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create psychedelic setting space place station

Welcome to day 28, PSYJuly 🙂 Sorry today’s post comes late, this one took longer to edit than I anticipated. Today we’re talking psychedelic setting…

Set and setting, yada yada. You’ve heard it. But what to do about setting? How to craft it?

Beyond ambience, one thing is to make the space as practical as possible.

Careful preparation of the setting for a psychedelic session can help to make the experience more seamless and smooth. By removing friction ahead of time, you can make the most of your trip and the time available. Setting up the space is a way of being a kind and considerate sitter for yourself ahead of time. It’s giving a gift to your future self and building a friendly relationship with your shamanic persona.  

To illustrate, I’d like to introduce three terms to the world of psychedelic setting. These are: stations, spaces, and places.

Stations

  1. A station is a designated and prepared place for doing a specific action that requires tools.

“I just got an idea! I’m heading to the writing station”
“Hey man, can you set up the dosing station whilst I prepare the food? Nice one.”

Some examples:

  • Dosing station
  • Writing station
  • Music station
  • Painting station
  • Tea station
  • Rolling station

A station, by its nature, has equipment. It should be practical and comfortable. All the tools needed for the task assigned to that station should be located there. It should suit the purpose of its existence.

Each station should be:

  • Sufficiently lit
  • Prepared for action
  • Laid out for optimised used (see places, below)
  • Considered (it suits the area)

The station should be sufficiently lit for the action that is to be performed there. For example, if you are writing, you need to be able to clearly see the pad or paper you are using. So, lamps or candles are set up or nearby. 

The station should be prepared for action. For example, at a tea station: mugs and a thermos of prepared tea. If it’s a music station, the guitar should be tuned, the picks laid out. If using digital equipment, all audio cables are connected, headphones readied and sound levels set. At a dosing station you should have all the tools needed to prepare and consume doses and boosters. If using ketamine for example, this would include: the substance, a set of scales, an item to crush the substance, a steady hard flat smooth surface to crush it on, a thin item to create lines, and straws for ingestion. It also makes sense for a dosing station to include a logging station. This would include: a log book, a pen, and a watch.

Each station should be laid out and optimised for use. This is covered in places, below.

The location of each station should be considered. What are the possible areas it could be? It should be considered within the entire space and the larger geography in mind. That includes what happens in each station, the implications of that, and its neighbouring stations and spaces.

When placing a station, ask: what’s the upshot of it being here?

If the action is a noisy one, such as singing, or loading up a gas, consider if it is adjacent to neighbours. On a recent weekend in an airbnb, I went to work on a music track where I would be recording vocals (loud ones!). I put the vocal station in the kitchen, as it was a room in the middle of the apartment and only neighboured the bathroom and the living room. It was distanced from neighbours so I could let rip.

If you might be dancing or walking around, consider if there are people on the floor below. You might make an extra padding on the floor by laying down an extra yoga mat or blanket. If you’re using paints, they might get messy. Consider where doors are and where people will be coming in and out of rooms. If you’re gonna be smoking joints, note the smell and smoke. Overall, aim for harmony with the surrounding environment. Take spaces into account.

Spaces

  1. A space is an area of a session setting.

Spaces are more about the ambience of a region, rather than its practicality for a specific action. Setting space can be thought of as set design. It takes into account the intended atmosphere. A space might be decorated or lit in a certain way.

The benefit of spaces beyond practicality is more opaque. It is more about eliciting certain feelings in certain spaces. Our brains make associations with certain areas. This is why it’s nice to have a room for work and a room for sleep as separate spaces. One is a work space, one is a sleep space, and we set them up to be conducive to their purpose.

In terms of psychedelic setting, examples might be a journey space, or a chill out space.

An example of this would be the quiet room, which when I’ve used it, acts as a chill out space. It would be prepared to be cosy and calm, setting the appropriate tone. If you’re wanting some level of sensory stimulation, you might have some fairy lights blinking, pieces of art hanging up, or engaging music playing.

I was once on a long weekend with friends in the Dutch countryside, where the hosts set up an insanity room for our session. There was a shrine to deity The Hord Lord, and some questions hung up on pieces of paper around the room to challenge visitors. If someone wanted a bit of madness, they just headed to the insanity room. It was pretty funny.

