Meet the “California sober” set: Why trendsetters are ditching all drugs except pot
This month, as many try to give up alcohol for Dry January, some are taking to cannabis as a substitute. In some circles, skipping booze for weed is a lifestyle known colloquially as “California Sober,” a reflection of the lax attitudes around pot that abound in the Golden State.
For Alexis*, a 35-year-old software engineer from Portland, Oregon, being sober in California means abstaining from alcohol, cocaine, meth, psychedelics, nicotine—everything but marijuana and caffeine. After witnessing how her parents struggled with addiction and alcohol use, she self-described as “straight,” meaning she remained completely abstinent from drugs until her late 20s. Then, she found cannabis.
For some people, especially those in the world of addiction recovery, using one drug to help you stay off another is a taboo that condemns users to failure or relapse.
“When I was finally introduced to marijuana, it was like night and day for my general anxiety and helped me feel creatively empowered,” Alexis told Salon. “Marijuana made the world gentler without the downsides I saw my friends go through with other drugs.”
The term “California Sober” evokes a strong West Coast vibe, as the state was one of the first to legalize medical marijuana in the 90s. California’s Humboldt County, located in the northwest of the state, is legendary for the “Emerald Triangle,” once home to many underground pot farms. Now, of course, California cannabis is a multi-million dollar industry that by some estimates will soon make up about 20 percent of the legal weed market in the entire country.
But is giving up all drugs other than cannabis really that “sober”? For some people, especially those in the world of addiction recovery, using one drug to help you stay off another is a taboo that condemns users to failure or relapse. One rehab center warns, without citing sources, that “medical marijuana use can be dangerous for people in recovery and can lead to an even worse relapse over time.”
This idea has also spread to other rehabilitation sites. The message is clear: If you’ve struggled with opioids, stimulants, alcohol or benzos, then stay away from all other drugs, including marijuana.
But how true is this statement?
Based on several measures of harm, including addiction and overdose risk, cannabis is significantly less dangerous than alcohol. Although the use of marijuana, the extract of the cannabis plant, is not “safe,” it is rarely a direct cause of death. A review of the literature could find only 35 cannabis-related deaths, many involving complex medical histories; while a more recent study in England found toxicity from cannabis to be “negligible”.
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Meanwhile, alcohol is attributed to 3 million deaths annually globally, or 5.3 percent of all deaths from any cause, according to the World Health Organization. Alcohol use has also been linked to more than 200 different diseases and at least seven types of cancer.
Grinspoon points out that cannabis can be addictive. But that doesn’t mean moderate use can’t be a type of strict sobriety and destructive drug use.
“Drinking became more and more problematic the older I got,” James*, a 28-year-old consultant from Phoenix, Arizona, told Salon. “Drinking further impairs my already impaired impulse controls. I’ve drunk and driven, hurt myself and hurt loved ones because of words I’ve said while drunk. At this point, I realize it’s very difficult to me to live a “sober life” – if I don’t smoke cannabis, I will. If I don’t drink, I will smoke cannabis. Even in the times when I’ve really worked on my sobriety, I always fail. Instead of deciding I’m ready to fail, I’d rather work on my cannabis moderation.”
Getting sober in California can be an effective harm reduction tool, says Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician at Harvard Medical School who specializes in medical marijuana. He says he has helped many of his patients switch from opioids, alcohol or both to cannabis. Grinspoon, who is also a board member of the advocacy group Doctors For Cannabis Regulation, points out that cannabis can be addictive. But that doesn’t mean moderate use can’t be a type of strict sobriety and destructive drug use.
“Millions of people use cannabis as part of their recovery,” Grinspoon told Salon. “Addiction kills. We need a big tent for recovery, not a small tent.”
However, Grinspoon says the idea of being “California sober” hasn’t caught on widely with addiction psychiatrists, who still think of marijuana as dangerous and without medical value. These attitudes may be related to Alcoholics Anonymous, which published literature warning that “misuse of prescription drugs and other drugs can threaten the attainment and maintenance of sobriety” and that people who used “street drugs, ranging from marijuana to heroin, have revealed the alcoholic’s tendency to become addicted to other drugs.”
“The big book was written in 1939, before we had MRIs, before we understood the brain,” Grinspoon said, referring to author Bill Wilson’s best-selling text on how to quit problematic alcohol use. “This is an ideology, not a science. Yet it has so much influence.”
“In short, the “dependent personality” is a complete myth.”
Alcoholics Anonymous and other rehab pathways commonly promote the myth of cross-addiction or “addiction personality”—the idea that if you can’t use one drug responsibly, then you can’t use moderate amounts of another substance. In other words, the idea that abstinence from all drugs is the only path for someone with a substance use disorder.
Dependent personality is not a topic that has been researched in great detail, but much of the evidence for it is weak. Additionally, this model reduces the complexity of addiction to a “one-size-fits-all” approach, according to Mark Griffiths, a professor and psychologist at Nottingham Trent University who specializes in behavioral addictions such as gambling and drug addiction. sex.
“There is no personality trait that guarantees an individual will develop an addiction, and there is little evidence for an ‘addictive personality’ that is predictive of addiction alone,” Griffiths wrote in the Global Journal of Addiction & Rehabilitation Medicine in 2017. “With in short. , the ‘dependent personality’ is a complete myth.”
Regardless of its merits or pitfalls, cannabis use is not going away. As more and more states and countries roll back the ban, citizens have more choices to make noise. There are other state-designated consumption regimes, including “Colorado sober,” which means one abstains from alcohol but indulges in cannabis and psychedelic drugs like the “magic” psilocybin mushroom.
“Alcohol can be hard to quit, but the long-term benefits of not getting black regularly, not drinking every day, and becoming a borderline alcoholic are very positive,” Tyler, a 37-year-old Texas homeowner and former Colorado. resident who identifies as “Colorado sober”, told Salon. Denver, Colorado was the first city to decriminalize mushrooms in 2019, with the rest of the state following suit last November, but also legalized DMT, ibogaine, mescaline and several other powerful psychedelics. So the Centennial State has a bit of a reputation for ego-busting, mind-altering substances.
On weekends, Tyler alternated between LSD, mushrooms, and DMT. “Having cannabis and psychedelics to go to is good and can remind you of long-term goals,” he said. Psychedelics are growing in popularity in other parts of the country, too, so maybe “Colorado sober” is becoming more and more like California’s version. It’s not a new idea, actually. After all, even Bill W., the founder of AA, was a proponent of using LSD to quit drinking.
Being drunk is a big part of being human. It is very likely that many of you reading this right now are under the influence of a stimulant like caffeine. Psychedelics and alcohol have played a role in the growth of civilization; although any drug can have adverse health effects, there is nothing morally wrong with experiencing a buzz. Regardless, any drug can be toxic if not used responsibly—and no matter what path one chooses, there are always risks. The lines between “sober,” “California sober,” and “Colorado sober” reflect how different people are risk-averse in different ways.
*Names have been changed.
about cannabis and marijuana