Setting up the Right Conditions for Letting Go – How Set and Setting Can Influence Your Psychedelic Journey

By Frank William Ehrenfried M.A –  Associate MFT – Psychedelic and Integration Therapist

From numinous wonderlands to the dark depths of experience, entering into non-ordinary states of consciousness through psychedelics can be greatly unpredictable. Any one experience can reveal in a span of a few hours core truths about reality that can otherwise elude us for many lifetimes. While these experiences often do expand one’s sense of self, entering into unknown spaces can also show us our own shadow and undelt with past. Skillfully navigating these waters can increase the healing potential in what can often feel like a russian roulette of outcomes. Having a course to set sail from, loving and supportive allies as ground control and a conducive environment for your journey can create a holding that helps tap into the highest potential for healing.

One of the key insights left over from the first wave of psychedelic researchers is the mantra of set and setting. Over and over again well traveled elders remind us of how much our mind set, physical location and the people around us can influence the outcome of our journey. Taking psychedelics in recreational settings such as concert venues, social gatherings or hiking trips can and do result in positive experiences. Yet sometimes our best intentions to have fun and connect with others can take a dark turn. This can come in the form of old memories, repressed feelings and relational traumas flooding into our awareness. With our defenses lowered we may no longer be able to stop these experiences from entering center stage. Often labeled as bad trips, some in these states of consciousness attempt to double down on pushing the experience away. If we take a closer look at what these difficult experiences can teach us, we may find that they contain the potentiating seeds for tremendous growth and insight. Knowing how to harness this potential is where thinking through your set and setting can make all the difference.

Having a safe environment and caring individuals to support whatever arises in challenging moments can help you relax into new corridors of your mind. This can come in the form of allowing your body to process old traumas through shaking and spontaneous movements. For others it can be vividly recounting a distant and disturbing memory and having it witnessed by a loving person for the first time. Spontaneous moments like these present us with a genuine opportunity to engage whatever material shows up in our awareness as a crucial component of our overall healing path. Having the right support can allow for entering deeper into these dark corners in an effort to fully move through them. As the famous American poet Robert Frost once said, the best way out is always through. With a little preparation, foresight and intention, moving through whatever arises does not need to feel like drowning alone in the deep sea of our own feelings.

While most psychedelics are still illegal, if you are thinking of journeying in the near future here are a few considerations to take into account. 

Substances/Medicine

  • What type of substance is being taken?
  • What is the dosage and measuring tools/device being used?
  • How long is the typical duration of these substances?
  • Are there any known or unknown impurities within substance and/or source?

Mindset

  • What is your intention and expectation for the experience?
  • How would you gauge your resting emotional state before taking the substance?
  • How is your general psychological well-being in day to day life?
  • Do you have previous experience with the substances being used?

Setting

  • What is your familiarity with the locations you are residing in or journeying around?
  • What is your sense of safety with the physical space in which you are located?
  • Is there access to biological basics such as a bathroom, water and comfortable temperatures?
  • How is the level of noise and activity in and around the location you will be residing?

While these recommendations act as an informal guideline, it can pay off to think through some of these basic aspects. With an increased level of vulnerability, we may be more strongly impacted by things that normally reside out of our awareness. There are ways to create a strong framework and structure around the unpredictability of a psychedelic journey. Working within a legal psychedelic context with a psychotherapist or psychologist can help you navigate and process challenging experiences. To take psychedelics with the intention and mindset of healing within a therapeutic relationship can lead to profound and accelerated transformation. While not everyone’s journey will be with the intention of doing deep therapeutic work, having access and contact to individuals whom are trained in these modalities can be good foresight.

Much like life, psychedelic journey’s run the gamut of unpredictability. Within the realm of things we do have control over, giving some forethought to set and setting can have a tremendous impact on how we navigate the darker aspects of a trip. It can also greatly impact how these experiences ripple out into everyday consciousness when we return. Paying respects to the findings of our psychedelic elders may go a long way in preventing unnecessary suffering and using these powerful tools for their highest potential. 

For more on set and setting, check out Ambassadors to Hidden Territories: Set and Setting in Psychedelic-Assisted Psychotherapy

The Oakland Decriminalize Nature Initiative Passes!

Stephen Eric Sienknecht, Psy.D.

It happened so fast, I almost didn’t see it coming. But I was ready. WE were ready. We have been ready since witnessing and being victimized by the draconian drug policies that were enacted when Nixon signed the Controlled Substances Act in 1970 and which led to the horrific atrocities of the War on Drugs, including the mass incarceration and deportation of people of color and of lower socioeconomic status and the systematic suppression of cognitive liberty.  

