The stress of this time of year can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.

As the pressure of the holidays mounts, depression, anxiety, and stress rear their ugly heads. It’s important to remember there is no need to strive for perfection or even the appearance of perfection. That’s too much pressure for anyone to endure. Instead, let us focus on a sense of calm to ward off the less jovial feelings that can accompany this time of year. 

According to an article by healthstatus.com, changing your approach to the holidays is a great start to lowering the risk of sadness. “There is nothing wrong with you when you feel depressed during the holidays. All that celebration, joy, and good will can actually get to be a little much,” the article says. “You might believe that you are out of step with the rest of the world, but statistics say that over 40 percent of the population just feels exhausted and inadequate.”

Journalist John Riddle looked into holiday stress and depression for psycom.net. “[People often] suffer from what I call HAT days—long periods of feeling Horrible, Awful, Terrible from November 1 through early January,” he says. Riddle talked to Julie Potiker, mindfulness expert and author; Bradley Nelson, holistic physician and author; and Sherry Amatenstein, psycom.net contributing editor, therapist, and social worker, to formulate a list of ways to avoid excessive holiday spending and other stress triggers.

Their topline expert advice: “Shift your perspective; make a list [of gifts to purchase and decorating tasks] to put your mind at ease; bury the past; make time to move [exercise]; discover and release emotional baggage; be flexible; don’t sweat the small stuff; find humor in the madness; and experience the spirituality of the season in whatever way it resonates with you.” Following that advice can make all the difference. 

“Embrace the many positive aspects of the season,” says Riddle. “The simple act of making someone else happy…is just about the best way I know of to make yourself feel better, too.” No matter what you do this time of year, be kind to yourself. 

Editor’s Note

This year has been a whirlwind .So much happened in 2019. It’s one of those years that’s hard to catalog, let alone summarize. If I were pressed, I’d say this has been a year of awareness, growth, chaos, beauty, community, and change. 

This month signifies a rebirth of Sensi, as we share our brand-new redesign. It is a labor of love we are beyond proud of. Our creative team outdid themselves, and we hope you love it as much as we do. 

As I look back on all the issues we’ve put together this year, the breadth of stories and the continual shifts in our industry, I’m in awe of those who continue to fight for social choice, those who fight for the betterment of people in need, those seeking natural wellness, and those protecting planet Earth by making conscious decisions about packaging, growing, and cultivation. The dialogue in the cannabis space has also extended well beyond recreational use and has spilled into the luxe, beauty, longevity, fashion, and mental well-being spaces. And it’s something to celebrate. 

In that same vein, this final issue of 2019 takes us through stories of industry leaders, change-makers, creative artisans, and cultural beauty, including exploring festive holiday lights and welcoming in the new year in style.  

Hal Borland said, “Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” Those words are instrumental in shifting the conversation from being others-focused to looking inward. May this transition into a new year encourage self-discovery and offer insight when you look back, and may it provide ferocity as you move forward.

Enjoy every moment of December, from the crisp chill in the winter air to the joy emanating from a stranger’s smile as you take in the festive holiday-lit streets throughout Southern California. 

Looking forward,

Dawn Garcia

@dawngarcia

They say they’re not alcoholics, and they’re certainly not anonymous. What is sober curious—and can sobriety really be fluid?

I drink badly, and I have a lot of fun doing it (when I remember). That’s a lethal combination, and when you throw in my unfortunate discovery of White Claw—I can drink as many as I want and never feel full!—I flamed out with alcohol last winter. 

On February 1, just as everyone else was celebrating the end of Dry January and just ahead of the Summer of the Claw, I swore off the seltzer. I figured I’d give myself one month (note: the year’s shortest) to reset. It wasn’t an easy 28 days, but when March 1 rolled around, I felt better than I’d felt in years. The chronic inflammation I had attributed to everything from gluten sensitivity to genetics was clearing. I saw the light, and there was no going back. 

I thought sobriety would be lonely, that every Saturday night would be Netflix. I forgot the Brett Kavanaugh generation isn’t in charge of culture anymore (thank God). 