When setting up a space, take into account are the intended atmosphere of the space. What feelings do you want to promote in each space? Relaxation? Stimulation? Fun?

Places

“A place for everything, everything in its place.”

  1. A place is a designated location for a specific tool or instrument.

Having places for things brings systems thinking to the level of psychedelic setting. It makes tools easy to locate and actions easier to perform. 

Firstly, this saves confusion and avoids wasting time looking for things. 

You know the situation where you walk into a room to get something, then your mind goes blank and you think ‘what did I come in here for?’. Well when you’re high, this type of misdirection can be heightened and you might even forget that you were even looking for anything at all. This can turn into aimless wandering, which can lead to disorientation, feelings of ungroundedness, confusion and anxiety. You may even come round to the point of asking, ‘what am I doing?’. The answer to which, you may or may not remember.

Another benefit to having set places is that it streamlines actions. For example, imagine the scenario:

A great idea comes to you on that project you’ve been working on for a while. Naturally, you want to note it down. Because you were rushed, you haven’t set up, and because of your altered state, you can’t easily locate your pen. So you begin your search for it, wandering from room to room. You finally locate your pen, which was on the counter in the kitchen, but by then, ten long time-dilated minutes later, you’ve not only lost that precious session time, but even worse, you’ve forgotten the idea you had in the first place.

Let’s contrast that with a prepared station with items in their places:

A great idea comes to you. You walk over to the writing station. You pick up one of your pens from the pile laid beside your open pad of paper, and jot the idea down. Seeing it written down causes other ideas to begin sprouting from it and you see it beginning to grow. You want to see where this goes, so you pick up a larger piece of paper from the pile on the shelf beside you, and place it down to begin a brainstorm. As you get into it, you decide to add images and drawings. You reach over to your left, to the pot of coloured pens, and add some different colours to connect ideas by theme. You run with the ideas until the train loses steam, and then head to the chill space to smoke a joint and wind down.

When choosing places for tools, consider how and when they will be used. If it’s part of a multi step process, what other tools will you need to use? In what order will you need to use them? Lay them out to reduce friction. 

Final thoughts

How you set up and utilise stations, spaces and places will depend on the intention and type of the session. 

The concept of stations and places might seem more relevant for sessions where you will be actively doing things which require using tools or instruments, like a creative session, as opposed to a typical psychedelic therapy style session. However, being precise and mindful in preparation shows respect for the session and can help to focus the mind. It’s taking drugs like a nerd. The sense of ‘everything in its right place’, and being fully prepared can help to promote feelings of relaxation. It’s also useful when you come out of journey space to hydrate or go to the bathroom. 

This level of preparation is also especially useful for journeys without a sitter, be they solo or with others. It shows love, caring and consideration to your future tripping selves, and in some way it is pro-actively tripsitting for your future self. Your tripping self should appreciate that in your heightened state.

By utilising stations, spaces and places into your setting design, you set up to make the most of your session. You optimise your session and increase flow. You allow your mind to focus on what’s important, the content of your mind, rather than logistical considerations.

psychedelic experience five 5 level scale

The Graeme Carl Scale is a five level scale for measuring the effects of a psychedelic experience.

I first came across the scale whilst doing dosing research for the New Moon psychedelic retreat project. Myself and co-founder Tuk needed a way to collect data on the strength of people’s experiences with psilocybin truffles, and we found Graeme Carl’s on Erowid.

We were aware of the Shulgin Rating Scale too, and to be honest thought that would be really cool to use, but it just wasn’t as practical and useable as this one.

We adapted a version for ourselves, making some small changes and additions, and splitting up the effects described at each level into cognitive, physical, and visual effects. It’s not a flawless categorisation of effects, but it has proven to be very useable.

Here is the adapted Graeme Carl Psychedelic Experience Scale:

Level 1

Visual

  • Brighter or clearer colours
  • Environment becomes more tangible

Cognitive

  • Some short term memory anomalies
  • Music and sounds become ‘wider’
  • Mild ‘stoning’ effect

Physical

  • No notable physical effects

Level 2

Visual

  • Things start to move and breathe
  • Some 2 dimensional patterns become apparent upon shutting eyes
  • You can control OEVs i.e. they only appear if you look carefully for them

Cognitive

  • Increase in abstract, novel, or creative thought becomes apparent
  • Confused or reminiscent thoughts
  • Continual distractive thought patterns, alternated with periods of focus

