Have You Heard of Set and Setting?

In the 60’s and 70’s, the world was wildly different from what it is today in terms of drug use. During those decades, a lot of experimental research was done on the effects of psychedelics and other drugs had on the human psyche. One of the pioneers of that kind of research, was Timothy Leary.

In 1960, Leary was a professor at Harvard University, and around that time he also fell in love with the idea of using LSD (under supervision) in psychiatry. He performed lots of research with real patients, and while he got mainly positive results, they should be taken with a grain of salt. His peers were quick to point out he wasn’t following regular procedure and his findings are biased, at best. He was actually fired from Harvard because of it, though that didn’t stop him and in the following decades he became one of the most important figures of the counterculture movement advocating for responsible safe use which is actually why we’re talking about him today.

Timothy Leary is an extremely controversial figure, even today. Traditional psychiatrist tend to view him as some crazy person attempting and failing to cure all sorts of problems through magic mushrooms and LSD. Psychoactive advocates still view him as a guru of sorts and he’s been having a sort of revival after microdosing came back in style thanks to Silicon Valley. All in all, his contributions to psychiatry have not aged as well as his contributions to responsible drug use which are still believed to be incredibly helpful in this day and age.

What’s the Deal with It?

Basically, Leary says that to have a safe and responsible experience, drug users need to take care of two main aspects: set and setting. Set is short for mindset and alludes to the mental state a user has prior to beginning the experience, this is any traumas, predispositions, thoughts, fears, feelings, moods, desires, expectations, etc. The setting, on the other hand, refers to the environment surrounding the individual; it’s important to note that it’s just the physical place but the social environment as well. Timothy thought, both these things could greatly influence the trip on both a conscious and subconscious level. 

He posed that in order to ensure a gratifying experience and be a responsible drug user, consumers had to take care of both the set and the setting before even thinking about embarking in any kind of journey. Mainly when applied to marijuana use, it comes down to this:

  • Be in the right place: You should not be smoking in places where it’s prohibited, where you’re not safe or where you pose a risk to yourself or others. It should come without saying, but sometimes people tend to think smoking on a prohibited area is no big deal until they’re high and in the middle of a panic attack.
  • Don’t do it to avoid responsibility: Don’t go smoking as a form of procrastination. Leary believed that the experience should be as relaxing as possible, which can’t really happen if you keep thinking about all the stuff you have to do, even if it’s an unconscious thought.
  • Have a Safe Circle: Drugs alter a person’s regular self. It can trigger defensiveness, paranoia, or general negative feelings that can make everyone involved feel unsafe. That’s why according to Leary, you should only do it around people that you can trust.