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Do Recreational Drugs Help Programmers? 878

Posted by timothy
from the help-them-what? dept.
jfruh writes "Among the winners of last night's election: marijuana users. Voters in both Washington and Colorado approved referenda that legalized marijuana for recreational use, though the drug remains illegal under federal law. There's been a long-standing debate among programmers as to whether recreational drugs, including pot and hallucinagens like LSD, can actually help programmers code. Don't forget, there was a substantial overlap between the wave of computer professionals who came of age in the '60s and that era's counterculture." (There's even a good book on that topic.)
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Do Recreational Drugs Help Programmers?

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  • by concealment (2447304) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:33PM (#41920501) Homepage Journal

    Drugs do things to your brain that make you realize certain things.

    The fallacy is assuming that the only path to these realizations come through drugs.

    (It's worth mentioning that drugs have numerous downsides as well.)

    If you learn to meditate, or for those with aversion to religion to "think hard," you'll get everything you could from drugs.

    This isn't an anti-drug argument; that's for someone else's thread. It's an argument against assuming drugs can give you something that can't get another way.

    If the potential is within the mind, clearly it's the important element, not the drugs.

  • by boneglorious (718907) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:35PM (#41920545) Journal

    Sure, this isn't 'the end of it, but these kinds of events are symbolic of the direction the country is moving. A few states trying it out here and there, pretty soon Iowa will be doing it and then it will be all over.

  • Re:It sure does (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:56PM (#41920931)

    Whenever I've coded even the day after getting high, if I look back on it a week or so later without having done any marijuana, I am amazed at the number of sloppy bugs. Marijuana and coding don't mix. Even off hours.

  • Re:Caffine (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:00PM (#41921019)
    This is why caffeine usage should be on a sawtooth shaped cycle. You keep ramping up usage as you get tolerance, then you need to take a week off. If things work out well, you can synchronize that schedule with other slow points in your work and hobby schedules too.
  • by progician (2451300) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:08PM (#41921193) Homepage

    For my part, I obviously don't use illegal drugs at work and I'm doing fine. But I can see that most of the programmers, including me, using energy drinks, or shit load of coffee. It seems obvious to me that caffeine is a great drug for programming as much for most of other jobs and activities.

    Sometimes at home however, I like to smoke a spliff, read some code on the Github which eventually results in coding my own projects after a while. I have never used any stronger stuff for programming, because it doesn't make much sense for me. While you can get some inspiration, programming is a very focused activity with little room for being dreamy, thus I would say that anything that is stronger than a lightly made joint would be counter-productive for coding.

    I suggest, recreational drugs should belong to our recreational time. Many geeks I know has a huge problem with separating from the computer, at least a little recreational time should detach us from the matrix.

  • by Psyborgue (699890) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:13PM (#41921331) Homepage Journal
    Most people don't know Pot comes in a very wide variety of effects (and side effects). Some might make a person drowsy while another might make a person more alert. One might have a side effect of affecting short term memory. Another strain might not, but cause something else. Some strains might very well be useful for coding. There are lots of Sativa dominant strains that are very similar to amphetamines / caffiene, in that they have a stimulant effect and in many people tend to stimulate creativity. It's really impossible to say definitively marijuana does this or that with so many varieties around [leafly.com]. Many American recreational users are just concerned with raw THC content when this matters very little (it's the balance of different Cannabinoids that makes the difference). The government's lack of attention to this issue in their propaganda does little to help. Medical users, on the other hand, have known these things for decades. You have one strain for the day, and one for the night time. If you're going to try pot, my recommendation is to do your research. Start off with an Indica dominant strain unlikely to cause paranoia (the most unpleasant side effect), and graduate up to something that is a little more cerebral and leaves you less drowsy. My personal recommendation is Hindu Kush [leafly.com]. It's a very calming, typical Indica smoke but at the same time is totally like other Indicas in that it won't leave you drowsy
  • Re:What? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:21PM (#41921469)

    How about: Write something whiled doped. Read that when sobered up. Pick out the good bits. Write it into a coherent story, edit, publish. I suspect that is much closer to the way most writers use drugs to increase creativity. Good writing is only 5% creative ideas, but that 5% can destroy an otherwise gifted author's career if it just won't show up to the party. The idea is that the sober brain has a lot of filters that stop 'stupid' thoughts making it up to the conscious level, getting doped relaxes those filters letting a lot of stupid stuff through. But like any piece of filtering software, sometimes there are false positives, and those false positives are more likely to be groundbreakingly creative ideas simply by their nature of being so close to the stupid line.

