For over four decades, Michael Pond has been helping people deal with mental-health and substance-use issues.
He started out as a registered psychiatric nurse, went on to get a master’s degree in clinical social work and other specialty trainings, and embarked on a career as a psychotherapist during the mid-1990s.
In between that and his current West Vancouver practice focusing on addictions, Pond fought his own battle against alcoholism.
It was an experience that today gives him a unique perspective in connecting with the personal struggles of his clients.
Pond chronicled his story in his memoir Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System. His partner Maureen Palmer recounted Pond’s search for healing in the documentary Wasted.
In a phone interview from Alberta, where he and Palmer were travelling, Pond marvelled at the potential presented by psychedelics.
Pond noted that there are several research studies indicating that psychedelics are beneficial in treating addictions and mental-health conditions.
He also cited the widely acclaimed 2018 book by American author Michael Pollan, titled How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.
Pond described what is currently happening in the world of psychedelics as nothing short of a “renaissance”.
“Personally and professionally, I’ve never seen anything in all my 45 years of doing this work as effective as the use of psychedelics,” Pond told CannCentral.
He recalled that in the last few decades, new pyschotherapy approaches have been employed for addictions.
These include cognitive-behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing, and community reinforcement and family training.
Pharmaceuticals like gabapentin and naltrexone have also been repurposed to manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
“But the reality is, substance use remains a stubborn, intractable problem,” Pond said.
The West Vancouver psychotherapist noted that before the COVID-19 pandemic, drug use was the number-one public-health issue.
“We desperately need an expanded tool kit, and that’s where psychedelics hold a lot of promise,” he said.
According to Pond, studies by institutions like Johns Hopkins University and New York University are “extremely encouraging”.
“These substances open up the mind, make the person much more receptive to new ideas,” he said.
At the biological level, psychedelics “restructure the brain”.
“They are cheap, and you can achieve in one psychedelic-assisted therapy session what might take a year or more of traditional therapy,” Pond said.
According to Pond, many people who suffer from substance addiction also experience other mental-health issues, like depression, anxiety, ADHD, and PTSD.
The psychotherapist also noted that a 2016 Johns Hopkins study on cancer-related anxiety showed that 83 percent of participants reported feelings of well-being after a single dose of psychedelics.
“In a field where hope sometimes is hard to come by, this is encouraging,” he said.
Psychedelics are illegal in Canada, a situation Pond considers an “outrage”.
“You can legally go out and binge drink and kill yourself or others, yet it’s illegal to pick a mushroom and eat it,” he said.
According to Pond, Canada “spends billions on the downstream effects of substance use—law enforcement, crime, justice, social welfare, health, and education”.
“It’s pure idiocy to not explore something that has the potential to save us billions,” Pond said.
While Pond supports the decriminalization of psychedelics, he advises caution, as a number of people are using these substances recreationally and without supervision.
“What we’re learning is that there really needs to be some structure and foundation put in place in terms of policies and procedures,” Pond said.
According to Pond, psychedelics should be “done with professionals that have training and experience”.
“It’s just crucial, and it’s so important to do the preparation, and to make sure that the session is guided,” he said, “and then the integration sessions that follow up to pull it all together and to make sense of it right as a therapeutic tool.”
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