Why are Set and Setting important when taking psychedelic substances?

By Gabriel García July 11, 2022

We usually talk about the potential positive effects of psychedelic substances, however, it is important to keep in mind that these potential positive effects of psychedelic substances usually have an important psychological burden. That is why the psychological variables of person and context are especially crucial to not only make this type of experience as risk-free as possible, but also to turn it into a positive and, hopefully, transcendental experience.

Antón Gómez-Escolar tells us in his book Essential Guide to the Psychedelic Renaissance how (pp. 271-272), given that psychedelics greatly amplify what is going on inside us and around us (even things that are already present, even if we are not giving them our full attention), we are not paying full attention to them. are not giving them our full attention), it is crucial that the person adequately prepare him/herself and his/her context to maximize the chances of having a positive and constructive positive and constructive experience, while minimizing the chances of having a negative or unpleasant experience.

It is also important to note that a “good trip” is not always sought within a therapeutic context, given that the ultimate goal of the therapeutic use of psychedelics is usually aimed at a transcendental experience, although sometimes difficult to cope with at the time, which in the long term will produce positive effects in the individual.

However, since it is desirable that the experience be as positive as possible, we must speak of those psychological variables of person and context that we mentioned at the beginning, **also known as set and setting.


Best-selling author and journalist Michael Pollan defines Set in his book “How to Change Your Mind”, coming soon to Netflix in the form of a documentary series, as the context that refers to the subject himself, his emotional state, his mood, his personality, his mentality, his experiences in and out of psychedelia, his preparation and his expectations regarding the consumption of psychedelics. The predisposition and the state of the subject are fundamental, since they will determine the interaction between the psyche of the person and the psychedelic substance.

Some aspects to take into account regarding the Set according to Antón Gómez-Escolar are:

  • Self-knowledge and reflection on the personality to anticipate possible reactions in new situations, especially if one is a person with a tendency to anxiety, possession of control, over-analysis, etc.
  • It is essential to find out if you have any family history of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, psychosis or bipolar disorder, as these are dangerous conditions that can be aggravated and/or triggered if there is a latent predisposition to suffer from them.
  • Analyze the emotional state in which you are at the moment of consuming any psychedelic substance: it is important to be relaxed and confident before starting the psychedelic trip.
  • Visit risk reduction websites (such as energycontrol.org), watch videos, or read books to learn about the substance and the experience.


Again, Michael Pollan describes the Setting in his book as the physical and social environment where the psychedelic experience will take place; the subject during the psychedelic effects will interact with that environment, so a good experience will also depend on the stimuli present in the environment and the place itself, depending on each individual’s perception of the place.

Aspects to consider about the Set according to Antón Gómez-Escolar are:

  • Plan well the elements that will be needed for the session in advance: food, water, music and any usual elements of expression (paints, pencil and paper, etc.). The goal is not to have the need to move too much from the location during the experience, since changes of space can totally change the experience and not necessarily for the better.
  • The physical environment should be safe, controllable and predictable, avoiding excessive stimuli. This rules out public places, with crowds of unfamiliar people, noise and other variables that cannot be controlled. On the other hand, a house, a garden or private spaces where things are controlled are much safer, controllable and predictable.
  • Choose a physical environment that is in accordance with the intention of the experience. If the intention is introspection, a bed with closed eyes and headphones is advisable, while for a recreational experience, a beautiful forest can be a good choice.

These are just a few of the Set and Setting tips included in the Essential Guide to the Psychedelic Renaissance. However, if you want to know more tips to keep in mind, the complete list included in the title includes an extensive amount of other tips and hints to help you achieve the desired effect on your psychedelic journey.

If you are interested in learning more about how this and other substances act in your brain, in addition to the Essential Guide to the Psychedelic Renaissance, we recommend Your Brain with Psychedelics, by Genís Oña. With this guide you will learn the keys to the effects of psychedelics, capable of producing significant changes in the processes of perception, thought and consciousness. The book also includes a prologue written by one of the greatest eminences in this field, José Carlos Bouso, scientific director of ICEERS.

The book, like the rest of the Psychonaut’s Guide series, is now available on Amazon in physical and eBook format, as well as Apple Books. In addition, all titles are available in Spanish version on GuiasdelPsiconauta.com

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