Physical

  • Body can feel heavy making standing up more difficult
  • Movement at times more difficult and balance can be off

Level 3

Visual

  • Very obvious visuals, everything looking curved and/or warped patterns and kaleidoscopes seen on walls, faces etc.
  • Some mild hallucinations such as rivers flowing in wood grained or ‘mother of pearl’ surfaces
  • Closed eye hallucinations become 3 dimensional
  • OEVs appear everywhere without any effort

Cognitive

  • Losing track of time concerning how long you have been tripping
  • Time distortions and ‘moments of eternity’

Physical

  • Movement at times becomes extremely difficult

Level 4

Visual

  • Strong hallucinations, i.e. objects morphing into other objects

Cognitive

  • Some loss of reality
  • Destruction or multiple splitting of the ego. (Things start talking to you, or you find that you are feeling contradictory things simultaneously)
  • Time becomes meaningless
  • ESP type phenomena
  • Blending of the senses: synaesthesia

Physical

  • Out of body experiences

Level 5

Visual

  • Total loss of visual connection with reality

Cognitive

  • The senses cease to function in the normal way
  • Total loss of ego
  • The actual universe within which things are normally perceived, ceases to exist

Physical

  • Merging with space, other objects or the universe
psychedelic experience five 5 level scale

The levels of the psychedelic experience scale are non-linear compared to dose, illustrated on Erowid.

Using the scale

Writing up a report after your experience can help to track your level of experience at different doses. This can give you useful data for future explorations. These reports can be kept in a journey log, AKA a drug journal.

Bear in mind that being on one level for one domain does not mean that it will be the same on another. For example, an experience could show level 2 effects on the cognitive, and level 3 on the visual. You can rate each level a different score, and then an overall, and this allows you to get a snapshot of the intensity at a glance. For example:

Cognitive: 2
Visual: 3
Physical 2
Emotional: 2

Overall: 2.3

Emotional effects aren’t included in the scale, so you can just do that one just based on your feeling. 😉

It may be that effects of more than one level can be felt. If that’s the case, score the highest domain at which effects were felt. For example, if you felt an increase in abstract thoughts (level 2) and were losing track of time (level 3), then score the cognitive level a 3.

You can read more about Graeme Carl’s Scale on Erowid here.

psychedelic menus options activities session

Welcome to PSYJuly day 22! 🙂

Yesterday I wrote about psychedelic sessions that are focused on one specific theme. However, sometimes it’s nice to be more flexible and take an open-ended approach, without any fixed plans for the session.

That said, it can still be nice to have some options available to us, rather than going in completely empty handed. That’s when a session menu can be helpful.

What is a session menu?

A session menu is a list of activities that are available to you during your session. At a glance, it gives you options for things you might like to do.

Remembering things can be hard when high. A menu is useful in that you don’t have to remember your options during the session. It holds them all in one place for you. The menu can act like a butler, who asks you ‘what would you like to do now? Do any of these options interest you?’.

Depending on your tastes and the day, menus might look very different to different people. 

Here is an example of a menu:

  • consult I Ching
  • Listen to new Tame Impala album (I often save first album listens for sessions)
  • meditate
  • brainstorm dreams and goals
  • draw
  • guitar

Other items I have seen on friends menus have included: take photos, dance, have sex, watch documentary.

Really, you can include anything. I have a friend who likes to look at profound quotes during his trips. Another likes to draw a tarot card. In both these cases, they find that they are able to connect more deeply to the meaning and message .

Creating a Menu

Writing up a menu can take as little as two minutes before starting a session, and you then have it there for your reference throughout. Depending on the items on your menu, you might need a little extra time to ready any necessary materials before the session starts. Once settled into your session, you can take a glance at the menu and see if anything takes your fancy. 

You might also have menus for different purposes. Here is an example of a chill out menu I made in the form of a deck of cards. I have it around in case I or others feel uncomfortable or agitated.

chill out deck menu

My Experience

I use menus on various kinds of sessions: both solo and with friends, introspective and recreational. I find them to be very useful and a nice reminder to check in and think: ‘what would I like to do now? Where do I want to go next?’. 

On one session with a friend, after riding the stormy come up and settling into an LSD and MDMA session, we gathered ourselves, then sat down and looked at our menu together. We had a list of fun activities for us to explore together before our eyes. I looked at him and said;

‘Is there anything here you’d like to do? We have the whole day ahead of us’.