Millennials and Gen Xers aren’t interested in swilling beer until they black out like we did in the ’80s. Sober is sexy—or, as hipsobriety.com sees it, “sobriety is the new black.” 

On Instagram, there are influencers such as @stylishlysober, @thesoberglow, and the darker @fucking_sober and hashtags like
#soberliving, #soberAF, and #sobercurious. Millie Gooch, who posts as @sobergirlsociety, encourages her nearly 60,000 followers with inspirational messages like “Mocks not cocks” and “Sobriety: a surefire way to improve your wellbeing and your Uber rating.” 

Just like that, I’m a cool kid—with a huge range of new options on Saturday night (and beyond). I’m exploring elixirs made with raw cacao, maca, and horny goat weed at Tonic Herban Lounge just a few blocks from my home in downtown Boulder (I can walk home after imbibing, and it amuses me that I don’t need to). I can do yoga and shake it before dawn at a Daybreaker dance party (daybreaker.com) in Denver, one of 27 cities where the alcohol-free early morning rave pops up and invites people to “sweat, dance, and connect with ourselves in community.”    

I’m surely not alone in this realization that life is better without booze. Worldwide, alcohol consumption fell by 1.6 percent last year. Led by young people, heavy-hitting countries like Russia, Canada, Japan, and the UK are seeing drinking rates as well as tolerance toward intoxication decline. An international survey found that about a third of people wanted to reduce their alcohol intake because of everything from sexual regret and embarrassment to physical health. A 2018 survey found that nearly 40 percent of global consumers want to drink less for health reasons.

In the US, CNBC reports, 52 percent of adults are trying to lower their alcohol intake, and underage drinking has steadily declined in the last 10 years. But only 21 percent of US adults in a CivicScience poll said they had any interest in drinking less or not at all, and most of those were 21- to 34-year-old, vegan-leaning flexitarians who practice yoga and consume cannabis daily. Women, especially those in their 30s and 40s, are drinking more than ever.

Booze still rules for most Americans, and “increased stress and demoralization” is actually pushing more women, minorities, and poor people to the bottle, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. The national Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that 17 million adults in the US are alcohol dependent, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in six binge drink—defined as drinking four or more drinks over two hours or until blood alcohol reaches 0.08—nearly once a week. For this White Claw guzzler, that definition is, well, sobering. I called that happy hour.

Giving up alcohol isn’t a hashtag for a lot of people. It’s not even a choice. As Sean Paul Mahoney writes on The Fix, a website about addiction and recovery, “I didn’t get sober to be cool. I just got sober to stop dying.”

A Little Bit Addicted?

“Sober curious” became a thing after HarperCollins released Ruby Warrington’s Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol in 2018. Warrington also has a podcast, runs Club SÖda NYC (featuring sober events like Kundalini Disco), and stages events (“Sober Curious: Choosing Sobriety for Focus, Presence, and Deep Connection” is February 14–16, 2020, at Massachusetts’ renowned wellness retreat center Kripalu). Her take is that a lot of Americans might not have a “problem” with alcohol but see it as getting in the way of their healthy lifestyles. “We eat well. We exercise. We meditate,” the press release for Sober Curious states. “So, why do we…still drink?”

Warrington wants to know why the only people who don’t drink are the ones who can’t and asks, “What if I am just…a little bit addicted?” 

Call me old school, but a little bit addicted sounds a lot like a little bit pregnant. I worry that people who shouldn’t will take the advice of John Costa, who writes on twentytwowords.com that being sober curious is like being bi-curious—you don’t always hook up with people of the same sex, and you don’t have to cut out drinking forever. “Be sober half the time,” he writes, “and sauced the other half.” He’s joking, but those are dangerous words for me. That’s the life I was living: sober by day + tanked by night = balance.

Like all disorders (and pretty much everything in our culture), alcohol use runs on a spectrum. I was at the end that spent hours upon hours researching whether drinking while on this antibiotic would really make me projectile vomit and scoffed at friends as they struggled through Dry January, Dry July, Sober September, and Sober October. I wasn’t interested in giving up drinking for any reason or any amount of time, until I had to give it up for life.

