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Do Recreational Drugs Help Programmers? 878

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 @01:23PM (#41920325) Homepage Journal


  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:29PM (#41920413)

    Why is this not an "Ask Slashdot" question?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:30PM (#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 @01:31PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:32PM (#41920487)

    Could it help programmers? Possibly, if you work in a high-stress environment.

    Would it improve the code? Would you want to be the guy who has to maintain code written by another developer who was high?

    Does coding while drunk result in good code? For a mentally-intensive task, why would any mind-altering substance be generally beneficial?

  • Not exactly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JeremyMorgan ( 1428075 ) <> on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:33PM (#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 crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:34PM (#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 @01:35PM (#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'.

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:35PM (#41920525) Homepage Journal

    In this case, probably non-conventional logic; computers don't operate the way human brains do, it takes a twisted head to program well. Especially if you're attempting to optimize a system using low level programming languages.

    Of course, I've said before: Drug tests are mostly to attempt to filter out incompetent low level employees, trending a bit upwards when they're operating dangerous equipment. By the time you're a serious professional, I figure the general attitude is that they don't want to know, but secretly expect you to be able to handle your recreational drug use. IE the difference between a lawyer and a burger flipper is the Lawyer is expected to know how to handle his cocaine habit. IE as long as his performance doesn't degrade unacceptably, he's good.

  • by areusche ( 1297613 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:36PM (#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 @01:41PM (#41920645)

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

  • by newyorkdude ( 844311 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:41PM (#41920655)
    I take it that by drugs, you mean mind-altering drugs. Other than that, it is obvious that drugs help. Consider caffeine. Duh. And there are a thousand others that help and are not significantly mind-altering. Let's not mix up the classes.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:47PM (#41920757)

    People like you are the reason why you have many co-workers who smoke pot every day but don't tell you about it.

  • by jest3r ( 458429 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:48PM (#41920775)

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

  • Re:maybe (Score:4, Insightful)

    by andrew2325 ( 2647845 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @01:53PM (#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:What? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by judoguy ( 534886 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:02PM (#41921063) Homepage
    Asking a dope smoker if they're smarter, more creative, etc. for doing it is as dumb as asking a concussed person if they're OK. It's is known to be a bad idea. They've injured the organ that makes the diagnostic call.
  • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:02PM (#41921065)

    Drug tests are a dumb american war on drugs phenomenon. Nobody in Canada or the rest of the world takes them.

    If you can't filter out incompetent employees without a cup of urine, you fail at HR 101.

  • Re:Caffine (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:07PM (#41921173) Homepage

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

  • by DeadCatX2 ( 950953 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:10PM (#41921249) Journal

    While I agree that you shouldn't mod GP down because of disagreeing...I do believe GP should be modded down. He uses inflammatory and trolling language.

    "This Is Disgusting And Sick"? Filthy, vile, and destructive? Timothy is irresponsible and should be fired?

    This is exactly the kind of language that stops thoughtful discussion, and should be discouraged accordingly by the mods.

    Whatever your opinion is of recreational drugs, this animosity toward people minding their own business in the privacy of their own home is reminiscent of those who think violent video games caused the Columbine massacre and other real-world violence. It is a simple fact that humans generally consumes large amounts of chemicals that alter the way our mind and body work, and our society generally manages to do just fine. And just like some people will be violent psychopaths who just happen to be gamers, some people will self destruct who just happen to use recreational drugs.

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <> on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:11PM (#41921265) Homepage
    Cite your claim that Shakespeare ascribed a "profound positive effect" to cannabis on his creative process, please. (And from a publication of a university press, not a pot advocacy website or similar).
  • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:12PM (#41921299) Homepage

    Creative programming and creative problem solving. Brian Wilson. Shakespeare, Carl Sagan, Paul McCartney...

    Correlation is not causation. Maybe they were just creative people. Period.

    Millions of non-creative pot smokers nationwide will back up this hypothesis.

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tftp ( 111690 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:14PM (#41921349) Homepage

    Creative programming and creative problem solving.

