Recently, while running a backstage budtending cold brew coffee and iced tea bar at a concert, one of the artists playing asked if I could infuse the cold brew coffee with some CBD-only tincture. I was happy to oblige, even more so when she explained she had recently completed a stint in rehab, and this was her first foray since then using CBD.
The term "sober" is a surprisingly divisive term, with myriad definitions that can put individuals at serious odds over the idea of what qualifies. Defined as "the opposite of drunk from alcohol," it's often used as half the term, "clean and sober," which expands that sobriety to include abstaining from all manner of drug use, including pharmaceuticals, street drugs and plant medicines.
Except when it doesn't.
As access to regulated medical and adult cannabis has expanded across the U.S., along with the legalization of CBD, both the number of consumers and their reasons for using cannabis have grown. That includes those who forgo consumption of drugs but do continue to use cannabis. That approach is informally known as "California Sober" or "Cannabis Sober."
"Cannabis Sober" is embraced by those who see cannabis use less as a violation of being sober, but rather more a tool to help maintain their sobriety. Their cannabis use may be replacing a harmful intoxicant, temper their interest in using it, or provide benefits such as better sleep that offers fewer side effects than prescribed legal pharmaceuticals.
(For some people, the term includes mushrooms and psychedelics, and others include alcohol. For our purposes, we are limiting the term to cannabis use.)
Opponents believe that sobriety means eschewing all intoxicants, and cannabis use is a crutch that keeps the user from fully embracing and benefiting from a sober lifestyle. They feel that an intoxicant of any sort, used for any reason, means the user can no longer claim the title of "sober." It's an all-or-nothing proposition.
The vast difference in these belief systems is due in no small part to the complex emotional issues that surround addictions and over-indulgent behaviors. Someone who has lost a loved one to a fatal overdose can have strong and justified beliefs surrounding the level of strictness for the term "sober." Others who have gone through the difficult and ongoing work to give up all intoxicants may also have strong opinions on the value/legitimacy of using any intoxicant.
While that take is understandable, it discounts the value of the concept of "harm reduction." It's an idea most often applied to IV drug abuse, where users are provided clean needles, safe injection sites, and ongoing opportunities to pursue counseling and treatment. That treatment may include medications such as Suboxin and Methadone, which help dampen and satiate an addict's physical cravings for heroin. Harm reduction takes the approach that not all addictions can be "cured," and as such, it's far better to help reduce the damage than hold out for a complete cessation of the intoxicant.
Cannabis has demonstrated properties of helping to ease, among other things, stress, depression and anxiety. An argument can be made that if using cannabis helps treat those issues, which may lead some users to take up with harder and more dangerous drugs, shouldn't it be considered?
Others have advocated for cannabis as an "exit drug," serving as a way for those struggling with addictions to wean themselves off drugs that can be fatal or pose greater long-term risks. If someone finds cannabis use keeps them from using opioids, isn't that a better choice?
Factor in that the U.S. continues to grapple with a Fentanyl epidemic, primarily in counterfeit pills, powders and injections, killing a record number of people. It's the leading cause of death for those aged 21-45, accounting for nearly 70,000 deaths in a one year period ending in October 2021.
Utilizing plant medicines to navigate a healthier path and better choices involves something this country isn't great at: bodily autonomy. Using cannabis and/or CBD may not be for everyone, but it is a legitimate choice for others.