On the evening of June 4th, 2019, we witnessed a historic moment, by all accounts. The City Council of Oakland unanimously approved the Decriminalize Nature Initiative, effectively decriminalizing the “planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, and/or possessing” all psychedelic plant medicines, including psilocybin mushrooms, ayahuasca, peyote, and iboga, within the Oakland city limits.  

While we at Polaris believe there is great value in clinical uses of psychedelic medicines, particularly in combination with psychotherapy and within the context of a safe and supportive setting, we also recognize the inconvenient truths that the cost of psychedelic psychotherapy is prohibitive for most people living in the U.S. and that most spiritual and transformational experiences occasioned by psychedelic use will continue to occur outside of clinical trials and the clinic walls. Criminalizing people for seeking spiritual or healing experiences in non-clinical settings essentially amounts to economic discrimination, punishing people who cannot afford to have these experiences in a medical or clinical setting. Furthermore, criminalizing the use of these substances impedes citizens from exercising the inalienable right of cognitive liberty, i.e. to direct, modify, or enhance their consciousness as they wish.

Therefore, what the citizens of Oakland did on Tuesday night constituted nothing less than a great step forward in the collective evolution of humanity. Under this new city law, people now have the chance to come out of the closet about their use of these medicines and begin deconstructing the corrosive stigma that has surrounded them for so long. Furthermore, we can now publicly educate people on responsible and safe uses of these medicines, from a harm reduction perspective, without fear of persecution.  And, finally, this measure will improve relationships between citizens and law enforcement which will in turn strengthen the community as a whole. 

May we all come together as a beautifully diverse Bay Area community and find the empowerment and inspiration to support each other to heal with these psychedelic medicines and plant teachers, regardless of color, gender, socioeconomic status or religious or spiritual orientation. The time is now. 

OAKLAND CITY COUNCIL

RESOLUTION NO XXXXX

INTRODUCED BY COUNCILMEMBERS _______________ and __________________

RESOLUTION SUPPORTING ENTHEOGENIC PLANT PRACTICES AND DECLARING THAT THE INVESTIGATION AND ARREST OF INDIVIDUALS INVOLVED WITH THE ADULT USE OF ENTHEOGENIC PLANTS ON THE FEDERAL SCHEDULE 1 LIST BE AMONGST THE LOWEST PRIORITY FOR THE CITY OF OAKLAND

WHEREAS, Entheogenic Plants, based on the term “entheogen”, originally conceived by Ott, Ruck, and other colleagues from a working group of anthropologists and ethnobotanists in 1979; and defined herein as the full spectrum of plants, fungi, and natural materials deserving reverence and respect from the perspective of the individual and the collective, that can inspire personal and spiritual well-being, can benefit psychological and physical wellness, and can reestablish human’s inalienable and direct relationship to nature, and

WHEREAS substance abuse, addiction, recidivism, trauma, post-traumatic stress symptoms, chronic depression, severe anxiety, end-of-life anxiety, grief, diabetes, cluster headaches, and other conditions are plaguing our community and that the use of Entheogenic Plants have been shown to be beneficial to the health and well-being of individuals and communities in addressing these afflictions via scientific and clinical studies and within continuing traditional practices, which can catalyze profound experiences of personal and spiritual growth; and

WHEREAS, practices with Entheogenic Plants have long existed and have been considered to be sacred to human cultures and human interrelationships with nature for thousands of years, and continue to be enhanced and improved to this day by religious and spiritual leaders, practicing professionals, mentors, and healers throughout the world, many of whom have been forced underground; and 

WHEREAS, there is a lack of clarity as to whether such practices can be subject to law enforcement and therefore those seeking to improve their health and well-being through the use of Entheogenic Plants use them in fear of arrest and prosecution; and 

WHEREAS, the Entheogenic Plant practices of certain groups are already explicitly protected in the U.S. under the doctrine of religious freedom — the Native American Church’s use of peyote and the use of ayahuasca by two other churches, a Santo Daime congregation and the União do Vegetal; and

WHEREAS, The United Nations considers Entheogenic Plant material used for ritual purposes as excluded from Schedule 1 substances; and

WHEREAS, Entheogenic plants containing ibogaine, for example, have been shown to alleviate treatment resistant cases of opiate and methamphetamine addiction at significantly higher rates than all other treatments for addiction. In addition, ibogaine is reported to be beneficial for addiction therapy related to specific work-related PTSD encountered by first responders such as EMT, police, and firefighters, as well as military veterans; and 

WHEREAS, Entheogenic Plants or combinations of plants such as Ayahuasca that contain forms of DMT, a naturally occurring compound in the human body that is listed as a Schedule 1 substance, can lead to experiences that are reported as mystical or experientially similar to near death

____________

1. Refers to plants and natural sources (as defined herein), such as mushrooms, cacti, iboga containing plants and /or extracted combinations of plants similar to Ayahuasca; and limited to those containing the following types of compounds: indole amines, tryptamines, phenethylamines.

