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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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  • Caffine (Score:5, Insightful)

    by davidwr (791652) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:23PM (#41920325) Homepage Journal

    Absolutely.

    • Woot (Score:3, Informative)

      by davidwr (791652)

      First cup of coffee gets first post!

      • I can sleep (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:38PM (#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:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:39PM (#41920625)
      Perhaps you need another cup; it's "caffeine".
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Only if you use it rarely. If you use it regularly, your body will get used to it and usage will only get you to the same level as those who don't use it. And not using it will drop you below their level. But I think you can recover within a week or two if you stop using it.

      • Re:Caffine (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:00PM (#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.
      • Re:Caffine (Score:4, Interesting)

        by kelemvor4 (1980226) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:39PM (#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.
        • by jest3r (458429)

          Same experience here. 2-3 days of mild withdrawal symptoms whenever I temporarily quit caffeine! Of course I never really quit because I end up drinking it again at some point.

    • Re:Caffine (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:07PM (#41921173) Homepage

      Caffeine does zip after about a week of (ab)using it. After that you just need it to be normal.

    • Re:Caffine (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mcgrew (92797) * on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:47PM (#41921907) Homepage Journal

      It depends on the drug and on the programmer.

  • maybe (Score:5, Funny)

    by pablo_max (626328) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:26PM (#41920353)

    I will program something while not being high and see if it makes a difference, later though. So far I am still collecting data points.

    • Re:maybe (Score:4, Insightful)

      by andrew2325 (2647845) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:53PM (#41920881)
      The down side is the majority of the hippies that did a lot of drugs died young. From my own experience, its a bad idea to try to accomplish anything high. Coming from a guy who has done drugs, you'd be much better suited for your position sober. I would not employ you if I knew you were on drugs either. Get your lives together.
      • Re:maybe (Score:5, Informative)

        by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:05PM (#41921123)

        I don't think the idea is you code while high. I think the idea is that getting high last night affects the way your brain works today. Either because of simple stress relief or something more complicated. LSD in particular is known to have serious and long lasting effects on brain function, and not all of them negative. For example, a single dose of LSD can increase the chances of an alcoholic staying sober by a significant margin, significant enough that if it weren't for the stigma associated with it it would probably be part of standard rehab.

      • Re:maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

        by SolitaryMan (538416) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:37PM (#41921731) Homepage Journal

        As I've heard somebody say (my experience confirms it too): "People on drugs think they are creative and productive. Everyone else thinks they are on drugs." The same can be said about alcohol.

      • by rubycodez (864176)

        too broad a statement, sounds like establishment FUD. what kind of drugs? you have proof anyone died young from MJ use? LSD use?

      • Re:maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jeng (926980) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:11PM (#41922381)

        Although I was raised around drugs and I smoke pot on a regular basis I know for me that is not a good idea to get stoned at work, for two reasons.

        1) I'm trying to get a job done, but I am impaired so I can't do my job well.

        2) I'm trying to enjoy this high, but I am concentrating on getting my damn job done so I can't enjoy the high.

        So for me it is a waste of time and a waste of weed to get high at work.

      • Re:maybe (Score:5, Interesting)

        by TheRealGrogan (1660825) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:09PM (#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.

  • tht depends (Score:5, Funny)

    by lister king of smeg (2481612) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:26PM (#41920355)

    Is the pot free as in beer or free as in speech

  • Spice (Score:5, Funny)

    by a-zarkon! (1030790) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:28PM (#41920385)
    It is by will alone I set my mind in motion. It is by the juice of Sapho that thoughts acquire speed, the lips acquire stains. The stains become a warning. It is by will alone I set my mind in motion
  • by Moraelin (679338) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:29PM (#41920417) Journal

    then Cthulhu t-shirts and mugs and solstice carols are good for programming.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm all for legalizing drugs. And I don't like it one bit that my tax money goes into making victims of some harmless pot smokers.

    But [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cum_hoc_ergo_propter_hoc]cum hoc ergo propter hoc[/url] is a fallacy for a reason.

  • by sl4shd0rk (755837) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:30PM (#41920425)

    *the cat seems to be know something...*
    "Dude, did you see where I put that lighter?"
    *Must get test routines done for code review tomorrow....*
    *Woah.. how'd my browser get on Ebay buying troll dolls?*
    "Dude, did you see where I put that lighter?"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:30PM (#41920439)

    I would expect code produced under the influence to have more bugs, less comments and generally be an unmaintainable mess.

