Shrooms: 10 Key Points about “Set and Setting”


Consumption of magic mushrooms, or so-called “hallucinogenic fungi”, requires knowledge of a series of very practical and concrete instructions. And respecting these instructions is important as it can help you avoid one of the (potentially) worst experiences of your life.

On this subject, some warnings can be found HERE, which clarify a central question so many people have: are “hallucinogenic” mushrooms dangerous?

A “bad trip” on psychedelics is very often described as the absolute worst experience in someone’s life. Just knowing and respecting the few rules you’ll find below can guarantee you that what you step into will be in fact the most beautiful experience of your life – for some, it is the greatest experience by far. The difference between two extremes here is considerable, and so knowing more is always worth the effort.

These aforementioned rules can be summarised under the English phrase “Set & Setting”. In essence this means: how you are, who you are with, and where. In this article, I’ll tell you everything you need to know to put this into practice. Given that the substance you are using is safe, and psilocybin fungi will be just that if your source is trustworthy, it’s important to know that messing up the dose is fine, but getting things wrong with regards to set & setting must be avoided. You realise how important all of this is pretty quickly after taking the substance, and even before the effects begin to manifest. As little as one little worry in your psyche can be a significant blow even during the “body load” phase shortly after consumption.

Body load is that phase in which your body begins to “charge up” the substance within it. It begins when you have consumed the mushrooms and finishes when you start noticing the effects. This can last roughly anywhere between 20 to 60 minutes. It is the single stage in which one can feel nauseous and perhaps a sensation of physical discomfort, which one perceives with varying degrees of intensity throughout the body – at times like a sensation of electricity within the muscles, or lethargy (or both at once). Naturally, agitation comes along with the body load as one might start feeling fear and anticipation of the arrival of the coming effects. You never know what is going to happen, and this can induce a lot of fear or very little fear at all. Deep yawns and plenty of tears often accompany this initial phase. I must say here that bodily discomfort can also take place during the psychedelic voyage to follow, but this will likely be of psychological rather than physical origin (as is also the case with body load).

How are you physically?

When you think about it, “how you’re doing” is fundamental. Do you feel well physically? How do you feel about confronting a psychedelic trip that’s already begun if you don’t feel in shape? You don’t need to have a full stomach of course – raw mushrooms are not very digestible and only sit on top of what you’ve already eaten. This is a sure promise of sickness that you’ll absolutely want to avoid because it will only exacerbate the body load and the inevitable anxiety that follows consumption. Every time, remember the importance of an empty stomach.

Being in good physical form puts you in the best condition possible to confront the start of the experience, which is always the most challenging part. Are you taking medication? Suffering from any pain? What state are your intestines in? There is a close correlation between one’s intestines and one’s emotional state. Are you relaxed or are you tired? Is there a high level of refined sugar or carbohydrate in your diet? This predisposes you to a decrease in energy which can be unpleasant to say the least. Was the last meal prior to your voyage light and easy on the stomach? Pay attention to what you eat and avoid eating crustaceans and molluscs before consuming the fungi as these tend to impede one’s ability to relax and ease into the experience, as if journeying with the handbrake on.

Otherwise, there aren’t any particular dietary limitations to consider, as opposed to what happens with ayahuasca with which one should not consume foods containing tyramine.

How are you emotionally?

Your emotional state is another important factor to consider when trying to avoid difficulties in the few minutes after mushroom consumption. Lots of nerves? Upset? What emotions are defining you at that period in time? It is understandable that one would want to use magic mushrooms to confront these very questions, but due to the fact that the mushrooms magnify whatever is within us, we must be cognisant of our state of mind. Rage, for example, is a powerful energy which can bring great clarity of mind but also explosive tension – remember this while making your way into the experience. Fear on the other hand can be a considerable obstacle, impeding us from truly letting go (an essential factor in any psychedelic experience, but above all with mushrooms). If you try at all to resist, control or block off whatever is emerging, you’re sure to only cause yourself suffering. In those moments, trust and let go… or it will overwhelm you. You have consumed the fungi for an internal experience, so why should you ever resist? You wanted it, so enjoy it for after a few hours at the most it will all be finished. That which you start always comes to an end, so relax. That is the best way to ensure yourself a beautiful voyage.

How are you mentally?