Warrington, who sees reducing alcohol intake as another step in the wellness revolution, is at the other end of the spectrum—and she is aware of the difference between recovering from alcohol addiction and feeling better during yoga. I hope all of her followers are, too, because the last thing most drinkers need is a loophole.  

I want to believe the trend Warrington is leading toward spirits-free activities and thoughtfulness about alcohol’s role in our culture—where every ritual, celebration, loss, entertainment, and even sporting event is cause for a drink—is not a trend but a movement. That we’ll look back at “mommyjuice” like we shake our heads at “mother’s little helper” pills from the ’60s and ’70s. The infrastructure to support sobriety is being built, and public opinion is turning. After centuries of going hard, America is getting woke, not wasted.

Cheers to that. 

Luxury has gone to pot.

 At the end of October, the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled “Cannabis Open Houses Are Putting the High in High-End Real Estate.” The trend piece by author Katherine Clarke revealed the emerging discovery being used by developers and real-estate agents to move luxe properties in communities where recreational cannabis is not just legal but widely accepted. 

It’s not unlike Los Angeles, where the rising industry is being hailed as an untapped source for buyers of high-priced homes. Throwing cannabis-related events—everything from elaborate seven-course pairing dinners with vapes in lieu of vino to live trimming classes—at multimillion-dollar properties on the market is garnering attention, building social buzz, and attracting buyers with money earned in, around, or on cannabis.

Not everyone sees the genius behind the trend, however. Clarke spoke to one agent in New York, where recreational cannabis is still a pipe dream and old tropes live on about munchie-motivated stoners. “When I think about cannabis, I don’t think about buying an expensive house,” says Warburg Realty’s Jason Haber. “It’s not a call for action as much as a call for Doritos.”

Someone should tell him friends don’t let friends make tired stoner jokes anymore. Especially ones implying cannabis consumers indulge their munchies with mindless consumption of unhealthy snacks when the reality is cannabis appeals to what The Economist dubs the “health-conscious inebriate,” citing a poll that 72 percent of American consumers thought cannabis was safer than alcohol. A 2018 The New Yorker headline declared cannabis to be a wellness industry in California where, in fact, a cannabinoid cousin of THC and CBD is starting to garner a whole lot of buzz. Instead of stimulating appetites, THCV may suppress those hunger pangs. When 2021 is declared the year of THCV, you can say you heard it here first. 

Consumption and consumerism

Cannabis has moved so far beyond the clichés of yore. Tie-dye tees, bell-bottom cords, dancing bear patches, plastic bongs, Ziploc baggies: these tired trends are so out of style, some have already circled back and left again. (Looking at you, tie-dye.) The stoner kids of yesterday are the cannabis entrepreneurs, enthusiasts, and connoisseurs of today. And as they’ve aged, their tastes in cannabis aged with them, like the fine wine they can now afford. Cannabis consumers have money to burn. 

And since we live in a capitalist society (an unjust one where people remain locked up for nonviolent drug charges in states that earn taxes off now-legal cannabis sales—that’s a whole layered story for a different day), money makes things happen. And what’s happening now is the emergence of a cannabis experience elevated to a higher level.

If you were paying attention to the pop-culture cues over the decades, you would have seen the high-end highs coming. When cannabis prohibition began its slow-and-steady march to its forthcoming end, it emerged from the black market with an established following of consumers—loyal cannabis consumers with no brand loyalty, because cannabis brands didn’t exist. Dealers did, growers did, activists, advocates, and believers, too. But the concept of cannabis brands was all brand-new. 

With strict laws surrounding where the substance can be marketed, sold, advertised, distributed, and more, establishing customer loyalty in this industry is more difficult than it would seem on the surface. What differentiates one edible brand from another, one vape pen from the next is complicated to discern for those who aren’t well versed in the modern verbiage or its meaning. (Full-spectrum distillate, live resin, 2:1 ratios, oh my!)

