Q&A: The Role of Place and Mindset

There are many factors that can affect a psychedelic experience, and there’s no way to predict exactly what will happen. Being mindful of the physical and emotional environment and preparing to change those influences as the psychedelic experience unfolds are important ways to mitigate risk and manage challenging emotions that might come up.

Hanifa Nayo Washington

Hanifa Nayo Washington is an artist, healer, and activist. She is a cofounder and director of strategy at the Fireside Project, a psychedelic risk reduction organization that offers a peer support line, provides educational resources, and facilitates research into psychedelics.


BCSP

“What does it mean when people talk about ‘set and setting,’ and how can those things affect the experience of being on a psychedelic?”

Hanifa Nayo Washington

“Your set and setting will play a really important role in your psychedelic experience. ‘Set’ is about your inner world: What’s happening on the inside? How are you feeling? What are your personal beliefs, your history, your current emotional state?

‘Setting’ is what’s happening in the external world. Where are you? Where is your physical location—indoors or outdoors, at your home or a friend’s home? Are you at a show or a ceremony or camping? Are there a lot of people or few people there? Setting includes the art on the walls, the temperature in the room, the colors that might be around you, and whether you’re familiar with the people present. It’s important to understand that the things that impact your senses can have really large impacts on your psychedelic experience as well.”

“Often, when we are in challenging experiences, we can change what’s happening in our setting.”


BCSP

“How should users prepare ahead of time to have the desired experience?”

Hanifa Nayo Washington

“You can change or calibrate what an experience may look like depending on where you are and how safe that place makes you feel. Often, when we are in challenging experiences, we can change what’s happening in our setting. We could grab a blanket or move from outdoors to indoors. We could turn the music up or down. We could light a candle and change the scent.

If you want to cultivate a calm state of mind leading up to your journey, which I would suggest, you can use whichever practices feel best for you. That might look like time in nature, meditation, yoga, journaling, making art, or speaking to the people you trust and love.

Honestly, it’s about knowing the type of experience you want to have and also remembering that these medicines and substances are going to do what they’re going to do. It’s important to think about what you want to explore beforehand, so you can cultivate that inner set, but it’s also important to have an open mind. You can have a really clear intention, but then the medicine takes you somewhere very different.

When people have challenging experiences, it’s often because they had a vision of what they wanted to feel, but the medicine is taking them elsewhere, and they’re resistant to it. When we’re resisting, that’s when we’re often creating what we might call a ‘bad trip.’ Consider a practice of surrender within an experience, regardless of what your intention was. That practice of surrendering could really help to transform what one might consider bad into an experience of learning and growth.”


BCSP

“What kinds of equipment or resources should a user have when taking a psychedelic inside?”

Hanifa Nayo Washington

“I think that having tools with you and around you is wonderful, but also keep an open mind that the journey is not necessarily going to follow a set track. Music is a phenomenal tool and influence on our consciousness, our bodies, and our minds, with psychedelics and without them. So you may want to have a favorite playlist handy, although you don’t need it. There’s a lot of stuff that we just don’t need, because there’s so much that this is happening internally, and often we can get distracted by these other external things.

Intentions—and I recommend setting them—will influence what you might want to have around you. Music and art supplies are wonderful, depending on where you want to go. But again, there’s not a lot that you need to have beyond the basics.”


BCSP

“In most studies, psychedelics are administered inside. Is it safe to take psychedelics outside?”

Hanifa Nayo Washington

“Being outdoors and having a psychedelic experience has a different set of risk factors. I think that having someone who can trip sit and keep tabs is particularly important when you’re outdoors, because you might not be attentive to risks in the environment while you’re in an altered state of mind.”


BCSP

“What special equipment and resources should a user have outside?”

Hanifa Nayo Washington

“Use your common sense to prepare for being outside for a particularly extended amount of time. Depending on what substances you’re working with, a journey can be anywhere between four and twelve hours. So ask yourself some questions ahead of time: How long are you going to be outdoors? Do you intend to be outdoors all the time? 

Water is always a really important thing to have. Are there some yummy snacks that make you feel good that you might want to have, particularly things that don’t need preparation, like dried fruits or nuts? 

Then you want to think about being physically comfortable. You should be able to regulate your body temperature. Layer, layer, layer—I always preach that. That way, you can add a layer on or take a layer off to adjust your body temperature, which can fluctuate quite quickly when you’re having psychedelic experiences. 

Having a charged phone or way to communicate is also super important.”


BCSP

“What about going on a trip alone?”

Hanifa Nayo Washington

“I highly recommend never going solo on journeys. That’s not something I recommend at all. If you’re going to go solo, have a game plan for support. I’m a cofounder of Fireside Project, and I always want people to have the app on their phone so if they need to call or text, it’s right there. If you don’t want to do that, have somebody who knows that you are doing this and have them on speed dial.”


BCSP

“Can someone die from drinking too much or too little water while on MDMA?”

Hanifa Nayo Washington

“There is a very slim possibility that somebody could die from drinking too much water while on MDMA, but it’s more likely that someone would die or have a physically difficult time from not drinking enough water. That’s what we see more often, especially when we’re talking about outdoor raves and music events where people are on MDMA, dancing for hours and hours, and unaware of what’s happening with them internally.

If you’re going to be partaking of MDMA, prepare beforehand to drink some extra water. Throughout the day or before you ingest, drink a couple more glasses of water than you would normally. Then definitely have a water bottle on hand with you, or just know that there is access to water wherever you’re going.”

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

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