  • Maybe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:28PM (#41921583)

    An anecdote: My athletic club used to participate in a state program to employ the mentally challenged. The guy who cleaned our locker room was slow. But he was a nice guy and proud to have a job that he could do, and do well. This level of pride motivated him to always do his best and, as a result, we had a fantastically clean locker room. After a while, the program was discontinued and he was replaced by (I suspect) a college student who needed some part time income. The locker room became a slimy mess and the attendant always had a bad attitude about the complaints.

    So, I suppose if you have a job that involves repeated hour after hour of monotonous drudgery, knocking a few points off the old IQ might help. Pot smoking (a popular recreational drug) has been shown to impede the creation of short term memory. That might explain stoners' tolerance for doing repetitive work without complaint. It isn't so bad with long term memory, so learned skills are probably still available. Just don't count on converting much current experience (short term memory) into new learning.

    Personally, if someone gives me a monotonous job, I figure its a candidate for automation. I figure out a way for the computer to do it (automated code generation from requirements documents, for example) and free up time for something challenging.

  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:32PM (#41921659)

    Warning: Psychedelics can cause fear, nervousness and delusions in those who do not use them.

  • by LongearedBat (1665481) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:34PM (#41921689)

    Meditiation is an excercise in two things... relaxation and focus (in that order). No "woo" required.

    It's a pity that so many people believe that meditation is synomymous with "woo", though I understand why that is... because the techniques are usually described together with other "interesting ideas" (yeah, "woo" is actually an appropriate word here).

    However, proper studies (do your own googling) do show that meditation is good for mental health and, in my experience, is good for training oneself to become calmer and more able to focus. (Like how excercise makes you fit, even when you're not excercising.) Very useful when making decisions and letting the mind think more freely.

    If you want a good technique for meditation then I suggest using traditional Buddhist techniques (though you're welcome to ignore Buddhist beliefs). They're the hardest to master but the most effective. Many other types of "meditation" amount to daydreaming - pleasant, possibly relaxing, but not training focus.

    And believe me, when you can really focus on a problem in your mind, the ideas begin to flow. No need for drugs to think imaginatively. But with the added bonus that clear, structured and critical thinking are maintained.

  • Yes, yes they do (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Guru80 (1579277) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:36PM (#41921717)

    Once upon a time I was prescribed into addiction thanks to my ignorance and a doctor who shouldn't have been since he was nothing but an ATM for unlimited prescriptions at a phone call. I discovered something during that period though, certian stimulates when pressed to a certain threshold make you superman when it comes to focus and finding enjoyment in even the most mundane. I definitely understand the appeal of it having gone through it. HOWEVER, the downsides far outweigh it especially if you press it to the point of suffering the consequences of withdraw and all that fun stuff.

    Having said that, I'm firmly against the use of stimulants and drugs such as Adderral for increased concentration where-as I use to be all for it. It changes your personality, how you act and many other things. The deeper you go the more pronounced the not-so-good side affects. Even the most discplined will abuse it when it's easy to do so just because you don't even realize it after a certain point.

  • I can sleep (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:38PM (#41921745)
    Pot takes my mind away from programming, when is time to sleep. It also makes me a lot more relaxed, and interested on the silly things my kid wants to do. After a day of blasting my brain with logic and debugging, inhaling some canabinoids through a vaporizer, helps me get my mind away from the stress from work, without the side effects of pharmaceutical headache otc medicine. I don't smoke weed when I am at work, but my best programming and design ideas come in when I am stoned. I write them down, and then review then the next day. I am one of the top contributors, get bonuses every year, and my life couldn't be happier and healthier. Also Washington state rules. Take that Oregon!
  • Re:Caffine (Score:4, Interesting)

    by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:39PM (#41921753)
    I quit caffeine recently. Bad headaches for the first two days, but by day 3 I was fine. However, if I drink a cup of coffee now I'll get a headache again later that afternoon.
  • Re:maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:08PM (#41922327) Homepage Journal

    There's some evidence that humans shouldn't use marijuana if they are young and their brains are still developing:

    I would be very surprised if there wasn't evidence, since it seems self-evident that any psychoactive drug is going to affect a developing brain in some way or another. Which is one of many reasons drug laws are stupid: It's easier for a kid to buy pot than for an adult. This is ass-backwards.

  • by bunuel (1061042) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:09PM (#41922339) Homepage

    I almost never drink coffee or tea with caffeine. Not that I'm against them, I just don't like them, I prefer herbal teas. No Mtn Dew or Cola either.

    The problem is when I do need some caffeine (Monday overflow or something) if I drink a small cup of regular coffee, I get all anxious and shaky, my pulse increases and overall I feel bad. So, if I didn't get enough sleep, coffee does not make me feel better.

    This happens to me with weed... I generally have a better experience with it if I'm using it regularly. If I let my tolerance get too low it makes me uncomfortably anxious and paranoid. I've heard other people say this too.

