Adapted From Chapter 19 of The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide by Jim Fadiman
If you have any familiarity with LSD use, you’ve probably heard the expression “Set and Setting.” It was coined by Norman Zinberg to describe the context for psychedelic drug experience and has become widely accepted by researchers in psychedelic therapy.
Unknown to most others, however, are four other S’s: substance, sitter, session, and situation. Although these four S’s do not play as primary a role as Set and Setting, they still affect the nature and value of a psychedelic experience.
In this article, I dive headfirst into descriptions for each S and why it is critical to keep every S in mind for a great psychedelic experience.
‘Set’ is short for the mindset during a trip. It includes the preparation and expectations of the voyager and guide before embarking on a psychedelic experience.
Before a psychedelic experience, the Voyager (person taking the psychedelic) should make a number of preparations. First off, the Voyager needs to approach the psychedelic experience as a three-day experience, not a one day trip. On the first day, stay quiet and unhurried. Set aside time for self-reflection and spend part of the day in nature. On the second day, consume the psychedelic. On the third day, begin to integrate the experience and record your discoveries and insights.
During the first day, record your thoughts related to the experience:
- What are your preconceptions about psychedelic experiences?
- What do you expect to occur during the trip?
- What do you hope to learn? Experience? Understand? Resolve?
- What are your goals? Do you have spiritual goals? Psychological goals? Social goals?
Discuss these thoughts with your guide. They can clarify any concerns you may have, helping you to experience a deeper sense of calm in approaching a psychedelic experience.
The setting is the surrounding in which the trip occurs. It includes the physical environment and the space for the session.
There are two options for a physical setting when taking psychedelics:
- An uncluttered, comfortable room with a couch or bed
- A familiar outdoor setting
If you decide to take a psychedelic indoors, pick a clean, uncluttered place with a couch or bed, and access to a toilet. Make sure there is a variety of soft pillows and blankets and some sort of stereo system. Your goal is to create and maintain a simple environment that supports inner peace.
If taken outdoors, may create a more extroverted experience. Connecting to nature becomes an essential part of the experience. However, even if tripping outdoors, make sure there is a space to lie down. Bring a blanket and music along.
Many trips combine these two atmospheres. I’ve had many voyages where I begin my trip outside and retire to an indoor location later on. Alternatively, one can experience the most intense period of a psychedelic trip inside, and, then, explore nature.
In terms of atmosphere, music is critical for an enlightening entheogenic experience. In fact, according to the Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide: “Most cultures that use plants for healing, divination, or spiritual revivification use music to facilitate the transition from one level of awareness to another and to enhance the feeling of safety by providing nonverbal support.”
Either headphones or a stereo system will work. Focus on classical music. Specific recommendations include Hovhaness’s Mysterious Mountain, Faure’s Requiem, Gregorian chants, solo piano, piano with one or two other instruments, unaccompanied flute, ragas, and indigenous drum recordings.
Avoid anything with words after the first hour. It may be distracting.
When listening to music, closing your eyes will increase its impact. To enhance the experience, use an eyeshade, pillow, or soft cloth to create a sense of complete darkness.
Certain individuals who have truly profound experiences have no desire to try psychedelics again. This might happen to you.
Whenever you do try psychedelics again, control for all of the above variables.
And if you couldn’t find a sitter the first time, make an extra effort to do so for your second experience.
How much of the psychedelic are you taking?
If you desire a full-on ‘heroic dose’, then 200-400ug of LSD (or 2-4g dried psilocybin mushrooms) will work. I do not recommend any dose higher than 400ug. Anything above might cause mental instability.
For more information on how much you should take, please look at this resource. It is a comprehensive guide on dose amount for a range of psychedelics.
Do you have a guide for the session? Someone to take care of you?
For any user of psychedelics (especially a new user), a guide for your trip is recommended. An ideal guide is someone who has extensive experience with psychedelics – both taking them and guiding others through psychedelic experiences. Guides must be sober.
The sitter acts as a reassuring figure in the midst of a disorientating experience. They take care of the physical setting, monitors the music, and, most importantly, acts as a sensitive pillar of support for the voyager.
If you cannot find an experienced sitter to guide you, do not let this deter you from trying psychedelics. I have used LSD well over 15 times and have never had a sitter. Yet, I consider my experiences with LSD to be some of the most transformative of my entire life.
If you do not have a sitter, you must manage the other 5 S’s. Also, as additional help, it may be a good idea to enlist the help of a friend, even if they have no experience with psychedelic use.
‘Session’ refers to the general time for a voyage (depends on the psychedelic – see all our substance guides for more information) and the particular aspects of a voyage. According to the Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide, there are six stages to a psychedelic session:
- Ingesting the Psychedelic
- Initial Onset
- Opening and Letting Go
- The Gentle Glide
- The End of the Formal Session
I go into further details about all six of these aspects in this article.
‘Situation’ refers to how the Voyager integrates the experience into his or her life. It begins with the end of the formal session and extends for weeks, or even months, into the future.
Make a pointed effort to sit down and figure out what matters most to you from your experience: Did you have any groundbreaking insights into your habits, daily actions, or thought processes? Are there any people in your life who you should reach out to? Or, alternatively, people who bring you down and you must leave behind?
Be patient with yourself when making these decisions. Do not make any major life changes for the first few weeks. Instead, give yourself time to integrate your experience. The exception would be to stop any toxic behaviors, like overconsumption of alcohol or drugs.
If you plan to talk to others about your experience, many may not understand due to a multitude of reasons such as stigma surrounding drug use. Psychedelic integration circles where like-minded folk come together to share their experiences may be helpful. Read more about psychedelic integration here.
Remember, your psychedelic trip is primarily an internal experience. Keep it internal. Grow from it. Use it to help you reach a higher level of self-awareness.
When Should I Try Psychedelics Again?
As with other positive experiences, you might have a desire to try it again. After taking LSD the first time, I went on to experiment with it an additional 5-6 times over the course of the next three months. I was 19 at the time and if I could go back, I’d approach my psychedelic experiences with more caution.
The rule of thumb for psychedelic experiences is the more profound the experience, the longer you should wait before doing it again. A comfortable time frame for most individuals is at least six months. It takes at least this long to integrate the learning and insights into your life.
Where Can I Find More Guidance?
Our substance guides will give you more information about the properties of specific psychedelics, and should inform you about the particular risks and benefits of certain substances.
If you’re interested in taking a psychedelic, but are apprehensive about taking a large dose – consider microdosing first. Our Microdosing Course offers an extensive amount of information to help you get started with psychedelics, and is the perfect introduction to the world of psychoactive substances for those who are psychedelic-naive.
Signing up to our course also gives you access to our exclusive members-only community, where you can ask questions to our team of experts, and other experienced community members.
Finally, subscribe to The Third Wave podcast for weekly interviews with influential figures in the psychedelic community, as well as people who have started to microdose to improve their daily lives.