  • Impossible to Say (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OG (15008) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:31PM (#41920453)
    Those who do will of course say that it does and will provide anecdotal evidence (although I'm sure most of them have not actually performed any controlled tests to verify that claim). Most studies would indicate that drugs would not aid in many of the mental processes involved in programming, but that won't change anyone's mind, and I definitive statement can't be made until studies are done to specifically test this assertion.
    • by jest3r (458429) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:48PM (#41920775)

      Studies are being done [beckleyfoundation.org]. They seem to indicate that cannabis does have a positive influence on the subject's creative performance.

    • by jeffmeden (135043)

      Those who do will of course say that it does and will provide anecdotal evidence (although I'm sure most of them have not actually performed any controlled tests to verify that claim). Most studies would indicate that drugs would not aid in many of the mental processes involved in programming, but that won't change anyone's mind, and I definitive statement can't be made until studies are done to specifically test this assertion.

      Agreed, I'm comfortable enough with the understood process of "Addict rationalization" that 100% of the anecdotal evidence can be thrown out at face value. Until some start-up in Colorado offers to out-source brilliant programming to an army of potheads (with positive results) I am going to stick with the studies that are already out there.

  • by JustAnotherIdiot (1980292) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:32PM (#41920461)

    Voters in both Washington and Colorado approved referenda that legalized marijuana for recreational use

    Valve Corporation is an American video game development and digital distribution company based in Bellevue, Washington, United States.

    If HL2:EP3 finally comes out, I guess we'll know what to thank.

  • by pavon (30274) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:32PM (#41920483)

    In case you were tempted to RTFA, don't. You have to click through two ad-laden pages, and there really isn't any more information than in the summary.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:33PM (#41920489)

    THC... sometimes for certain people. It helps me focus, and some of the best code I've done has been while stoned.

    LSD on the other hand... I can't even read the text on the screen and find it difficult just to play music on my computer. I think that after the fact it leaves one with a more holistic and empathic perspective on life, but it sure as hell can't help you at the time of being high - similarly with pretty much any other psychedelic drug (I have the term hallucinogen, because they don't really make you hallucinate, strictly speaking).

  • Not exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JeremyMorgan (1428075) <jeremy.morgan@ g m a i l .com> on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:33PM (#41920493) Homepage

    But I would argue that the type of person who would try recreational drugs is also the type of person that might get into programming. Curious, risk taking and someone who doesn't want to be told what to do or fit into a mold? Yeah sounds about right.

  • by concealment (2447304) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:33PM (#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 0xdeadbeef (28836)

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

      So does the Eastern mystical woo you're selling.

      • by LongearedBat (1665481) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:34PM (#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.

    • by RCC42 (1457439)

      I agree with you in sentiment but wanted to point out that there is nothing inherently religious about meditation. A lot of religions have meditation as a component but a lot of religions also have specific clothing, chairs, tables, buildings and other trappings, but textiles and architecture aren't religious by nature either.

      • I'm speaking more of its origins, but I'd like to clarify:

        I agree with you in sentiment but wanted to point out that there is nothing inherently religious about meditation. A lot of religions have meditation as a component but a lot of religions also have specific clothing, chairs, tables, buildings and other trappings, but textiles and architecture aren't religious by nature either.

        Meditation is a type of thought.

        Thought is not necessarily religious.

        Cassocks are types of clothing; altars are types of furni

    • by tylikcat (1578365) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:21PM (#41921459)

      I've done a lot of meditation (I am a chan Buddhist, live in a zen center*, and spend an awful lot of time sitting on a pillow, staring at the wall in addition to my other primary occupation of neurobiology and martial arts). I've done a smaller amount of recreational drugs (and not recently, but I'm not particularly against them).

      I think the comparison between meditative states and those acchieved through drugs is overblown. Oh, there are some overlaps - both my own experience and the literature calls out the use of psilocybin in particular as creating lasting deeply significant insights, and there are certain plenty of examples of drug experiences that in some way mimic enlightenment experiences - but I think there's actually a lot more difference. That they're so often compared might be in part a legacy of the sixties.

      Drugs are just a tool. They produce various effects, and can be used more or less (less explicitly including negative values here) usefully. As a society we've created some fairly arbitrary distinctions between drugs. I personally generally tend towards the "less is more" aesthetic... but I'm hardly an absolutist, and I think there's a lot of room for individual variation.

      * Yes, I'm using the same word in two languages - the order I belong to is of Chinese origin, and I speak Chinese, and I live in a zen hall affiliated with a lineage of Japanese extraction.

  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:34PM (#41920511)

    Had a stoner friend back in school who thought weed made him do everything better. In reality it made him do everything WORSE, but he was too stoned to realize it. Creative people think weed helps them, but it doesn't. That's just some horseshit they've convinced themselves of, as an excuse to smoke more weed.

