I am Cali sober – and I’ve never felt better in my life or been happier. Though singer Demi Lovato popularized the term in her song “California Sober” in 2021, the person who first put the term in print was Michelle Lhooq writing for Vice.com in “Getting ‘California Sober’ Showed Me a Kinder, Gentler Way to Do Drugs”, written way back in innocent, pre-pandemic April 2019). There Ms. Lhooq (she’s a terrific writer and, I bet, a blast to party with) describes her journey from do-pretty-much-anything party girl to California sobriety. That means she’s cut everything from her self-medication war chest except psychedelics like psylocibin and cannabis. No meth, no heroin, no prescription poison, no coke, no alcohol.
It’s the alcohol that’s the real difference-maker. Take alcohol out of anyone’s equation and literally everything else changes. It’s not until you stop drinking the stuff – for whatever reason – and watch the rest of the world do what you used to do that it really strikes home what a mess alcohol made of you. My wife told me repeatedly after social evenings how obnoxious I’d made myself – again. Did I change? No – because, first of all, I didn’t stop drinking. Just as a data point – ever since I stopped drinking? My wife has never said such a thing to me. She’s never even thought it.
Now, me, on the other hand, I might be thinking it – about everyone I’d just been socializing with. In their defense, none of my friends ever got obnoxious – like me. But, there’s something fascinating about socializing with a group of people – as the only non-drinker. Your perspective never changes while everyone else’s does. Alcohol, among other things, alters one’s perspective. Well, what it does is alter one’s ability to “have” perspective. The more people drink, the “looser” they feel. The editor that would normally keep them from saying certain things – good or bad – falls asleep. And then pretty much anything can suddenly spew from them just because it popped into their heads.
That never happens to sober people. It’s wonderful. It never (or rarely) happens to Cali sober either.
Cali sober isn’t an actual treatment protocol. It’s just a way of “being”. Of realizing from within 1) that self-medication is essential to survive this beyond-bonkers world, 2) the medical profession is guessing when they prescribe anything mood-or-brain-chemistry-related, 3) that alcohol, fun as it can be, as amazing as it can taste, is a false friend at best, 4) cannabis might have gotten the worst bad wrap that anything ever got a bad wrap for in human history, and 5) all one really needs for purposes of self-medication are 100% nature-based drugs with actual medicinal value.
Also for the record, I didn’t set out to be “California sober”. But, the moment, I saw that such a thing was a “thing”, a light bulb went off in my head. Well, a red Eagle torch did as it lit the Durban Poison in my Genius pipe.
I eased into a life of California sobriety without even realizing it. Did I mention that I’m happy? I am. I walk around in a near perpetual state of bliss. That’s a few years after coming within inches of killing myself. I take being here very seriously now. It means a lot more to me than it used to. Every second counts more than it did. I don’t want to blot out or obscure a second of the time I have left here; I have more to do than time. A line from Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” plays in my head like a mantra: “But at my back I always hear, Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”. If I’m going to self medicate myself (I absolutely am), I need that medication to not only fit into my life, I want it to help me realize my ambitions.
Cannabis does that. Boy, does it ever.
I came to cannabis late. I tried it in high school of course (back in the 1970’s). All it ever did for me back then was put me to sleep – and that wasn’t interesting to me.
That it did anything to me is kind of surprising. I can only imagine what that “ditch-weed-in-a-baggie” actually was. The THC level – if there was any in it – was three percent or four maybe. These days, I wake and bake with professionally grown strains like Wakanda and Red Congolese and Essensia’s Magic Wand that have THC levels of 35%, 27.5% and 32.18% respectively. What the percentage means is that – in the case of the Wakanda, for instance – 35% of what I’ll light in my piece is THC. The rest is “other” – innocuous leaf and stem plus various terpenes that give the cannabis flavor, smell, color and other vital attributes. Before I got here however – to being someone who uses cannabis from sunup till sundown – life took me to a place where sleep was very hard to come by.
Through two decades of deepening depression and writer’s block, I began to rely more and more heavily on over the counter sleeping meds to put me to sleep and keep me asleep. Alas, that very rarely happened. The gallons of alcohol that I’d washed em down with probably didn’t help. Neither did the dehydration the alcohol caused. I’m not sure I ever got one night of good sleep using OTC meds. Had there even been a good night’s sleep, I still would have awakened with a feeling of druggy lethargy. There’s got to be a morning after.
