What Does It Mean to Be 'California Sober' and Is It Right for You?

Here's the lowdown on this buzzy lifestyle choice.

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Are you one of the many people who find themselves turning to alcohol to cope or just take the edge off? If you're reading this, you might find yourself reevaluating your relationship with alcohol and noticing how it impacts the way you feel. Maybe you're questioning your nightly cocktail and wondering if it's doing any favors for your physical and mental health—but you're not quite at the point where you want to go full-on sober.

If this rings true, you're in good company. There's a growing trend of people across the country who are choosing to drink less alcohol in general but aren't necessarily seeking out traditional versions of sobriety with full abstention from all substances. Enter: the "California Sober" mindset. We're exploring what it is, why it's so popular, and whether or not this lifestyle is right for you.

What Does California Sober Mean?

California Sober is a term typically used to describe people who decide to quit consuming drugs and alcohol—with a few exceptions. While everyone interprets this lifestyle choice differently, marijuana is the most commonly cited "acceptable" substance for someone who considers themself California Sober.

Some people expand the definition to include psychedelic drugs, such as psilocybin (aka "magic mushrooms''), LSD, and ayahuasca. For our purposes, we'll be using the term to refer to cannabis, since psychedelic drugs are not yet legalized in the United States (save Oregon, which moved to make psilocybin legal in 2020).

Is This a New Concept?

First, we should point out that tons of people have likely already been making these lifestyle choices for a while—it's just that now it has a buzzy new moniker. But as more people move towards low (or no) alcohol consumption as part of their quest toward a healthier lifestyle, the concept of California Sober could continue to gain traction.

It used to be that you either had two choices when it came to drugs and alcohol: You were a consumer or a thorough abstainer. But now, consumers are starting to realize that there's a whole gray area in between that allows them to relax and unwind with their preferred pleasurable vices with more nuance. Perhaps that's choosing quality over quantity when it comes to booze intake, or in the ethos of California Sober, it might be in limiting yourself to a specific substance of choice that doesn't make you feel terrible post-consumption.

Legalization of Marijuana

When it comes to marijuana, in particular, 2020 was a big year for the formerly illicit drug as four additional states legalized adult (recreational) use, and that momentum is expected to carry into more states. In fact, according to Politico, about one in three Americans now has access to legalized marijuana in their state. That means that going California Sober is becoming an option for more people across the country than ever.

Even if you don't live in a state where marijuana is legalized, you're welcome to partake in hemp-based CBD as part of your California Sober journey. Hemp-based CBD contains no THC (the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that gives you a high) and is legal in all 50 states.

Pros of This Lifestyle

The nuanced definition of California Sober allows people to escape the strict dichotomy of complete sobriety, which might feel too extreme for someone who's never had an issue with substance abuse or addiction. Even if you're someone who has a healthy relationship with alcohol, you might still recognize that you're a little too dependent on your nightcap to take the edge off, or that it's a little harder to get to that early morning workout the night after you've imbibed. For many, the deleterious effects of alcohol aren't present with marijuana use, making it a logical swap for when they want something to help them relax without the risk of a hangover.

"When I drink, even if it's just a glass of wine or two with dinner, I definitely notice that my quality of sleep goes down," reports one semi-sober Coloradan, where marijuana is legal to buy recreationally. "If I skip the booze and take a few hits of my cannabis vape pen instead, I sleep like a baby and wake up feeling refreshed."

Another fan of the California Sober lifestyle reports that during the week, she stays away from booze because she finds it makes her anxiety worse but uses low-dose THC/CBD edibles to unwind before bed. She still partakes in alcohol on the weekends when her anxiety level in general is lower. When it comes to being California Sober, you can make your own rules—it's all about learning what makes you feel your best and ditching the labels.

Is Going California Sober for You?

If you live in one of the states (plus Washington, D.C.) where recreational marijuana is legalized, you may be interested in checking out the trend. First up, check your state's cannabis laws to make sure you're in the know about what's allowed. If you have the option, it could be an opportunity to explore marijuana and find out if it helps you de-stress and wind down at the end of the day (the way a glass of wine might without the interrupted sleep and hangover the next morning).

A few questions you might want to ask yourself if you're considering going California Sober:*

  1. Do you find yourself reaching for a glass of wine (or two) to unwind at night, but not like the way it makes you feel the day after?
  2. Do you think your alcohol intake negatively impacts your sleep, mood, or health in any way?
  3. Do you crave a "cleaner" lifestyle, but don't want to give up having a little help in relaxing?
  4. Do you think you're a little too reliant on alcohol to chill out, but don't know how to make a change?
  5. Is booze not for you, but you're seeking something else to help you de-stress?

If you answered yes to a few of these questions, take yourself to your local dispensary and talk openly with the "bud-tenders'' about your goals, concerns, and questions. They're trained professionals who, for the most part, are happy to help educate you and ensure you have a positive experience with cannabis products, whether this is your first time or not.

And if this is your first foray into the world of marijuana, don't worry—you can start slowly and avoid any sort of extreme reactions. One of the many upsides to legalized marijuana is that the dosage and quality of what you're purchasing are strictly monitored, so you're in full control of your experience. Who knows, you may even find yourself replacing your liquor store runs with a trip to the dispensary, and before you know it, you'll be California Sober.

*A word of caution: Choosing to consume marijuana or psychedelics is not recommended for people who have struggled with addiction without first consulting their mental health providers beforehand. Talk with your doctor, therapist, or addiction counselor before adding anything to your lifestyle if you've had a substance abuse problem in the past or suspect you may have one now.

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