If you have any psychological or psychiatric illnesses, you should not take magic mushrooms without first consulting with a medical professional. In the absence of mental ailments, thoughts are the third – and perhaps the least important – aspect you must consider with regards to set & setting. Remember that our brains are bound to be “reset” by the experience in any case. In the meantime, while observing any effects as they come up, it is easier in these moments to see the connection between them and any emotions present, almost as if there is a reciprocal exchange between emotion and effect. Any attempt to “control” them is bound by the same rules of ordinary states of consciousness: you cannot suppress them, and so it is better to simply pay attention elsewhere rather than to fixate on that which you don’t want to think about. Follow the breath, take deep and slow inhales (focusing on your abdomen rather than your upper chest) and keep your attention on your breathing as one does during meditation. If you find yourself distracted, return to the breath and your mind will feel quieter in no time.

Your brain’s Default Mode Network

At a neurophysiological level, psilocin has an inhibitory effect on the brain’s Default Mode Network (reducing the level of oxygen that part can receive), the part which organises other parts of the brain which lead to standardisation of thought much like the ego (with which, scientists have hypothesised, the DMN corresponds) does with the subconscious.

In fact, the psilocin allows that which has been stored away to emerge: this is where visions and memories you weren’t aware of suddenly come from. In a nutshell, psilocin rapidly disorganises the usual function of the brain. With a little patience, the initial sensation, however disorientating, swiftly passes.

Context

We’ve seen to the physical, the emotional and the mental. The process of reviewing who we are and how we are is almost complete. Now to touch on the world around us, i.e. people and place. The importance of these elements is so often overlooked, and yet in the more intense phases of the psychedelic experience we realise just how essential they can be in interrupting a bad trip or (better still) avoid one altogether. Therefore, the chosen environment must satisfy some general criteria. Let’s take a look at what those are.

Comfort

Comfort is a very important factor here, largely because anything uncomfortable becomes amplified during a psychedelic trip. From the more obvious things – finding a comfortable position in which to sit or lie down – to the room temperature, our subjective sensory experience is very sensitive. I can go from feeling warm to freezing in an instant, and because of this a comfortable, controlled temperature is necessary. Dress yourself in layers that are easy to put on and take off. Nothing constricting, like belts, and discard your shoes. Having some kind of eye-covering available during the more intense stages is especially desirable.

Tranquility

Another key element, considering that any stimulus is emphasised, is calm and tranquility. Specifically, think about things like background noise and any demands that could come from people around you who aren’t tripping. Avoid contact with people in normal states of consciousness unless they’re qualified or you have asked them to be there (a sitter, for example). Even if either of these things are true, you don’t always have to be next to each other unless you have asked or are having difficulty. If you’re living with someone who you want to hide your psychedelic use from, or who will judge you if they find out, make sure to do it when you’re sure that there won’t be any unwanted “intrusions”. This is paramount, as simply knowing there’s a chance you’ll be interrupted can trigger paranoid thoughts. These thoughts would of course become amplified, and I’d strongly advise you to take great care to avoid a situation of the kind.

Safety

Furthermore, the space around you must be safe. Be aware of any stairs or other dangerous elements present. Also, make sure you can make it to the bathroom easily. Speaking of the bathroom, many say that looking in the mirror while tripping is something to be avoided: essentially, it is not an easy experience, and for many it can even be disturbing. If you feel troubled during your trip, you must avoid mirrors as they can induce visions and difficult emotions. If you feel good however, go ahead. But if I can give a piece of general advice, avoid mirrors and keep them out of sight in the main area where you’ll be tripping.

The people with you

Now, who with? This is the final important aspect to take into consideration. Divide the world into two categories: people you know, and people you don’t know. Eliminate the second half. Between what is left (the people you know), consider only your real friends, or people who have a lot of experience with psychedelic substances. And if your good friends have experience, there you have it. Try not to have psychedelic experiences with people you haven’t seen before – especially if they aren’t experienced with mushrooms. Discovering that someone is problematic in the middle of an intense trip, can easily turn a bad trip into a nightmare, and that can be ugly.

The music

Lastly, something you’ll find in the best examples of set & setting is music. If you have certainly zero experience, I’d highly suggest music as its presence can help guide you and break any eventual difficulties when one track ends and another begins. Choosing suitable music isn’t exactly simple, as you’ll surely learn, but I’d generally advise you to steer towards songs with lyrics in a language you can understand, avoiding inopportune mental stimulation in whatever moment of the trip you are living at that moment. Instrumental music is best, but if for you the human voice itself is an instrument, that could be ideal for you. Either way, select your soundtrack beforehand, because you probably won’t be able to do so while tripping.

To conclude: the best set & setting for the experience must also include two stages other than the experience itself, i.e. the preparation and the following process of integration. The psychedelic voyage really begins at the moment of consumption, as the mind and emotions begin to prepare themselves in anticipation of the valuable inner journey to come. Any inevitable fears or intentions upon which the mind wants to focus on will emerge. Then the stage of integration secures what you have experienced, bringing a multitude of uses in your quotidian life post-trip.

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