Living in California, I thought “What the hell! I live someplace where dope’s legal – and dope used to put me to sleep – what have I got to lose?” I found the nearest “prescriber” – a licensed MD reduced to doing this instead of MD-ing. But, hey – I wasn’t there to judge, I was there to get a prescription. It all felt a little fringe-y and outlaw. “Insomnia”, I said – and started to explain.
He held up his hand. No need. I’d said one of the magic words.
With my prescription in hand, I went to my first ever dispensary – Silver Lake Care Givers on Fletcher by the I-5 in Silver Lake. The security guard buzzed me in through the double iron gates. I showed my California DL & newly written prescription (this was before you could do get your RX & proof on your phone for $29). I approached the glass counter ant its two dozen large glass jars filled with cannabis. “Insomnia,” I told the budtender.
“Skywalker,” they said.
“Cute name,” I thought, a little sarcastically. I had no idea at the time that “Skywalker” (though a problematic name for other reasons having to do with actual branding) wasn’t some “cute name” plucked from the ether by the owners of that one pot shop. Skywalker is a strain of indica cannabis that people in the cannabis business had been working on for years and years, trying to make it a specific thing – a specific strain of cannabis that could be reproduced (if one had the seeds) anywhere. What I didn’t know then but learned since – a big part of cannabis normalization (beyond its legalization) will entail creating identifiable brands the way wine has.
If I walk into a wine shop looking for “Cabernet Sauvignons”, I’ll find a whole shelf filled with cabs. Every bottling will be a different expression of whatever cabs can be. Some will be cheap and cheerful while others will the the product of true craftsmanship. They won’t be using the exact same grapes of course. The cheap and cheerful will use one cab clone, the craftsmen will use another (likely one they’ve evolved themselves). In that same way, my first purchase of Skywalker was one grower’s expression of what a Skywalker seed can produce.
And, what it produced, when I got home (and smoked it later that night at bedtime) was the first good night’s sleep I’d had in two decades at least. I’m talking total game changer. When I got an equally great night of sleep the next night and the next, I tossed my Simply Sleep and went back to the dispensary for more Skywalker.
Except now I wanted to know what was in all those other large glass jars.
It turned out that cannabis was way, way more than I thought it was. Delivering a magnificent night of sleep was only one product benefit – a benefit that most indicas delivered. But, there were hybrids and sativas in those other jars. And a whole world to be explored.
I was drawn to the strain Durban Poison by its name. It’s awesome. So’s the cannabis strain. DP is an African landrace strain. While cannabis isn’t actually native to Africa or South Africa, once it got there, it made a home. DP has been grown and cultivated in South Africa for 700 years! Landrace strains like Durban Poison are domesticated, locally adapted, traditional variety of a species of animal or plant that has developed over time, through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment. In DP’s case, all that adaptation has produced a full-on sativa that delivers the most amazing focus.
I think of DP as a kind of “baseline sativa” against which I measure all other sativas. Within less than a minute of smoking DP, a lovely sense of well-being settles over me – followed by a slowly building focus. Whereas coffee delivers a jolt of raw energy – unfocused and edgy – sativas like DP deliver calm and clarity. Everything slows down in a way that makes it approachable. No problem cannot be solved. It’s just a matter of thought.
I also use DP when I play tennis. I discovered – after learning how DP’s focus made working easier – that the same focus applied to playing tennis made playing tennis easier. Well, it made coaching myself easier. The DP – in addition to calming me, slows my thought process – not in the sense of making it dopy but in the sense of giving me a feeling that I don’t need to rush; I can take in all the information and then make my choices. In tennis, DP slows down the ball. No matter how fast it’s coming at me, suddenly, I see the ball clearly. I can even see its spin and the fuzz on it. My timing gets incredibly precise – that’s what tennis is all about: timing. If you step into a shot, attacking the ball in that sweet spot just ahead of you with plenty of top spin produced by your follow-through, you can put the ball pretty much anywhere you want on the other side of the net. Tennis becomes a lot more fun.
The last thing on earth I ever expected to have was a “love affair” with cannabis. But I’m having one. What makes this relationship work is how holistic it is. How productive it is – and how productive it’s made me. If that wasn’t the case, cannabis simply wouldn’t work for me.
And I probably wouldn’t be sober – Cali or otherwise.