  • Re:I can sleep (Score:0, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:19PM (#41923463)

    I am going to post AC, but what I see coming from heavy pot users is two things:

    Loss of intelligence. For an artist, waiter, or musician, or someone who does not function at a high level of activity, pot is fine. For someone doing heavy mental work, pot only will hinder their occupation.

    "I don't care" attitude. Yes, it is cool to have that attitude, but when it turns into "no electricity due to no electric bill paid... guess I'll just bust out the candles," it turns into a really non-functioning way of life.

    The heavy marijuana users I know end up not holding down anything past entry level work because they don't really care enough. What sharp mental facilities they have had are quite dulled. And, yes, lab tests have proven that pot use makes a person stupider. To put it in computer terms, the CPU gets underclocked and eventually stays that way.

    While I find the criminal punishment for pot abhorrent (they are there mainly to make the private prison companies rich), I do consider marijuana usage a significant minus. It is a punishment into itself because of the loss of the ability to be a part of and contribute to modern society.

    We have enough stupid people, and constant pot use just adds more people to the roster.

    Oh... the CO, WA, and CA legalizations mean nothing. Marijuana is still illegal on a Federal level, and that trumps anything the states do. That is why you don't see any more dispensaries in CA, unlike a couple years ago where they were on every corner with a "doctor is IN" sign.

  • Re:I can sleep (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Jeng (926980) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:35PM (#41923715)

    Do the people you talk about also drink alcohol?

    What you are describing is clinical depression.

    I know with me a lot of the issues you mention went away when I quit drinking and got medication for bi-polar depression.

    I still smoke pot and my psychiatrist is perfectly fine with me smoking pot, but alcohol is a strict no no.

  • Re:maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheRealGrogan (1660825) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @05:09PM (#41924223)

    It sounds like that is based on very limited personal experience.

    I have been smoking cannabis for more than 35 years and it is nothing but an enhancement to me (well... unless used excessively all day or something). To long time users, it's more like having a cup of coffee than an intoxicant. While it is and we have to be a bit discrete, we don't even think of it as an "illegal drug" when we use it either alone or in social settings, but then, this is Canada where we don't believe American propaganda.

    Hippies didn't necessarily die young because of drugs (at least not marijuana and not likely LSD either). There are other common factors and lifestyle choices that come into play. I have friends in their 70's who still smoke cannabis several times a day, by the way.

    Most all of the harm from cannabis comes from the drug laws, and extrajudicial mechanisms that serve only to ostracize people who defy those laws. For example it is absolutely disingenuous to test urine for cannabis and use the presence of non pharmacologically active metabolites that may persist for weeks or months, to discriminate against people for employment or any other purpose. Hair follicle testing is even more sinister. They are always testing for past use. Even blood tests, while more accurate, immediate and having the possibility to be quantitative, can detect it for up to 4 days.

    Funny how the harm is directly related to society. In places where it's legal/ignored and tolerated, there is far less harm than in an authority driven place like America where the public is so brainwashed that they actively participate in the injustice. You've really got to see cannabis use without the stigmata, to understand this. It doesn't affect your family either, when it's tolerated. In fact it can be a "god send" (not my words) when chosen over alcohol abuse. When people aren't punished by society for it, they keep their jobs and/or businesses, they own homes, have families, raise bright kids who go on to higher education just like "normal" people etc.

    The answer to the main question in the article "Do Recreational Drugs Help Programmers?" can only be that it depends on the individual, the drugs in question and the circumstances. It is my opinion that someone who doesn't use drugs would almost certainly be affected adversely if they suddenly got intoxicated or over stimulated and tried to code. Drugs don't affect all individuals the same, either. I know some people who just CAN'T use cannabis for example.

  • Re:I can sleep (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Progman3K (515744) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @08:17PM (#41926589)

    I knew it.. Windows terrible design is based off weed!

    No, if it were weed, it would be incomplete.

    The pattern resembles caffeine more than weed.

    There's a famous study that was done about the effects of drugs on the ability of spiders to spin webs.

    Web-spinning resembles coding to a degree, both are engineering tasks, both have to be completed in a timely manner or the author starves.

    What they found was caffeine made the spiders very productive, but rather sloppy. That sounds like Windows to a T.

    Weed on the other hand made the spiders do very detailed, ornate work, but they seemed to have wandering minds, get bored and leave their webs unfinished. I don't know what OS that would correspond to.

    LSD had the effect of the spiders becoming very parsimonious with their effort. Webs constructed by LSD-spiders are typically minimal but very elegant. This makes me believe that Unix was probably dreamed up by some acid-heads.

    The study
    http://www.trinity.edu/jdunn/spiderdrugs.htm [trinity.edu]

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