Portsmouth Town Hall site of new psychedelic experiences

Portsmouth Historic Town Hall. Photo by Sean Marshall.

Most Kingstonians are familiar with the tidy old limestone building in Portsmouth Village’s Aberdeen Park (bordered by King, Yonge, Kennedy, and Gardiner Streets). The Portsmouth Town Hall, built in 1865, has housed council meetings, church groups, temperance and political rallies, the local militia, and even the village gaol. Now a new group has taken up residence to provide a kind of mental health therapy that could never have been dreamed of by its former occupants.

Rich Tyo is co-founder and Clinical Director of Neuma: The Centre for Social Wellness, Kingston’s first legal psychedelic community health facility, at 623 King Street. Tyo is a registered psychotherapist who has been part of a grassroots movement, The Kingston Psychedelic Society, which he describes as a “collective of people who are passionate about best practices in harm reduction, research, and community.”

Neuma has arisen from that group, he says. “We’re calling it a centre for social wellness… It is not emphasizing necessarily an individual’s health or healing journey, but more like healing as a group, in a group setting. Of course, within that you’re going to have the individual doing their own work, but it’s really emphasizing healing in community and connecting to community.” 

Tyo says he is passionate about community building and holistic mental health education, something he feels is needed in order to support people in finding their own skills to navigate deep healing. 

The centre will offer group classes on breathwork and psychedelic cannabis. Tyo says, “We want to bring in other practitioners to do workshops and teachings… trying to empower people.”

But what exactly is psychedelic cannabis and cannabis therapy? Rich admits it is “sort of a hard thing to describe, but basically it’s… more about the setting and the intention and the practice or the ‘skill set’ that we teach people. Cannabis can be used as an adjunct to that. And it can be very psychedelic; it can be similar to psilocybin [colloquially called ‘magic mushrooms’], and it can be similar to MDMA [Ecstasy/Molly: 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, a potent empathogen–entactogen with stimulant properties that is primarily used recreationally].”

Tyo trained in Mindfulness-Based Psychedelic Therapy, which was developed by Daniel McQueen, a clinical psychotherapist with a Master’s degree in Transpersonal Counselling Psychology from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. McQueen is an expert professional consultant in the field of psychedelics who has worked professionally with cannabis as a psychedelic since its legalization in Colorado in 2014.

“People can bring their favourite strain [of cannabis],” says Tyo, “or we teach people how to mix different strains to get a different effect… It releases a lot of stress and trauma in the body… It’s great for creative problem-solving. It’s great for re-consolidating memories, similar to MDMA. It’s really good at connecting you to… the essence of who you are.”

Tyo describes the psychedelic therapeutic process as healing, in that it helps release emotions so they can be dealt with, “It’s like the old camp song: you can’t go over it, you can’t go under it, you’ve got to go through it. That’s what psychedelics do in general, and cannabis does it in a really, really gentle way, which is nice.”

“When we say emotion, often we think in terms of feeling sadness or joy or fear,” explains Tyo. “In [this kind of therapy], the idea is that every one of those emotions has a corresponding physical sensation. [For example], when you’re sad, it might feel like a heaviness in the heart or a shakiness in the stomach. And so when we get out of our head about it… we focus more on the sensation in the body, because then the body knows how to work with the emotion. Whereas if we get in our head, we’re judging [the emotion as good or bad]; we’re not having a relationship to it [and accepting it].”

The psychedelic combined with music, sitting, and breathing techniques allows the emotion to peak and finish, Tyo says. “‘A symptom is something halfway out’ is a quote that we use a lot… [For instance] I’m not necessarily feeling fear right now; I’m feeling fear on its way out. How do I create the conditions to allow this to be felt, and then let go of it?”

Neuma’s website cites The City of Kingston, Kingston Economic Development, and Wayfound as “supporters.” According to those with Neuma, the City of Kingston has offered support by giving the space at the historic Portsmouth Town Hall building to the organization rent-free until 2024. According to Cory Firth, Co-creator and Community Director for Neuma, this arrangement was possible because of a $10 million grant to the City from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario, through the Health Innovation Fund.

Firth also shared that Kingston Economic Development Corporation has sponsored two events for the Kingston Psychedelic Society, which has allowed Neuma to “raise awareness around the education of psychedelics, harm reduction, and safety.” He emphasized, “They haven’t directly supported Neuma with any funds but are supporters of events that we partner with, alongside the Kingston Psychedelic Society.”

The local Economic Development Corporation explained that the federal funding grant the City received is part of a larger project which both Economic Development and the City are partnered in, Health Innovation (HI) YGK.

“Neuma is a great new start-up business in the health innovation sector – one of Kingston Economic Development’s identified priority industries for growth,” said Nour Mazloum, Marketing and Communications Manager with Invest Kingston (Kingston Economic Development).

“Through the HI YGK partnership, Neuma has [the] advantage of using co-working space at Portsmouth Town Hall and [the] opportunity to work with our team on establishing and growing their business in Kingston.”

Mazloum also pointed to some of the involvement Neuma has had in other local initiatives around medical psychedelic research locally – something for which Kingston has become somewhat of a hub in recent years. At the beginning of 2022, Kingston and Queen’s University hosted the 2022 Catalyst Summit, which brought some 400 people, both in-person and virtually, to “learn more about the Canadian psychedelic space and its social and economic benefits.” In fact, Neuma formally announced its business at the first Kingston Community Psychedelic Town Hall, which took place in July 2022 at Fractal Workspace, Mazloum stated.

“[Kingston Economic Development Corporation] has sponsored these events, as Kingston boasts a strong ecosystem with partners like Queen’s Faculty of Health Sciences, and [is] excited to support advances for business investment in this emerging market,” she said.

The City of Kingston did not respond to requests from Kingstonist for comment on its support of Neuma.

Wayfound [Mental Health Group] is a company in Alberta, Tyo explained; it has financially supported Neuma, allowing that organization to beautify its space. Tyo said that Neuma will reimburse Wayfound for the support and that the two organizations will work together when opportunities arise.

To find out more about what Neuma has to offer, visit their website.

With files from Tori Stafford.

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