The Setting of Psychedelic Administration Affects the Obtained Psychological Benefits
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“If you choose to take psychedelics, it is strongly recommended to have a sitter,” Gael said. “Ideally, this person is familiar with the psychedelic state and is someone you can trust to be a responsible, calm grounded presence.” – Sara Gael
Psychedelic substances such as peyote, mescaline, LSD, Bufotoxin, ayahuasca and psilocybin have been used almost since the beginning of recorded history to alter consciousness and produce spiritually meaningful experiences. Psychedelics produce effects that are similar to those that are reported in spiritual awakenings, a positive mood, with renewed energy and enthusiasm. It is easy to see why people find these experiences so pleasant and eye opening. They often report that the experiences changed them forever. Even though the effects of psychedelic substances have been experienced and reported on for centuries, only very recently have these effects come under rigorous scientific scrutiny. The setting in which psychedelic drugs are taken in the real world varies widely and there is little research on the effects of these settings on the experiences and their effects.
In today’s Research News article “Psychedelic Communitas: Intersubjective Experience During Psychedelic Group Sessions Predicts Enduring Changes in Psychological Wellbeing and Social Connectedness.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8114773/ Kettner and colleagues recruited online adults who intended to attend a retreat where psychedelic drugs were used. They had them complete questionnaires at 5 time points; 2 weeks before and 3 hours before the retreat, the day after the psychedelic experience, after the retreat, and 4 weeks later. They were measured for experience details, preparedness, mental well-being, social connectedness, depression, anxiety, openness toward people, trait absorption, subjective psychedelic experiences, and retreat experiences. They used factor analysis to identify a combination of 8 questionnaire items that comprised a measure of communitas (experience of intense togetherness and shared humanity),
Psilocybin (80%) and ayahuasca (16%) were the drugs most frequently used at the retreats. They found that 4-weeks after the retreat social connectedness, well-being, and interpersonal tolerance, were significantly higher and anxiety and depression were significantly lower than at baseline. They also found that the higher the level of communitas the higher the levels of social connectedness and well-being. Using path analysis they found that overall communitas was associated with psychological well-being and social connectedness at follow-up and the overall communitas was associated with the communitas during the experience, trait absorption, rapport with the therapist, social support during the experience, and the level of self-disclosure.
This study was naturalistic in that it measured individuals who were engaged in naturally occurring psychedelic retreats. This provided varied retreat conditions in real world settings. This is distinct from laboratory research with psychedelics which provide for highly controlled circumstances. The results demonstrate very positive effects of psychedelic experiences even in varied environments like they have been shown to do in the laboratory.
The results suggest that the social conditions and setting surrounding psychedelic experiences affect the effects of the experiences on the mental and social well-being of the participants. In other words, the ability of psychedelics to produce positive effects on the participants does not happen in a vacuum. For optimum effectiveness there needs to be optimum social support conditions. Regardless, psychedelic experiences appear to promote social and psychological health.
So, the setting of psychedelic administration affects the obtained psychological benefits.
“The science of how to use drug responsibly and effectively should be made accessible by educating the public on the principles of set and setting, a shared body of knowledge on the do’s and don’ts of responsible and effective drug use in a world where drug harms cannot be nullified but can doubtlessly be minimized.” – Ido Hartogsohn
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Kettner, H., Rosas, F. E., Timmermann, C., Kärtner, L., Carhart-Harris, R. L., & Roseman, L. (2021). Psychedelic Communitas: Intersubjective Experience During Psychedelic Group Sessions Predicts Enduring Changes in Psychological Wellbeing and Social Connectedness. Frontiers in pharmacology, 12, 623985. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2021.623985
Background: Recent years have seen a resurgence of research on the potential of psychedelic substances to treat addictive and mood disorders. Historically and contemporarily, psychedelic studies have emphasized the importance of contextual elements (‘set and setting’) in modulating acute drug effects, and ultimately, influencing long-term outcomes. Nevertheless, current small-scale clinical and laboratory studies have tended to bypass a ubiquitous contextual feature of naturalistic psychedelic use: its social dimension. This study introduces and psychometrically validates an adapted Communitas Scale, assessing acute relational experiences of perceived togetherness and shared humanity, in order to investigate psychosocial mechanisms pertinent to psychedelic ceremonies and retreats.
Methods: In this observational, web-based survey study, participants (N = 886) were measured across five successive time-points: 2 weeks before, hours before, and the day after a psychedelic ceremony; as well as the day after, and 4 weeks after leaving the ceremony location. Demographics, psychological traits and state variables were assessed pre-ceremony, in addition to changes in psychological wellbeing and social connectedness from before to after the retreat, as primary outcomes. Using correlational and multiple regression (path) analyses, predictive relationships between psychosocial ‘set and setting’ variables, communitas, and long-term outcomes were explored.
Results: The adapted Communitas Scale demonstrated substantial internal consistency (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.92) and construct validity in comparison with validated measures of intra-subjective (visual, mystical, challenging experiences questionnaires) and inter-subjective (perceived emotional synchrony, identity fusion) experiences. Furthermore, communitas during ceremony was significantly correlated with increases in psychological wellbeing (r = 0.22), social connectedness (r = 0.25), and other salient mental health outcomes. Path analyses revealed that the effect of ceremony-communitas on long-term outcomes was fully mediated by communitas experienced in reference to the retreat overall, and that the extent of personal sharing or ‘self-disclosure’ contributed to this process. A positive relationship between participants and facilitators, and the perceived impact of emotional support, facilitated the emergence of communitas.
Conclusion: Highlighting the importance of intersubjective experience, rapport, and emotional support for long-term outcomes of psychedelic use, this first quantitative examination of psychosocial factors in guided psychedelic settings is a significant step toward evidence-based benefit-maximization guidelines for collective psychedelic use.