Smiling, he took a moment, ‘you know, this is actually quite a nice situation to be in.’

Free time, with a friend, enjoying the wonders of life, and a beautiful psychedelic menu in front of us. All that was left to do was pick one and enjoy!

experience psychedelic psilocybin retreats around the world

Welcome to PSYJuly Day 19 🙂 

Today’s post comes from Mark Haberstroh. I first met Mark in 2017 during my first experience of working at a legal psilocybin retreat in late 2017, and its very interesting to have read this post and hear his experiences at other retreats since then. Also interesting that we both later went on to work with the same retreat in 2019, his fourth center in this post, based in the Netherlands. Enough from me, over to Mark…

Working at Legal Psychedelic Retreats Around The World

When I was 27 I discovered a new purpose in my life. I had been getting obsessed with mushrooms and their potential for healing the planet as well as our own minds and bodies. Holding space for myself, and eventually friends, I found a new purpose in life.

This is a path of work I am now devoting myself to. Oftentimes vulnerable people are coming to these spaces and being made more vulnerable by the medicine in an effort to heal or overcome trauma. Sometimes this can be someone’s last ditch effort at overcoming a deep depression or addiction. It is important to be present with people. To be there with them as they integrate whatever material comes up during a journey. To guide and to hold space for them as they learn to heal themselves.

By the fall of 2017, I had been working with entheogenic mushrooms for a couple of years with little guidance. Reaching a point where I felt a bit out of my depth and desiring experienced facilitators to be with me as I took my first large dose journeys, I googled legal magic mushroom retreat centers. At the time there was only one search result that came up. It was an incredibly positive experience for myself and many of those around me.  This is where I first met John, the creator of this blog, and we have been in correspondence ever since. Not only were my mushroom experiences profound and beneficial, some of which I am still processing to this day, but so were the connections that I made there. I hit it off with the retreat center’s founder and he invited me back to help facilitate a future retreat. This is how I began working with as many legal retreats as I could, knowing that each space has its own unique leadership and style that I could learn from.

I worked at 4 different centers which utilised psilocybin over the course of 2018 and 2019. In this post I will share a bit about each one.

Retreat 1 – Jamaica, 2018

I came to the first retreat center in Jamaica in early 2018. This first retreat was rather austere: there was little to no music, and there was not much guidance during the journeys. This was a 10 day retreat with mushroom experiences every other day. The ceremony was in a beautiful yard of a local Jamaican family, a short walk from the ocean. There was a fair amount of preparation before the journeys and plenty of on-site integration. The preparation was general psychedelic information around what could be expected and what the group journey would be like. The integration came in the form of group sharing circles.

The after care once everyone left the space was lacking. I would find this to be a theme among all of the places I have worked. There was some miraculous healing and community bonding that occurred over a short span of time. Mushrooms are excellent for building community and even speeding up the process. This was evident at all of the retreat centers that I have visited. With the journey being unique to every individual, participants on these retreats never run out of conversation material. One young man came because he suffered from a severe case of cluster headaches. Four cluster headaches a week for four year. I have kept up with him and he has not had one since this retreat.

After returning to this first retreat center, I realized there was much I did not agree with in how the space was being held, the leadership, adequate after-care, and the safety precautions being taken. Perhaps I was a bit paranoid or overcautious as this retreat is still going strong and becoming one of the better-known spaces in the field. My personal opinions and disagreements on the ways in which things were being run became a common thread for me over the next couple years of adventuring and holding space at different retreat centers around the world.

Retreat 2 – Mexico, 2019

The second center was located in Mexico near Tulum. I visited in February of 2019 and they took a more ceremonial approach. The leaders had volunteered at ayahuasca retreats and wanted to mirror that model with mushrooms. It was a ten day retreat with mushroom ceremonies every other day. The setting was a beautiful compound/resort located within the jungles near to the city. They hired a “shaman” to sing for the duration of the journeys and did their best to hold a closed container. Every one of the participants got a lot out of their journeys. The journeys occurred every other day. On the days in between there were excursions to the beach or to see the local ruins. Many of the participants I have kept up with have returned multiple times with great satisfaction from each of the retreats. The women running this retreat are very capable and wonderful people. I am always happy to see anything being run by non-white men in this space as we are currently dominating the field.

