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Does “California Sober” Blow Across State Lines?

With celebrities like Demi Lovato popularizing the term “California sober,” more people are discussing how marijuana usage may help with addiction avoidance or recovery. “California Sober” is when someone only smokes marijuana and abstains from “harder” drug usage like cocaine, opioids, and more (Lhoog, 2019). It’s important to note that in medical literature, this term does not exist (Kubota, 2021).

marijuana plant waiting to be cultivated for lab testing or recreational use
Photo by Michael Fischer

Lovato, who nearly died in 2018 from a drug overdose, discussed their approach to hard-drug recovery in the YouTube docuseries “Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil” (Kubota, 2021). They explained that “California sober” is a method that works for them because of their black-and-white thinking; they say, “telling myself I can never have a drink or smoke marijuana is setting myself up for failure” (Kubota, 2021).

In a recent Instagram story, Lovato said, “I no longer support my California sober ways” (Kubota, 2021). However, while Lovato no longer participates in the “California sober” method of recovery, some preliminary evidence proves marijuana’s usefulness when treating addiction.

For opioid recovery, switching to marijuana usage has shown promise. In March of 2020, The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment published a study where two hundred individuals with opioid and cannabis use within the past month were surveyed on their opioid withdrawal symptoms (Bergeria). Of the two hundred participants, 62.5% used cannabis for withdrawal treatment, and the most frequent survey reported that “cannabis improved: anxiety, tremors, and trouble sleeping” (Bergeria, 2020). “These results show,” writes Cecilia L. Bergeria et al., “that cannabis may improve opioid withdrawal symptoms and that the size of the effect is clinically meaningful” (Bergeria, 2020).

In another study, researchers surveyed 2,774 active cannabis users via an online questionnaire (Corroon, 2017). Everyone interviewed was a resident of Washington state (Corroon, 2017), where recreational and medicinal marijuana usage is legal. The results found that 46% (1,248) of the participants “reported using cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs” (Corroon, 2017). James M. Corroon Jr. et al. wrote that “these patient-reported outcomes support prior research that individuals are using cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs, particularly narcotics/opioids, and independent of whether they identify themselves as medical or non-medical users” (2017).

For drugs outside of opioids, like alcohol and cigarettes, a study released on July 1, 2022, shows similarly intriguing results. The Journal of Adolescent Health published Charles B. Fleming et al.'s research and details how regression models separated by age (18-20 vs. 21-25) “were used to analyze six annual waves of cross-sectional survey data from a statewide sample from 2014 through 2019” (2022). They found that participants who have issues with heavy episodic drinking, cigarette use, and pain reliever misuse slowed their consumption of those other drugs when using marijuana (Fleming, 2022).

On the other hand, e-cigarette usage did increase when paired with marijuana (Fleming, 2022). They report that despite this increased e-cigarette use, “implementation of legalized non-medical cannabis coincided with decreases in alcohol and cigarette use and pain relief misuse” (2022).

One unintended consequence of this phenomenon has been the link between medical cannabis access and better road safety (Jaeger, 2022). This is not to suggest that driving while high is not dangerous but that access to medical marijuana has dramatically reduced the prevalence of drunk driving (Jaeger, 2022). A recent study by Cameron M. Ellis, Martin F. Grace, Rhet A. Smith, and Juan Zhang found that in the year following the legalization of medical cannabis, insurance premiums have decreased by an average of $22 per person per year (2022). They “estimate that existing legalization has reduced health expenditures related to auto accidents by almost $820 million per year with the potential for a further $350 million reduction if legalized nationally” (Ellis, 2022).

Another study published in Preventive Medicine Reports discovered comparable findings (Dutra, 2022). Between 2016-2017, Lauren M. Dutra et al. used a cross-sectional national sample of 1,249 past 30-day marijuana users. The participant self-reported instances of driving while under the influence of cannabis (DUIC) within three hours of getting high (2022). This accounted for recreational and medical use in places where marijuana is and isn’t legal (Dutra, 2022). They found that in states where recreational and medical cannabis is legal, “the risk of self-reported DUIC was lower” (Dutra, 2022). “The only exception,” they wrote, “was for frequent users in medical states, for whom there was no difference in risk compared to frequent users living in states without legal cannabis” (Dutra, 2022).

While “California sober” may have puffed out on the west coast, it is undoubtedly blowing east as increasing amounts of states legalize marijuana usage. The loosening of restrictions allows for more in-depth research, giving more factual information about the possible benefits and hazards of widespread marijuana production and use.

How Steep Hill Illinois is Handling “California Sober”

As a leader in the science of cannabis, our team at Steep Hill Illinois strives to give you actual science on the cannabis we test. We are located in Aurora, Illinois and we believe scientific integrity, consumer safety, and quality innovation will guide the science of cannabis into the future.


Bergeria, C. L., Huhn, A. H., & Dunn, K. E. (2020, March 30). The impact of naturalistic cannabis use on self-reported opioid withdrawal. The Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from

Corroon, J. M., Mischley, L. K., & Sexton, M. (2017, May 2). Cannabis as a substitute for prescription drugs – a cross-sectio: JPR. Journal of Pain Research. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from

Dutra, L. M., Farrelly, M., Gourdet, C., & Bradfield, B. (2022, April 20). Cannabis legalization and driving under the influence of cannabis in a national U.S. sample. Preventive Medicine Reports. Retrieved July 13, 2022, from

Ellis, C. M., Grace, M. F., Smith, R. A., & Zhang, J. (2022, June 12). Medical cannabis and automobile accidents: Evidence from auto insurance ... Wiley Online Library. Retrieved July 13, 2022, from

Fleming, C. B., Ramirez, J. J., Rhew, I., Dilley, J., Kilmer, J., & Guttmaannova, K. (2022, July 1). Trends in Alcohol, Cigarette, E-Cigarette, and Nonprescribed Pain Reliever Use Among Young Adults in Washington State After Legalization of Nonmedical Cannabis. The Journal of Adolescent Health. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from

Jaeger, K. (2022, June 20). Medical marijuana legalization linked to reduced drunk driving and safer roads, study on auto insurance data suggests. Marijuana Moment. Retrieved July 13, 2022, from

Kubota, S. (2021, December 3). Demi Lovato renounces 'California sober,' says they are now 'sober sober'. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from

Lhoog, M. (2019, April 29). What does 'California sober' mean? on quitting drugs except for weed and psychedelics. What Does 'California Sober' Mean? On Quitting Drugs Except for Weed and Psychedelics. Retrieved July 12, 2022, from

Photo by Michael Fischer:



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