Harm Reduction

Why Set and Setting Matters for Microdosing

Paul Austin · September 15th, 2020

Microdosing is a controversial topic in the psychedelic space.

Many people — including myself — credit the practice as a pathway for accelerated development. When used with intention, microdosing minimizes the inevitable resistance we face on our path of growth towards greater freedom and self-expression.

Microdosing skeptics claim the practice is purely a placebo and that the only real transformation comes from high-dose peak experiences. According to those who doubt microdosing’s efficacy, a “sub-perceptible” dose, by definition, has no tangible change on how we manifest our external reality.

Which brings up two interesting questions:

How does microdosing fundamentally alter our direct experience of the world? And what role — if any — does set and setting play in the microdosing experience?

Our Old Friend, “Set and Setting”

“Set and setting” is one of the most recognizable terms in the psychedelic lingua franca.

Coined by Timothy Leary during the second wave of psychedelics, “set” refers to your mindset entering a psychedelic experience, and “setting” refers to the environment in which you take the psychedelic.

When it comes to high doses of psychedelics, the importance of curating “set and setting” is well-established:

  • Preparation: set aside a minimum of one day and upwards of an entire week to reflect, meditate, and prepare your mindset for an extraordinary experience.
  • Experience: create a safe and loving container where you can surrender to the psychedelic experience, ideally with a sitter or trusted guide.
  • Integration: take a minimum of 1–2 days to integrate the afterglow into everyday life, journaling about your experience to author your life’s next adventure.

When Dr. James Fadiman introduced microdosing as a concept in his 2011 book “The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide,” the idea of taking super-low doses of psychedelics 2–3x per week added an exciting dimension to our definition of “set and setting.”

Instead of a narrow focus on the immediacy surrounding a peak psychedelic experience, microdosing extends the set and setting container to an indefinite period, dependent on the length of time — 30 days, 60 days, or even longer — one chooses to microdose.

Neuroplasticity, Adaptation, and the Malleability of Self

How exactly does microdosing extend the container of “set and setting?”

Recent clinical research published by the Beckley Foundation and Maastricht University found that those who microdosed with LSD had increased levels of BDNF in blood plasma, the first conclusive clinical research proving that microdosing increased BDNF levels.

BDNF stands for brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that is “like Miracle-Gro for your brain.” BDNF stimulates growth, connections, and activity in the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that is responsible for planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior.

Another one of microdosing’s main effects is to stimulate a serotonin receptor called “5-HT2A” located in the prefrontal cortex, which leads to the increased transmission of “Glutamate,” a neurotransmitter responsible (in part) for essential brain functions such as cognition, learning, and memory.

So, how does this tie into “set and setting”?

If microdosing psychedelics increases levels of BDNF and Glutamate, then microdosing has a profound impact on the malleability of the self. And if microdosing helps to create a more malleable self (as we’ve heard tens-of-thousands of people report from their microdosing experiences), then the container in which you microdose is critical.

After all, neuroplasticity is a neutral term. Creating a mind that is more “plastic” does not necessarily mean that things will get better. It does mean that you’ve made an opening in your sense of self to change and adapt with more ease. For that reason, the container in which you choose to microdose is central to the benefits you experience through your extended protocol.

Microdosing, Afterglow, and Magician-ing

When I first began microdosing in mid-2015, I consumed between 15 and 25 micrograms of LSD 2–3x per week (some may call this “mini-dosing”). Through microdosing, it became so much easier to shift, adapt, flow, learn, and connect with others.

Because of this, the container of my experience extended from the typical 1–2 weeks (as is usual for a peak psychedelic experience) to seven months. In other words, the concept of “set and setting” evolved from a temporary blip on my journey through the matrix to a consistent practice of reflecting, refactoring, and refining what I wished to manifest into my lived experience.

After all, microdosing is not just taking a small amount of LSD or psilocybin mushrooms 2–3x per week and witnessing what unfolds from there. There is little to no structure in this intention. It’s way too loose.

Microdosing is like a magic wand, a modality of significant power to help shift and change your reality as you wish. Without intention, you cede control of your experience to outside forces, reacting to the whims of life rather than manifesting precisely what you want to create. By approaching microdosing with lackadaisical energy, you reduce the likelihood of having an experience that produces tangible benefits, like elevated mood, enhanced creativity, and more flow in social settings.

Your mood may improve for a relatively short period because of the biochemical impact of the microdosing (hint: increased serotonin levels). But if your attitude doesn’t continue to be stable and healthy after you finish microdosing, then your experience is just a drop in the pan, something that once worked but left no tangible change in its wake.

And ain’t nobody got time for that shit.

By creating the right “set and setting,” we create an opportunity for that new energy to become fully integrated into our being, becoming freer as we move throughout the world.

Third Wave’s Microdosing Experience Program

Recently, Third Wave rolled out our first-ever comprehensive coaching program: The Microdosing Experience Program.

We enrolled an initial cohort of 50 participants, an incredibly diverse array of people from 10+ countries, between the ages of 26 and 75, with professions ranging from medical doctor to investor to start-up founder to therapist to executive coach.

In creating the Microdosing Experience Program, we intended to create a tight container of healing and transformation. That way, every participant can experience noticeable changes in their disposition and well-being. Weekly topics included things like “Clarifying Purpose,” “Setting Your North Star,” and “Vulnerability and Accountability.”

By infusing specific intentions into our participants’ experience, we dramatically increased the likelihood of success for their microdosing experience.

By drawing on feedback from 3,000+ participants in our Official Microdosing Course and the wisdom that arises from having been at the forefront of this microdosing movement for the last three years, I was able to teach the essential skill of “magician-ing” with microdosing to all our participants.

That is, I taught each one of our students how to become an alchemist of their future, and how psychedelic substances are used to accelerate the path of manifestation and creation.

In part 2 of this 3-part series, we’ll get into psychedelic use as a skill, why microdosing is the meta-skill of all skills, and how you can become a master at incorporating psychedelics into your practice of alchemizing greatness.

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Reader Interactions


  1. AvatarRandy Dahlquist says

    ‘This is all fine and dandy and would love to experience this. However i understand it is illegal (so be it i could care less) it’s hard to find and then hard to find the proper dosage. If anyone can help me there i would love to join your course.

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