____________

experiences and that are can be demonstrably beneficial in treating addiction, depression, PTSD, and in catalyzing profound experiences of personal and spiritual growth; and

WHEREAS, Entheogenic cacti that contain phenethylamine compounds such as mescaline can be beneficial in healing drug and alcohol addiction and for individual spiritual growth, and have been utilized in sacred initiation and community healing by diverse religious and cultural traditions for millennia and continuing use as religious sacraments in modern times; and 

WHEREAS, psilocybin, naturally occurring in Entheogenic mushrooms, can alleviate end-of-life anxiety for hospice and terminal cancer patients, can reduce prison recidivism, and can effectively treats depression, cluster headaches, and trauma; and 

WHEREAS, a Johns Hopkins University study on “healthy-normals” found that psilocybin can occasion mystical-type experiences, which were considered one of the top five most meaningful experiences in a subject’s life for over 75% of their subjects within the first year after the study, and also found continuing positive life-style changes after a 14-month follow-up; and

WHEREAS, the City of Oakland wishes to declare its desire not to expend City resources in any investigation, detention, arrest, or prosecution arising out of alleged violations of state and federal law regarding the use of Entheogenic Plants; NOW THEREFORE BE IT

RESOLVED, That the Mayor and City Council hereby declare that it shall be the policy of the City of Oakland that no department, agency, board, commission, officer or employee of the city, including without limitation, Oakland Police Department personnel, shall use any city funds or resources to assist in the enforcement of laws imposing criminal penalties for the use and possession of Entheogenic Plants by adults; AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED, That the Oakland City Council directs the City Administrator to instruct the City’s state and federal lobbyists to work in support of decriminalizing all Entheogenic Plants and plant-based compounds that are listed on the Federal Controlled Substances Schedule 1; AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED That the Mayor and City Council hereby declare that it shall be the policy of the City of Oakland that the investigation and arrest of adult persons for planting, cultivating, purchasing, transporting, distributing, engaging in practices with, and/or possessing Entheogenic Plants or plant compounds on the Federal Schedule 1 list shall be amongst the lowest law enforcement priority for the City of Oakland; AND BE IT FURTHER

RESOLVED That the Mayor and City Council call upon the Alameda County District Attorney to cease prosecution of persons involved in the use of Entheogenic Plants or plant-based compounds on the Federal Schedule 1 List; AND BE IT FURTHER  

RESOLVED That if any provision of this resolution is declared by a court of competent jurisdiction to be contrary to any statute regulation or judicial decision or its applicability to any agency person or circumstances is held invalid the validity of the remainder of this resolution and it applicability to any other agency person or circumstance shall not be affected.

Integration: The Upside of Coming Down – Part Two: Debriefing, Disrupting & Dark Journeys

Harvey Schwartz, Ph.D.

Objectives for Integration

A broad consensus now exists: effective integration is where the therapeutic action is. Otherwise, these openings, insights, and transmissions become nothing more than fascinating experiences that happened once, long ago. Or, worse, unmetabolized mystical experience can become fuel for extreme personality traits such as grandiosity or self-negation.

Continue reading “Integration: The Upside of Coming Down – Part Two: Debriefing, Disrupting & Dark Journeys”

Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy: Technology for Accessing Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness

Eric Sienknecht, Psy.D.

When provided in the container of a supportive and therapeutic setting,  ketamine-assisted psychotherapy can be a safe, effective, and reliable technology for inducing Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness, exploring other dimensions of human consciousness, and facilitating profoundly transformative experiences. 

Continue reading “Ketamine-Assisted Psychotherapy: Technology for Accessing Non-Ordinary States of Consciousness”

Integration: The Upside of Coming Down

Part One – Overview

Harvey Schwartz, Ph.D.

Integration has ascended to quite a prominent position in the research and practices of what has recently come to be called “The Psychedelic Renaissance.” Today’s major psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy protocols using MDMA, psilocybin, and ketamine now include an emphasis on, and strategies for, integration – often stressing its value as potentially greater than the medicine sessions themselves.

Continue reading “Integration: The Upside of Coming Down”