This is where marketing and branding comes into play. And with marketing and branding comes the emergence of new market segments, including the ultra-luxury category. It is from within that category that future trends are likely to emerge. That’s how trends play out, as Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) explained to her new assistant in one iconic scene of The Devil Wears Prada. (If you haven’t seen it in a while, a quick refresher: “The color of the shirt you are wearing right now was determined years ago by high-end designers preparing their collections for fashion week runways.”) 

Trickle-down trends are a hierarchical process whereby individuals with high status establish fashion trends, only to be imitated by lower-status individuals wearing cheaper versions of the same styles.

“It’s always been a thing,” says Karyn Wagner, CEO of Paradigm Cannabis Group, a women-owned extraction company specializing in pre-rolls and extracts made from small-batch sun-grown flower. “There’s always been those products that are better than others. But now, with adult use, we have to be more brand-conscious. With that, how do you distinguish yourself from someone else? Why is this better? What makes it better?”

Some like it haute

With any luxury good, consumers want the assurance of quality and efficacy, Wagner says. But you can never underestimate the prestige that comes with a high price tag. “The moneyed class always loves expensive items,” she says. “This normalizes it in their world. It brings in folks who didn’t normally have the desire. It made it OK in their class. Expensive breeds expensive things. You wouldn’t have expensive cannabis if you didn’t have people who wanted to buy expensive cannabis.”

Jenny Le Coq, president of Le Coq & Associates, a marketing and communications firm in San Francisco that represents Kikoko cannabis-infused botanical mints, points out that most people typically don’t seek out a cheap bottle of wine, but look for something fine, trustworthy, and familiar. They want to know the winery, its reputation, who recommends the vintage. “People are looking at wines today with a more discerning eye—how their grapes are grown, for example,” Le Coq says. “People are looking at cannabis in the same way: with a discerning eye.” 

“Discerning” can add up to big money, for sure. Anecdotal stories abound in national media outlets, suggesting couples in Colorado will drop several bills on “cannagars” and other high-end party favors to celebrate weddings and anniversaries. At The High End, Barneys New York’s luxury cannabis lifestyle shop in Beverly Hills, shoppers can splurge on a $1,475 sterling silver bud grinder or a $950 water pipe. New York fashion brand Alice + Olivia partnered with luxury cannabis brand Kush Queen to debut a CBD wellness line earlier this year—bath bomb, body lotion, bubble bath with lavender. Alice + Olivia packaging features CEO Stacey Bendet’s signature “StaceFace” motif, with big sunglasses and a bold red lip. A timeless statement-making style that trendsetters of every era make their own while trendy types try to emulate the overall aesthetic. That’s just the way things work.

To be fair, luxury doesn’t have to mean $$$$. What it must indicate, however, is quality. “Luxury is an assigned label. It is typically assigned by marketers,” Le Coq says. “So, what do you want cannabis to be? As a consumer, how do you perceive luxury? The concept is really defined differently by every person. We want people to experience something that is luxurious. Not only the packaging is beautiful, the taste is beautiful, the place you are put into mentally is a nice, beautiful place.” 

Neither plant nor animal, mushrooms are Earth’s most plentiful yet mysterious inhabitants.

Walk down any city street, and you’ll likely see an opportunistic mushroom growing somewhere. They pepper the lawns of suburban America and turn out in droves on millions of woodland acres all over the globe. They’re tenacious yet fragile—and often misunderstood. As plentiful as they are, the study of mushrooms is a relatively young science. 

Master herbalist Nathan Searles, who harvests, dries, and sells mushrooms through his company, Forgotten Traditions in Tilton, New Hampshire, says about 1.4 million different types of mushroom species exist. Mycologists, scientists who study fungi, have identified about 80,000 of them, with only 2,000 deemed to be edible. 

Ethnobotanists believe mushrooms have been part of the human diet since early humans. The Greek playwright, Euripides, made the first known reference to eating fungi around 450 BC. In the early 1700s, mushroom studies erroneously grouped fungi with plant life, and it wasn’t until nearly 100 years later that the term “mycology” was coined. Mushrooms have been studied in-depth for only about 70 years. 