    It's like the old idea among Wall St. types that cocaine allowed them to work harder and longer. Yeah, it does...and also work a lot dumber. Read a quote once from an old-school SNL writer from the late-70's-early 80's who said "Cocaine gives you diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the brain." Pretty much sums it up for most drugs.

  • short term gain (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:35PM (#41920523)

    You end up with a short term gain and long term problems. Anyone who tells you different has not reached the other end yet.

    For example aderall lets you concentrate to a very effective degree. Until you start need to up the dose to get the same effect. Then you give up and are a wreck for it.

    Cocaine makes you spazzy.

    Codine sorts of things makes you relaxed and happy until you are full blown addicted to it.

    Caffeine makes you a 'bit spazzy' but long term you keep having to up the dose to get the same effect. Then trying to quit = massive I am going to throw up my lungs headaches.

    Weed makes you mellow. But eventually you get paranoid.

    So yes you can 'hack' your body. But remember sometimes what you do can NOT be undone.

    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
    And there was a non significant number that did not touch it. You are trying to justify a position with spurious thinking. This is usually the words of someone who is doing something they know is stupid yet want to justify it in some way. Just man up and say 'I am doing something stupid'.

  • by areusche (1297613) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:36PM (#41920561)

    As with anything, moderation is key. As I remember from my college days there are a few times where I got so out of it I was couched locked and did not want to do anything.

    The typical drug war debate aside, I personally wouldn't toke up every time I had to program. I know how it affects me and sometimes being sober for work is a good thing. Just keep it simple and enjoy it as a treat when your work is done. Just like one would treat alcohol.

    The body compensates to anything one throws at it to make up for the temporary gains. It's a zero sum gain sadly. Just enjoy it as a treat or treatment if you really need it for a disease/disability.

  • by micron (164661) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:41PM (#41920645)

    Recreational drugs serve more as a device to cope with Management than they do for any other aspects of developing code.

  • by Kinthelt (96845) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:42PM (#41920667) Homepage

    Sensationalism at its finest.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Betteridge's_law_of_headlines [wikipedia.org]

  • by TennCasey (1667347) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:42PM (#41920671)
  • Hellz Yeah. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @12:55PM (#41920919) Homepage

    When I was on the Windows 8 UI development team, we all were taking Meth and PCP daily. And look at the wonderful and innovative design we came up with!

  • No (Score:5, Funny)

    by Chemisor (97276) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:00PM (#41921007)

    This is your code:

    int factorial (int n)
    {
        int r = 1;
        for (int i = 1; i < n; ++i)
            r *= i;
        return (r);
    }

    This is your code on drugs:

    f(int n){int i=n,r;l:r=(i!=n?r*i:unix);if (--i)goto l;return (r);}

    Any questions?

  • by progician (2451300) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:08PM (#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 @01:13PM (#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
  • Tricky question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Graham J - XVI (1076671) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:16PM (#41921373) Homepage Journal

    It's a fun topic to debate but the question is pretty fuzzy. "Recreational drugs" vary so widely in their effects that you can't really say anything about all of them at once. "Help" is also a subjective term that would need to be further defined to have any meaningful discussion.

    I'll also put out there that anyone who hasn't done much of them is unqualified to answer.

    Personally, and speaking very generally, ie. the way this question would typically be taken, I would say that they do not help. More specifically:

    - Depressants such as pot and alcohol can help you think more creatively but tend to erode motivation and coding accuracy/efficiency.
    - Hallucinogens (LSD, DMT, MDA, 2CB, shrooms etc) in normal doses also help creativity but will usually make interacting with the computer difficult or impossible. At very low doses (see LSD microdosing) there can be potential for augmenting sharpness of mind and attention.
    - Most energetic stimulants (cocaine, meth, crystal, crack) make you too wired to sit still and focus on a task like programming. Way too little attention span.
    - Speed is an exception to the above. With lower doses it can help keep you focused and awake almost indefinitely without being foggy. This the one drug I would say has the ability to help, even if it doesn't allow you to do anything you couldn't already with willpower and enough Jolt.
    - MDMA (ecstasy) I consider a class on its own. Coming up with and talking about programming ideas could work very well but sitting in front of a computer doing a task that needs a clear head would definitely be problematic due to the mashy fogginess. Besides, why code when you could be hugging someone or dancing?
    - I couldn't tell you about heroin but from what I've seen in movies it doesn't look like something you can code on at all!

    FWIW I've been coding for about 30 years. Hope this helps :)

  • Maybe (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PPH (736903) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:28PM (#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.

"Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago." -- Bernard Berenson

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