Preparation, Set and Setting: The importance of planning a psychedelic experience
Updated: Feb 2
Anyone who has had an unpleasant experience with psychedelics (also ubiquitously known as a bad trip) will agree that there are a few ways to deal with those situations. Having a well-prepared space that is safe and cozy, as well as someone trusted to take care of you during that difficult altered state can really help avoid what could otherwise be a really awful experience.
In the right context and the presence of an expert or a guide, a psychedelic journey can be transformed into an experience full of valuable learning and personal growth. Even a bad trip can be transformed into an enriching experience, and many are able to take something positive out of it during the integration period.
For a positive and powerful experience, we must take into account what is called the "set" (predisposition and preparation) and the "setting" (environment and context) for the journeyer. A bad experience is usually caused by mistakes regarding the dose, set, and/or setting. implementing the Five Principles of Harm Reduction can help you improve and get more out of your psychedelic journeys.
Before consuming entheogenic or psychedelic substances, it is helpful to have prior information about the substance you are consuming. Meeting people who have had experiences with entheogens can be of great help and a possible reference to know what to expect from the experience.
However, do keep in mind that each individual is unique both physically (biochemical, neurological level, etc.) and psychologically (emotional and mental level). Psychedelics activate what exists in the unique interior of each person. It is ideal to have an expert verify that you have no contraindications in your medical history and guide you through this first experience.
If you suffer from any psychopathology, heart disease, glaucoma, or other severe illness, taking psychotropic substances is not recommended as it could be counterproductive and dangerous. If you are on certain medications such as antidepressants, antipsychotics, anxiolytics, or sedatives, they can interfere with the psychedelic experience or even have a negative influence.
Watching documentaries or reading articles on shamanism, ethnobotany, personal development, psychology, anthropology, mythology, symbolism, philosophy, can also better help you understand how and why these substances have been used in rituals in different cultures throughout history.
All this information might not be relevant during the actual experience, but being well informed and knowing what to expect can be reassuring. It can increase the feeling of security during the psychedelic experience, as long as one does not have exaggerated or unrealistic expectations about the experience.
2. The Intention
It is important to enter a psychedelic experience with a well-defined intention or purpose. Without one, you can drift aimlessly without experiencing anything really significant. Setting an intention provides orientation for your journey, but having strong expectations should be avoided. Being unable to achieve a rigidly established goal could end up being unnecessarily frustrating and discouraging.
Although it seems paradoxical, this is about defining a goal without being attached to expectations or outcomes of any kind. The purpose or intention of the might arise as an intuitive revelation or sense of resolution of some internal conflict.
Once a psychedelic experience starts, it is best to go along with it and be open to whatever happens without trying to direct or control what happens.
3. The Set
In most ceremonies performed with sacred plants, participants prepare their bodies with a specific diet or fast. Even if you are planning an experience outside this ceremonial setting, it is recommended to fast a few hours beforehand and to avoid meat or heavy meals in the previous days. This can greatly help prevent nausea, vomiting, or upset stomachs. Other than that, prior mental, emotional, and spiritual preparation is also highly recommended.
Experiencing fear and frivolity could be indicators for a bad trip on psychedelics. Some report feeling intense fear in a sea of bewilderment or despair, while others downplay their experience by assuming they are strong enough for pain or bewilderment to not affect them at all. Bad experiences can also take on other forms.
It is completely normal to have some fear of new and unknown experiences. Intense emotions and thoughts can emerge during your psychedelic journey, so staying calm and maintaining a receptive and confident attitude can make all the difference. A challenging experience is not the same as a bad experience.
Mental preparation involves identifying and leaving behind negative or limiting thoughts., while emotional preparation is rooted in being open and allowing yourself to observe and experience whatever arises within you. Be aware of your mental and emotional states, and how they may influence or affect your psychedelic experience.
However, it is preparing yourself spiritually that can help you transcend and connect deeply with your purest and most sacred state. Belief in a higher power, or something divine, sacred, and bigger than ourselves, can facilitate greater understanding and depth in psychedelic experiences. Certain values, skills, and qualities make up our compass towards transcendence.
Here, it is important to note that spirituality is not the same as religion. Some religious dogmas contain extremely limiting ideas that are contrary to the expansion of consciousness usually sought after in psychedelic experiences.
4. The Setting
Setting refers to the physical environment in which the psychedelic experience occurs. For the development of the psychedelic experience, it needs to be in the right place, with the right company, and at the right time of day. The conditions of the space, the way it is laid out, choice of lighting and appropriate music are all factors that can greatly affect the setting.
A powerful psychedelic experience can affect you on all levels of Being, and perhaps even reshape your relationship with yourself and the world. Therefore all elements and tools that favour the psychedelic process are important for a positive experience. They are usually presented in a ritual context, or in a psycholytic/psychedelic therapy session - both of which are initiation or transit rites, which catalyze the inner journey of transcendence and transformation.
5. The Guide
Depending on your personal preferences, beliefs, and inclinations, the person guiding the ceremony may be an experienced counselor, therapist, psychologist, caregiver, healer, shaman, or priest/priestess. In some instances, the guide may even take on several of those roles.
The guide is someone you trust to facilitate your psychedelic journey and processes, to ensure the safety of participants, and to provide support before, during, and after the experience. It is your guide’s responsibility to help you at critical moments, such as a bad trip. Therefore, it is important to choose a guide who possesses the experience, training, skills, and tools to support you in your psychedelic journey and processes.
Remember that guides are there to help you, not to impose their personal and social beliefs and perspectives. It is important that their behavior is impeccable and never inappropriate.
Women can feel more comfortable having this experience with a female guide. It is important to look more into your guide’s work before booking your session. For more information on safety guidelines, you can check the Chacruna’s manual here. This guide was designed to bring awareness to Ayahuasca's experiences but it brings useful information for all kinds of immersive sessions you take.
Psychedelics are powerful tools that must be treated with the respect they deserve. The decision to experiment with psychedelics is a highly personal one that also requires taking responsibility for one’s self. It should not be taken lightly or influenced by external parties.
A psychedelic journey is a journey into your Self, towards subtle and deep spaces of your unconscious mind and your human soul. Proper use of psychedelics offers access to incredible inner space offers with much potential for deep insight, true transformation, and transcendence.
About the author: Jessika Lagarde is an experienced plant medicine facilitator, integration coach, educator, and Women On Psychedelics Co-founder. Jessika provides one-on-one coaching, sessions, and group ceremonies for women going through life transitions, such as grief, career change, relationship break-ups, motherhood, or moving countries. Check out her website and offers here.