Retreat 3 – Jamaica, 2019

The third retreat I worked for in April of 2019, located in Jamaica as well, allowed me to use the model of my choosing. We took a more therapeutic approach. With more resources at the ready we were able to offer a two on one experience. Though this raised the cost quite a bit, we were able to have a male and a female sit for each participant as they took a large dose journey. Having this much freedom I was able to test the waters of an approach I had done a lot of reading about.

I had a mentor who had shown and taught about this model.

It was a week-long retreat with one large, 5 gram, journey in the middle. This is the ideal method for deep trauma and therapeutic work. There is a tremendous amount of benefit to using these medicines in groups, but it is a very different experience when alone. Especially when working with a guide with whom you have had time to get to know one another. The setting here was in a room on a permaculture farm overlooking the ocean. The participants laid on a bed wearing eye shades and listening to a playlist through headphones.

Retreat 4 – The Netherlands, 2019

The most recent retreat center that I worked for used a more therapeutic model in a group setting. They were located in the Netherlands and I worked over a few months in the summer of 2019. This center is the one that resonated the most with me.

Retreats varied between three, seven, and ten days. People were educated about the experience upon arrival and took a dose every other day during their stay. Integration took place in small groups, large group sharing circles, and nature walks. The journeys were rather large doses and progressively higher as the week went on. This method allows people to grow more accustomed to the effects over their stay, allowing more ease when going inward and familiarity with the territory. The setting was indoors, with every individual laying on their own mat. Guests were provided with eye shades and blankets to promote a more inward journey. A calming non-evocative playlist was played over speakers in the room. There were spaces set up outside of this room for those who wanted some alone time, as well as the ability to go outdoors for a walk.

Long-Term Integration and Aftercare

Many centers in operation are run by wonderful, kind-hearted people who bring unique approaches to their holding spaces. One of the more glaring drawbacks to all these spaces is the lack of long-term integration and after care. Many of them rely heavily on WhatsApp groups. It allows the groups to integrate with each other but inevitably some individuals who are less socially inclined fall through the cracks. Integration is a buzzword these days and has many different meanings. Essentially it is readjustment back into everyday life. Taking what has been learned from the journey and bringing it into our daily walk.

Choosing a Retreat Center

My approach may not be the best fit for everyone, but it is important to understand the space these journeys take place in. I would like to encourage people who are exploring the retreat model to do their own research. Investigate each space thoroughly. Some of these centers are more focused on being profitable rather than the individuals that are coming. Get to know the staff and the facilitators who will be present. What model are you looking for? What models are being offered? What is your price point? Enquire about what kind of integration work they offer. What does their aftercare program look like? This is where the bulk of the work lies. The work can be broken up into three parts. 10% preparation, 15% journey, and 75% integrating the lessons learned afterwards. Of course, these numbers are flexible. It does shift a bit from journey to journey.

Final Thoughts

Working in these various capacities has highlighted my own need to further my education around therapy, therapeutic practices, trauma training and becoming more trauma informed. All of this is a part of my personal pursuit to help individuals maximize the benefits from a single session. I say this to share a bit of my story. In general, I think that if people have a safe space to try entheogenic mushrooms they will benefit. Everyone who participated in one of these retreats felt they had gained something from the experience. My purpose is to help someone maximise the benefit of a single journey and to maintain a high standard of integrity. Reminding individuals that they are whole. I do not know what anyone needs, they do. Redirecting people back to the inner healer within themselves.

This is a taste of some of the insights I have picked up over the last few years working in this field. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunities and experiences I have had so far, but I am always learning and fine tuning my craft. Feedback is very welcome. If you have any deeper inquiries, questions, or your own personal insights you feel called to share with me, please contact me at  ourcelium.mark@gmail.com and @our.celium on Instagram.

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About Mark

Mark Haberstroh, an entrepreneur, has been working with mushrooms of all varieties since early 2016. In 2017 he started his first gourmet and edible mushroom farm in Alabama and has since begun 2 more in Oregon and California. In 2018 Mark began to travel abroad to legally offer psilocybin to individuals interested in the experience. This has been his true passion since he began to work with this medicine on himself as a teenager. Currently waiting for the legal climate in the U.S. to change, Mark is taking a break from work with entheogenic mushrooms to focus on his education. He is a student at the School of Consciousness Medicine out of Berkeley, California.

creating music playlists psychedelic journeys

Welcome to PSYJuly day 17 🙂
Today we have a guest post from Max, AKA Welsh Integration Circle, one of my favourite people in the psychedelic twitterverse.

