Thinking about Set requires just a little bit of honesty and mindfulness of where you are at, mentally and emotionally. Under normal circumstances, we can be quite good at telling ourselves we feel a certain way when we don’t (I know I am). But profound consciousness-altering experiences, such as psychedelics or deep meditation, can easily strip away such illusions and show us how and what we truly feel. 

Setting: It’s All Around You

Your immediate environment can profoundly change how you feel during a psychedelic experience. An example of this is that someone having difficulty with sensory overload on a crowded dancefloor (while under the influence of a psychedelic) will often feel better in a quiet zone or chill-out tent.

The importance of your environment is a core component in the clinical settings of psychedelic-assisted therapy. Psychedelic-assisted therapy usually occurs in comfortably and warmly furnished rooms, with participants using eye-masks and gentle music to reduce extra distraction, all while being watched over by therapists who generally provide minimal interaction during the experience (unless required). 

The critical point for Setting is to be in an environment where you feel reasonably safe, relaxed, and comfortable. As with Set, this can take a small measure of awareness/mindfulness – take some time to think and reflect on the locations and people that will be right for you and align with your intentions.

Set and Setting in everyday life

In the end, the concept of Set and Setting is important because we exist in contexts. Our internal and external contexts impact and influence our experiences. While this is especially true for psychedelics, our entire lives have this quality because we don’t exist in isolation. Our Setting always affects our mindset and experiences, which causes us to make choices that influence our Setting. And in doing so, we influence the experiences, Set, and Setting of others.

Being aware of this isn’t just useful for psychedelics. This knowledge can help us better acknowledge how our thoughts, emotions, and the context of our lives influence us. Embracing this mindfulness, not just of our inner experience, but of how our interaction with our environment makes us feel, is something we can carry forward from psychedelic experiences into everyday life. 

Disclaimer: The following material is provided for informational purposes only and is not designed to prescribe, diagnose, or treat any physical or mental illness. None of the information presented here should be treated as medical or professional advice. Mindleap does not condone the acquisition nor consumption of illicit psychotropic compounds.


Carhart-Harris, R. L., Roseman, L., Haijen, E., Erritzoe, D., Watts, R., Branchi, I., & Kaelen, M. (2018). Psychedelics and the essential importance of context. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 32(7), 725-731. doi:10.1177/0269881118754710

Haijen, E. C. H. M., Kaelen, M., Roseman, L., Timmermann, C., Kettner, H., Russ, S., . . . Carhart-Harris, R. L. (2018). Predicting Responses to Psychedelics: A Prospective Study. Frontiers in Pharmacology, 9(897). doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00897

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