Why These 10 Women Went "California Sober"—Once & for All

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Cannabis isn’t just legal in California, it’s a lifestyle. Endless summers, hot pink sunsets, and the mellow sounds of the beach call for a substance that slows time down or deepens sensation. And that’s definitely not booze. Hence the term "California sober." It means drinking's off the table, but weed is A-OK.

When Michelle Lhooq, rave queen and author of Weed: Everything You Want to Know But Are Always Too Stoned To Ask, moved from New York to Los Angeles, she gave into that lifestyle by giving up drinking. She kept using cannabis (and psychedelics) because it seemed to better fit the vibe of her new zip code. She was California sober. But she isn't the only one.

We set out to find 10 weed-loving ladies who are alcohol-free to ask them a simple question: how do you like to get high? We quickly realized this is about so much more: stress, friends, work, motherhood, sex, productivity, spirituality, and health, to name a few.

For these women, living California sober is about defining their own values and lifestyle, while consciously and thoughtfully choosing the non-alchoholic substances that work for them.

Most are lucky their experiences are very different from the lived realities of substance abuse and dependency issues that so others face. Instead, they're simply consciously and responsibly ditching alcohol in favor of cannabis. And why not?

Negin: 34-year-old cultural producer
Three years since drinking

I never really enjoyed drinking. I discovered I’m allergic to wine. But three years ago, I was dating a guy who was a massive drinker and he would make me feel bad if I wasn’t joining him, so I would drink and then feel terrible. I guess I didn’t know how to set those boundaries. And he was an asshole.

I smoked weed in my twenties to get fucked up, to eat snacks and find things more hilarious than they actually were, but now in my thirties, I’m also using it as a tool for self-actualization, for growth, and for connection with my partner. Drinking always felt like an escape, but with cannabis I feel more present, more in-tuned, connected, and reflective.

One day things might be more open, but as it stands today, I won’t be using my name for this piece. As a woman of color, I already face harassment when I cross the border. I don’t want to risk making the difficulties and unpleasantries of that experience any worse.

Trish: 39-year-old director of brand experience
One and a half years since drinking

A few years ago, I was living in LA and I went on a real bender with a friend. I was truly destroyed after and I had a revelation: I’m getting older, hangovers aren’t getting any easier, and I don’t need to be drinking.

With alcohol, I felt brazen and outgoing. But with cannabis, I feel more authentically me. I feel more open because thoughts and ideas just come to me more clearly. I think I’m a better writer when I’m high and I love to do things that make me laugh a lot. Laughter is such a gift. Plus, when I’m high I’m an awesome house cleaner!

Now, instead of having four glasses of wine at a dinner party, I’ll share a joint to open up the conversation in a different way. I work in the cannabis industry too, so it plays more of a social role in my life. Before, I’d have never used cannabis around colleagues. Now it doesn’t have to be happy hour, it can be high hour.

Krista Marie: 34-year-old yoga teacher/speaker
Two months since drinking

I’m giving myself one year without alcohol, just to see what happens. There’s a history of alcoholism in my family, and I’ve been noticing patterns in myself I don’t like: how much I want a second drink or the tendency to go for a glass of wine when I’m feeling sad. Also, meditation is one of the most important parts of who I am. I meditate for one hour a day and I’ve found that alcohol has dulled that experience a bit.

Without alcohol, I’ve noticed my lows aren’t as low. I’m learning about myself and about having the necessary tools in place to navigate life. Cannabis isn’t always my favorite, but mushrooms have been extraordinarily helpful.

I take a very small amount and it makes the world a little bit sparkly. I don’t trip or go on a huge psychedelic journey, but microdosing is a nice way to feel like the world is elevated without the hangover. I don’t feel like I lose the ability to make good decisions when I’m high and it doesn’t hurt my meditation practice—in fact, it makes it wilder.

Ruby: 43-year-old author
Seven years since drinking

I was the features editor at a national newspaper and I was having anxiety. My deadlines were piling up and I felt unable to cope with the pressures in my life. I was tired, overwhelmed, and I’d get tearful in the office. I was in a vicious cycle where I was using alcohol to relax, but I noticed my anxiety would come back ten times worse after I drank. I made a commitment to myself to get honest about the true impact alcohol was having on me.

