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Inside posh ‘Special K’ therapy retreat

Candace Moore, a 37-year-old California resident, “shot dope” in her neck for five years while suffering from mental illness. She eventually kicked…



Candace Moore, a 37-year-old California resident, “shot dope” in her neck for five years while suffering from mental illness.

She eventually kicked the habit, only to turn to an array of prescribed medications and therapy treatments to try to help her overcome post-traumatic-stress and major-depressive-mood disorders during a yearslong battle with mental health.

“Nothing seemed to really have some significant improvement,” Moore recently told The Post, explaining she could never “get a good diagnosis or treatment.

“Modern medicine will just go and spend 15 minutes with you and say, ‘Oh, you’re bipolar.’ ’’

She says the breakthrough that changed her life came from an unexpected source: therapy combined with ketamine, a drug known on the streets as a horse tranquilizer called “Special K” — and courtesy of a doctor set to offer the treatment in a boutique hotel at the foot of Northern California’s famed redwoods.

Once best known as a club and rave drug, the synthesized molecule and anesthesia medication is now widely being employed to treat desperate mental-health patients struggling with issues such as depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, prolonged grief and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It can be legally prescribed in all 50 states, and its growing medicinal popularity seems to be epitomized by the posh new immersive therapy retreat overseen by Dr. Carrie Griffin, a 39-year-old osteopath.

For $2,995, well-heeled patients will be able to embark on a three-day “intermuscular ketamine journey” starting in June under Griffin’s care at the historic Scotia Lodge at the entrance to the Avenue of the Giants.

Dr. Carrie Griffin (wearing black and yellow) and her Humboldt County Center for New Growth are launching a ketamine retreat at a boutique hotel in Scotia. Nurse manager Randee Litten is second from left.

The experience comes complete with guided music art and talk therapy sessions, as well as tub-soaking treatments, facials and hemp-infused massages.

Organizers say the psychedelic healing journey, designed for six to 18 clients at a time, is the first of its kind in the US, comparing it to similar excursions offered in destinations such as Costa Rica and Panama.

The retreats will be led by Griffin, who an emotional Moore gushingly described to The Post as “the amazing soul that I feel like has actually given me the opportunity to live.”

Griffin said her site’s experience will be tailored to the setting, the newly reclaimed stately and rustic hotel.

“When you use a substance like ketamine or any psychedelic and you enter a non-ordinary space, if you’re in a highly stimulating environment, all of your stimuli is going to be interacting with your newly changed consciousness, and it can create some pretty terrifying experiences,” she said.

Griffin explained how that type of harrowing experience differs from one in a supervised setting with a licensed therapist or nurse practitioner or physician.

“There’s a level of hopefully safety and security there that already for people with heavy burdens of trauma who lack a strong internal sense of safety — that in and of itself begins a corrective experience,” the doctor said.

Small doses of the dissociative drug help regenerate brain neurons by slowing down the part of the lateral medulla, the section of the brain that can focus on obsessive thoughts. The doses also increase neurotransmitters and enhance the release of something called brain derived neurotrophic factor, Griffin said.

“I have really found it to be as profound as the evidence suggests, which is for treatment resistance depression,” she said. “Pretty consistently, we get results that people are able to have lasting results from anywhere from four weeks to six months after a course of ketamine treatment and effectively change their baseline mood by 70 to 75%.”

Guests at the retreat will pay $2,995 for a three-day immersive ketamine therapy session at a boutique hotel.
Leon Villagomez

Griffin’s background in transformative medicine led her to take ketamine-assisted psychotherapy training during the COVID-19 pandemic and launch the Humboldt County Center for New Growth in the crunchy heart of the country’s largest cannabis-producing region.

“What’s unique about our center is that we’re in a really rural area, and this is the only ketamine center between Santa Rosa and Portland,” she explained.

Shelley Campbell, a 34-year-old Outgrove, Calif., mother of four who just finished a series of six ketamine IV infusions, told The Post, “I’ve always had mental-health struggles.

“I was diagnosed with OCD in my 20s, I had a suicide attempt in my teenage years, and it’s just been kind of a long process of medications and therapy and not really finding anything that’s helped.

“And then this past year has been incredibly hard. I got to a point where [my only options were to] be admitted to an inpatient program or try ketamine therapy.”

Campbell explained how the therapy helped her distance her emotions from her problems and allowed her to navigate them. Although the sessions were “really intense and really difficult,” Campbell said, she felt safe, and her worries were assuaged.

“I would say I was definitely skeptical; I grew up in a house full of addicts, so I was very cautious about engaging in anything that might be like more of an escape than a treatment,” Campbell said.

“Immediately, like within my first session, there was just this feeling of peace.”

Randee Litten, the nurse manager for the Humboldt Center For New Growth, said she could not believe the transformation in Campbell.

“I was so worried about her. She came in lower than anybody I’ve ever seen, and her transformation was just … when I think about her, I just get teary-eyed because she’s living again, said Litten, 41.

Litten’s journey to her current role treating patients with ketamine arose from a similar sense of personal despair. The former charge nurse at a hospital emergency room had reached the end of her rope during the pandemic.

“I was just in the depths of it for so long, and I woke up one day and realized that if I didn’t walk away from the ER, then I would probably not make it to my next birthday because I was so depressed,” the Eureka resident said.

She took five months off of work and embarked on a two-month “in-depth” supervised medical ketamine journey.

“That completely opened up my eyes to my true purpose. I’d been slaving away in emergency [rooms] trying to put Band-Aids on floods,” she said.

After getting a call from Griffin, Litten said, she walked away from “corporate America” and took a 50% pay cut.

A patient under the influence of ketamine.
A patient under the influence of ketamine.

She said she’s never been happier.

“I feel that we are providing people with the tools to heal their own trauma,” Litten said.

A typical four-hour $750 session as described by Moore and Griffin starts with an hour of talk therapy before the patient lies down and is given noise-canceling headphones and sunglasses in a “sort of ceremonial” process.

After deep-breathing exercises and “flight instructions” about how to trust your inner healer, Griffin or another practitioner would inject a dose of ketamine into a muscle or vein in the patient’s arm.

“You get a feeling over your body of warm kind of tingles,” Moore explained. “You start to feel a space where you are in a truly disassociated space, [but] I still have my cognitive mind,” which enabled her to “look in on my life.

“It’s a very comfortable, relaxing, safe, amazingly tranquil space,” she said of the experience, which she added allowed her to understand her abandonment issues and recognize her self-worth.

Moore is such a champion of the treatment that she has talked it up with her colleagues at the Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services, where she manages a staff of eight people in the IT department.

“I am that passionate, like to be able to say, ‘I want you to know that you guys … see me as this amazingly strong, emotionally intelligent, high-capacity human being. Let me be honest about how I got here,’ ” she said.

The treatment is not without its downsides. Moore said she threw up after her first few sessions even after taking an anti-nausea pill. But according to Litten, they are manageable.

“The most brilliant beautiful part of this medicine is how little side effects there are,” the nurse said.

“It doesn’t effect your respiratory rate, it doesn’t affect your pulse rate, it’s not a dangerous medicine to administer, which is why so many providers are starting to use it more and more.”

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