Mushrooms are curious organisms. They differ widely in size, shape, color, texture, nutritional value, and toxicity. Up to 60 percent of their genetics are similar to humans, and it takes two genetically similar spores, or eggs, to create a new organism. 

Patterns of Consciousness and a Will to Be Harvested

Before you forage for mushrooms in the wild, learn from a professional how to determine what’s safe to consume. Searles warns that hunting in New England has its own set of risks. “There are look-alikes that can be very dangerous,” he cautions. Many mushroom species are similar in appearance but vary greatly in their compounds, depending on the type, season, region, substrate, and climate. The prized morel, for example, has a look-alike called a “false morel.” The difference is obvious to experts, but enthusiastic foragers can make dangerous mistakes. 

All mushrooms are not edible. Mushrooms fall into four basic categories: edible, nonedible, toxic, and poisonous. Not all toxic mushrooms are poisonous, but all poisonous ones are toxic. “Some of the world’s most deadly mushrooms are in Massachusetts,” says Doug Sparks, editor-in-chief of Merrimack Valley Magazine and an amateur forager.

New England is home to some interesting species. “Hen of the woods, chaga, reishi, and turkey tail are powerful medicinal mushrooms,” says Sparks, who hunts for 25 species and can identify between 60 and 70. “Then there’s the black trumpet, absolutely delicious, and chanterelles, one of the tastiest out there.” (Searles, the herbalist, keeps the savory, rich, slightly smoky black trumpet—difficult to spot on the forest floor—exclusively for his family.) 

Mushrooms “want to be harvested,” Sparks says. “It’s like they line the pathways for people to find them. It’s how they reproduce. When you pick them, thousands of spores are released. They want to be disturbed. They seem to show patterns of consciousness. Mycelium is part of a network, like trees that communicate underground.” 

Mycologist Paul Stamets, the go-to guy in fungi, insists that mushrooms call to him and communicate with him through intuition and imagination. Sparks agrees. “Sometimes you just feel it, and you have an impulse, and it guides you,” he says. 

Nutritious and Flavorful

Mushrooms are perceived very differently around the world. Cultures are mycophilic or mycophobic depending on how plentiful wild mushrooms are to the region. Italians, Asians, and Eastern Europeans grow up around mushrooms and use them in traditional dishes, while the Irish and English approach them with more caution. 

In Asian cultures, matsutake mushrooms sell for up to $5,000 per pound, Searles says, because they cannot be cultivated and must be foraged in the wild near pine trees. Shiitake mushrooms are also considered a delicacy and are as widely cultivated as white button mushrooms in the US. Oyster mushrooms, the new darlings in the Western world, broadened the playing field because they’re easy to cultivate and grow on almost any substrate, as long as it’s sufficiently inoculated with spores. 

Most mushrooms contain an impressive but varying amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals and are 20 to 30 percent water. The nutritional makeup of any mushroom depends largely on the substrate—the more nutrient dense it is, the more nutritional value contained in the mushroom, Searles explains. Some species are notably high in vitamin B-12, which is difficult to maintain in the body. Searles and Sparks agree, however, you cannot survive on mushrooms alone. Their dense fiber content makes them difficult to digest, and too many mushrooms will make you sick. 

When it comes to flavor, mushrooms are a core food for achieving “umami,” a word that means savoriness in Japanese and has joined the ranks of the familiar tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Unusually rich and satisfying, umami is equated with the intense flavor of aged, dried, and fermented foods. Dried shiitake mushrooms are umami, offering a dense base and a hearty broth when rehydrated. Umami stems from the presence of glutamate—the same glutamate you’ll find in popular flavor enhancer MSG. 

As veganism grows in popularity, mushrooms have become a go-to meat alternative, delicious in soups and sauces and now graduating to become the main dish at the dinner table. Keith Pooler, head chef and owner of Bergamot in Somerville, creates some remarkable flavor combinations with fungi, including Madeira Mushroom Cream, which combines earthy morels with a rich cream sauce and full-bodied Portuguese wine. 

No matter how you slice them, mushrooms are becoming a staple food in the American diet. As our understanding of these remarkable fungi expands, so will our discovery of new uses in the kitchen and in medicine. 

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