Now that I’m sober, I’ve found that sometimes on a Saturday night, I just want some kind of physical exhale. I’ve been smoking hemp flowers recently. They make me feel relaxed, but there’s no psychosomatic high. I don’t like the feeling of being out of it and this is good because it’s very subtle. Food tastes better and there is just a slight heightening of my senses.

Michelle: 31-year-old food marketer
One year since drinking

I have a mild form of ulcerative colitis. I started to limit my drinking because my symptoms would be triggered by it. And then I just started to not drink at all. As I was trying out different medications, I was wondering what else I could use to help keep me in remission. A friend mentioned cannabis can be a powerful anti-inflammatory. Now, I’ve found the right medication and I use CBD oil every night before bed. My health has never been better.

Since I'm avoiding alcohol, when I’m out my partner and I will sometimes smoke a joint. I’ve tried edibles too. I’m not really going to rager parties anymore, more like dinner parties, where everyone else is drinking wine and I can smoke something and don’t feel like I’m missing out.

Leah: 31-year-old nurse
Eight years since drinking

I was a lightweight. You know when you wake up the next morning and think: my head hurts, what happened? Did I fall? I don’t remember everything. I didn’t like that part of drinking. I didn’t like that I didn’t feel in control of myself.

Weed calms me down. I’m a mom and I work so I’m going, going, going. When I smoke, I feel like a more mellow me whereas my normal personality is to be a little more active. I think alcohol was a depressant for me, whereas cannabis keeps me in a better place. I can slow down and enjoy things a little bit more. I think different substances react differently for people.

On a medical level, it makes sense because all of us have different chemicals in our brain and different hormone levels. With any kind of substance, it needs to be about you, about your body and what feels right.

Alison: 38-year-old tax accountant
Three years since drinking

I own my company and I’m really busy. I started feeling crappy whenever I drank, whether it was one beer or 10, so I took it as a sign that my body didn’t want it anymore. Meanwhile, every time I smoked cannabis or used CBD, I woke up feeling great. I wanted to get my business to where I needed it to be and your work suffers when you’re hungover.

I still go out a lot. I like going to alcohol-free events. Everyone is happy and laughing and just stoned. I can’t even imagine having a hangover anymore and I never want to feel that way again. It’s funny, I had this weird concept that I wouldn’t be happy if I wasn’t drinking and though it took me about a year to really see the difference, the whole thing was the best decision I ever could have made.

Dani: 32-year-old database and CRM coordinator
One year since drinking

I stopped being able to drink liquor when I was 23 years old. Think of the worst hangover you’ve ever had and multiple it by twenty. I had three reactions where I started vomiting and lost control of my muscles. My lips turned purple and I lost all feeling in my fingers. I ended up hanging off my bed with my head in a garbage bag thinking I’d rather be dead. When I cut down, it became not worth it. I struggle with depression and having even one drink would make me feel noticeably more depressed the next day.

Cannabis just mutes everything a little bit. I have ADHD and Ritalin used to make me feel like a zombie. Cannabis allows me to be creative, to have an imagination and to think abstractly—things I value so deeply. I don’t really even get that “high” anymore. It’s about clarity first and foremost. There are certain strains or terpenes that help me with anxiety. It doesn’t mean I’m floating in the clouds, ignoring the world or escaping, I’m equalizing myself so that I can understand my place in the world.

Natalie: 35-year-old in-house counsel
Almost five years since drinking

Having to get up and go to a mommy-and-me class with a hangover is particularly horrible. I had fun when I drank but now, I don’t want to still be paying for it 12 hours after. I like to find strains I can use for different situations. I pick sativa giggly hybrids for a night out. Or I pick something different that can help me unwind after a hard day, like a glass of wine or beer for someone else. I like that it wears off faster.

There’s stigma from my mom friends. They’ll say, “you still do that? That’s something I left in college.” But moms need it the most! I also love it for bonding with my partner. When we have a night in, it’s fun to hang out and get stoned when we make dinner—to laugh and have fun together without any pain in the morning. And stoned sex is an amazing revelation. My ability to get aroused is increased and my orgasms are amazing.

Sarah Phillips is a strategist, journalist, and creative writer living in Toronto. She writes mostly about women, weed, and the workplace.