After seeing his work creating playlists (1, 2) for members of his community, I invited him to create a post to share his experience on a topic I feel there is ample room for discovery and development in the psychedelic space: music. More specifically, playlists for inner style journeys. Over to Max…

Creating Music Playlists for Psychedelic Journeys

There are infinite ways to use psychedelics. Nobody can tell you how you should use them, but as you move through life and gain experience your psychedelic use may evolve. Many of us start off in our youth: at home, in the park, at a festival or a concert.

One thing that you can say about the way people use psychedelics is that it frequently involves music. Psychedelics and music go together like Fish and Chips or Superman and Lois Lane. The altered state of consciousness that psychedelics induce, amplifies, enhances and transforms music into a completely new experience. Some people can even smell or see colours from music in the phenomenon known as synaesthesia. Music is not only heightened by psychedelics, but it can influence the entire atmosphere and mood of those under the influence.

There are many discussions online regarding the best tunes to trip to. You can guarantee that any of these will include the likes of Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, Hendrix, Phish, Shpongle or The Orb. Now these are great artists who were heavily influenced by psychedelics and aimed at an audience who might use them too, but this article is about creating personalised playlists that won’t include these artists or styles and the music is used in a different way.

Music, set and setting

We’ve all heard the phrase “Set and Setting” so many times that it has become a cliché, but it is still undeniably relevant. Al Hubbard was a psychedelic pioneer, who in the 1950’s, helped develop the idea that the setting could have a major influence on the psychedelic experience and even the outcomes in a therapeutic context. According to his instructions, the person taking the psychedelic lies down in a comfortable place, like a bed or sofa, puts on some eyeshades to block out all light and a pair of earphones to listen to the music. The idea is that by blocking out all other sensory input, one is directed to focus the attention inwards and be guided by the music. In combination with advice like Bill Richards’ mantra of “Trust, let go, be open”, one is encouraged to allow one’s mind in its altered state of consciousness to go wherever the music takes it. This is essentially the same format used by today’s trials at Imperial College and Johns Hopkins, and was recently the subject of a patent application by Compass Pathways, much to the anger of many a psychonaut.

First of all, ask yourself why you would consider this style of psychedelic experience. It may not be for everyone, but if you have only ever taken psychedelics recreationally, at a festival or party, then give it some consideration. It amplifies the effects and is particularly suitable for people who want to use psychedelics for personal or spiritual development, to address difficult life experiences, to change your life with regard to alcohol, tobacco or other drugs or just learn more about yourself and your consciousness. It’s also wise to have a sober tripsitter for these experiences, just someone being there will allow you to immerse deeper into your inner journey.

Now you could just pick one of many playlists on Spotify or other music providers that have been created, including the original Bill Richards playlist and those used by MAPS, Imperial and Hopkins, but I think it’s more interesting to create your own, although they can give you some good inspirations for your playlist.

So with this in mind, let’s explore the how and why of crafting a playlist.

Crafting a playlist

The aim is to relax the subject while the medicine starts to work, then to take them on a journey of inner experience which fits with their intention and their life story. The more you know about the person the better. The more you know about their music tastes, favourite movies, travels and previous psychedelic experiences, the more you can choose suitable tunes to guide them.

The first things to consider are what substance and dose are going to be used. If using LSD you will need more than 2 hours of music, but it’s unlikely that someone is going to lie still for 12 hours. For psilocybin I tend to aim for 5 hours’ worth of music. 

Use instrumental music, this allows the journeyer to focus on the sounds, rhythms and melodies, without the distraction of language. Foreign languages are fine, especially if they include chanting – non-lyrical singing also works well. I tend to avoid typical bands that have the usual pop, rock or jazz sound. Classical music can be excellent, but some people may not be used to listening to classical, so choosing a piece that is interesting is important. Electronic music can play a huge role with unusual sounds that can have dramatic effects while under the influence, but I tend to avoid dance music that one would hear at a club or rave and stick to more ambient styles. There is also great crossover between classical and electronic, sometimes called neo-classical, which includes some of my favourite artists like Max Richter, Nils Frahm and Joep Beving.

