New research from Imperial College London investigates social relatedness in psychedelic trips. Does a shared psychedelic experience make for a better one?
Modern psychedelic research has the potential to revolutionise the face of psychiatry. Yet the field faces many challenges. Despite promising clinical results, researching a class of substances that have been universally criminalised for decades remains a trying task, filled with bureaucratic and legal hurdles.
What’s more, contemporary psychology and neuroscience research is seeing a bias towards the use of psychedelics in a lab setting. While administering “magic” mushrooms in a hospital is the perfect controlled environment, it may not be representative of how people typically use psychedelics.
As the interest in the clinical benefits of hallucinogens increase, so does the interest in psychedelic retreats. From shaman-led ayahuasca ceremonies in South and Central America, to psilocybin truffle retreats in the Netherlands, these getaways can consist of dozens of individuals endeavouring on a psychedelic journey together.
This special setting in which people use psychedelics-in the company of a like-minded collective, and in the presence of experienced facilitators-has unfortunately been neglected by a lot of research. Psychologists have therefore wondered how sharing the experience with others may influence the clinical outcomes of a psychedelic experience.
The Defining Nature of Set and Setting
What fascinated many psychedelic enthusiasts of the ’60s was that the psychedelic trip itself seemed to depend heavily on both the context in which it’s taken and the person’s state of mind prior to the experience.
That is, there are two hugely important components that often define the psychedelic experience — dubbed set and setting. Timothy Leary, psychedelic researcher and notable pioneer of the counterculture movement, outlines these two ingredients in his how-to manual on psychedelic use:
“Set denotes the preparation of the individual, including his personality structure and his mood at the time [mindset]. Setting is physical — the weather, the room’s atmosphere…