A research team including psychedelics expert Dr. Roland Griffiths recently published a study examining how context (the set and setting) impacts the effects of inhaling 5-MeO-DMT (5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltryptamine).1 Previous research strongly suggests that the context in which a psychedelic experience takes place is essential to its quality and long-term outcomes.2 Until this current study, researchers had not examined if and how context impacts the acute and enduring effects of 5-MeO-DMT.
Design of the Study
In this study, the researchers used data from two surveys administered to people in the general population. Before the survey, one group was identified as having used 5-MeO-DMT in non-structured contexts (NSC). Examples of an NSC include in the home or apartment, a friend’s home or apartment, or a festival. The other group consisted of individuals who reported using 5-MeO-DMT in a structured context (SC). The context was considered structured in that there were procedures for dosing and administration 5-MeO-DMT, and the user was prepared for and supported during and following dosing.
The study participants were asked to reflect on their first experience with pure 5-MeO-DMT and rate the mystical experience, any challenging experiences they had, and the enduring effects. To gather this data, the researchers used the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ), the Challenging Experiences Questionnaire (CEQ), and the Persisting Effects Questionnaire.
Results of the Study
The mean MEQ scores for the SC group were significantly higher compared to the NSC group. Also, 83% of the participants in the SC group reported a complete mystical experience compared to 54% for the NSC group.
In addition, ratings of the enduring effects of 5-MeO-DMT were significantly higher for the SC group than the NSC group. The SC group also reported significantly lower scores on the CEQ survey. The researchers concluded,
5-MeO-DMT appears to occasion mystical-type experiences with enduring positive effects, which are more intense when 5-MeO-DMT is administered in a safe and supportive context.
The authors acknowledge some limitations of the study, which should be addressed in future studies. Among them are possibility of recall and selection bias, the presence of mental or physical conditions (there was no screening of the volunteers for this), and the inability to verify the exact identity of the compounds that were ingested.
Context is Important to the Quality and Long-Term Outcome From Psychedelic Experiences
This initial study adds to the growing knowledge base indicating the importance of context in the psychedelic experience. Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris is the head of the Centre for Psychedelic Research at Imperial College London. He wrote a paper in 2018 in which, among other things, he proposes a treatment model for psychedelic therapy that centers on context. In the paper, he emphasizes the importance of understanding the impact of context on the psychedelic experience:
It is proposed that neglect of this essential component of the psychedelic treatment model may account for the rare cases of psychological harm that have been reported in association with psychedelic use which have (disproportionately) contributed to their historical negative stigma.