Beware of using too many floaty, unstructured tracks. As Michael Pollan explained in How to Change Your Mind, he had to listen to a lot of boring yoga and new age music for his journeys, and this is why personalised playlists can be more stimulating than generic ones.

Having said that, music that is less busy can have profound effects, as can silence. If you have ever tried meditation under the influence, you’ll know that it can be very powerful, and silence or empty tracks can provide a similar space. They can also be useful to contrast with other more energetic or dramatic tunes. It’s important not to overwhelm someone with too much noise for too long, and if you do choose tracks with drama, intensity and tension, it’s important to give them release as well. The order of the tracks can be very important, and I also insert some silent tracks of up to a minute long at crucial moments to build tension and atmosphere before a special piece, or after a particularly challenging one.

I tend to start off with some very light, relaxed music while taking the medicine and allowing it to take effect, and then slowly build the complexity and intensity of the tracks towards the end of the first hour. Knowing how long it might take your listener to start feeling the effects will help you plan.

Personalising playlists

Discover what kind of music the journeyer likes. Are they up for more complex and difficult tracks? Or are they very anxious and prefer gentler tunes and familiar styles? Try to imagine when the peak might be, and think about what kinds of atmosphere and feelings you are trying to evoke.

I also use my knowledge of them to add highly personalised music. One friend has Native American heritage which is important to them and they have partaken in ceremonies before. I added a short piece of pow wow chanting which had a very dramatic effect and still does to this day. The experiences that people have during their journeys become strongly associated with the music, so that they often listen to their playlists in the weeks after and have strong emotional connections to certain tracks for years to come.

Foreign music is also a great place to look. You can create a great atmosphere, transporting someone to a place of previous travels or residence, and help to bring up some of the memories and emotions from that period of their life. However, one should be aware not to overly manipulate someone’s emotions and journey. 

If they are very knowledgeable about a certain style that is relevant to their life or ancestry, choosing a track that is not stereotyping them or the music could be a challenge. Many cultures have beautiful and diverse music which is very different to Western styles and on my playlists I have used classical Indian, west African, South American icaros, Tibetan chanting, Mongolian and Armenian music, all with great effect. 

You can use music from important films from their life. Film soundtracks make great fodder for playlists and I have included tunes from Bladerunner, Black Hawk Down, Ad Astra, Twin Peaks and even Star Wars or The Omen. I’ve also asked their friends and family to give me some tips on favourite music and experiences. This needs to be done cautiously as not everyone can afford to be open about their psychedelic use, but music choice can be asked about in tactful ways.

I have given journeyers the option of a particular one or two tunes that they really want to hear on their playlist, and I ask why. Having listened to the tracks myself, I interpret how it might make them feel and decide on where in their journey it should appear and how to lead into it and follow on. Having a few key tunes as marker points in the playlist provides a structure to build the playlist around and helps you navigate what can become a tense and frantic process. It always feels like a big responsibility, knowing that the playlist is going to have a significant effect on their experience. The music truly drives the entire inner experience.

Collecting and Test Driving Tunes

To select tunes, I find that using cannabis whilst listening to music is a great way to get a sense of which tunes will be interesting during a journey. I tend to put them in a depositary playlist in the weeks before, so whenever I hear a tune I want to use, I have easy access to it when it comes to the final creation. Once you have selected all your tunes then ordering and editing can still take a long time. I often listen to the end of a track to try and work out how the transition between it and the next tune will work, to get it as smooth as possible and so that it isn’t a jarring change. A very soft and gentle track, silence, or some sounds of nature like cicadas or rain can also be a good way to give them some space between.

Try to let people relax into longer tunes, but perhaps not so long it gets boring. A variety of styles, pace and intensity is good and challenging them with unusual styles and sounds can provide opportunities for the imagination to run wild. Rhythmic tunes can be dramatic, and driving intense visuals, this is a perfect use of electronic music like some Steve Roach tracks, and artists like Philip Glass and Estas Tonne can create similar effects. 

Know your audience, their tastes and their level of challenge, and have some fun making a personalised psychedelic playlist for your friends and community.

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About Max

Max is a member of a small community of psychedelic users in Wales, who started with recreational use and have moved on to help each other with mental health issues as well as  personal and spiritual development, through solo and group journeys, and support each other through informal discussions and integration work.