    Majority of coding work is not creative. Take an interactive form with 20 fields in WPF, for example - with data binding, with triggers, with validators.

    I'm not even sure what coding is creative these days. Perhaps yet another scheduler for Linux? That certainly would be very creative. But even a driver for Linux is 99% slogging through the datasheets and through the sample code. For that you need clear mind, and not this [].

    By the time the tasks are allocated to coders the problems are already cut into bite-sized chunks - forms, interfaces, graphics, styles, database schema, etc. Real problem solving usually starts at a higher level, during system design. What does the customer really want here? What hardware and software should we select, and why? What are the risks? How much it will cost? How could the impossible task X be done at all? What is the plan B? Who is going to do this and that? But you'd better not be drugged out of your mind when you answer those questions.

  • Tricky question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Graham J - XVI ( 1076671 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:16PM (#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 :)

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Fast Thick Pants ( 1081517 ) <(fastthickpants) (at) (> on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:20PM (#41921429)
    In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
    A stately pleasure-dome decree...
  • by tylikcat ( 1578365 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:21PM (#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.

  • Re:What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NatasRevol ( 731260 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:23PM (#41921501) Journal

    Unfortunately, all of our HR employees are stoned.

  • Re:What? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jeffmeden ( 135043 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:26PM (#41921543) Homepage Journal

    Creative programming and creative problem solving. Brian Wilson. Shakespeare, Carl Sagan, Paul McCartney...

    Correlation is not causation. Maybe they were just creative people. Period.

    Millions of non-creative pot smokers nationwide will back up this hypothesis.

    One easy thing to look at is how many of them were heavy drug users *before* achieving fame and success. Get back to me if you find a single one. It just so happens that large amounts of money, free time, and basically a "free pass" from law enforcement leads to, you guessed it, experimenting with drugs. What a shock. Plenty of non-creative hacks do lots of drugs, too, but confirmation bias must be something that gets harder to spot the more you smoke.

  • Re:maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SolitaryMan ( 538416 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:37PM (#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.

  • Re:Caffine (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Thursday November 08, 2012 @02:47PM (#41921907) Homepage Journal

    It depends on the drug and on the programmer.

  • Re:maybe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeng ( 926980 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:11PM (#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.

  • Contradictory ... (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 08, 2012 @03:40PM (#41922867)

    I am not getting it.

    You say you are a top contributor at work, get bonuses and could not be happier, yet to do pot because of the stress?

    And you do that in the evening to get away from work, yet you keep thinking about programming, and write the ideas down?

    Sounds contradictory to me. Are you stoned now?

  • by Jeng ( 926980 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:28PM (#41923593)

    It is not contradictory in the least, he goes home, smokes, relaxes, and in that relaxed state he thinks about his job in a relaxed and creative state and he writes down the ideas and brings them to work.

    What about that is contradictory?

    If you do think it is contradictory do you have personal experience with being high?

  • by Synerg1y ( 2169962 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @04:29PM (#41923599)

    You can be a top contributor and still be stressed... dur. Most people drink a beer or a glass in the evenings to relax, what people have been saying this ENTIRE TIME is that puffing a spliff to achieve that effect is exactly the same.

  • Re:What? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Psyborgue ( 699890 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @05:17PM (#41924349) Homepage Journal
    Ah. But could the pharma industry make money off cannabinoid based products? Hard to sell a plant at the prices they do with competing drugs when somebody can just grow something better at home. It's not rocket science to make cannabis tinctures, edibles, etc. Dispensaries do it today. Vaporizers also take the dangers of smoking away. Tin foil hats aside, the pharma industry would have a lot to lose were marijuana legal and they do fund [] anti-drug propaganda (as well as the alcohol and tobacco industries). It's just good business sense. It's not a conspiracy when it's done right out in the open.
  • by Internetuser1248 ( 1787630 ) on Thursday November 08, 2012 @09:42PM (#41927357)
    It is the same with me, caffeine and nicotine while programming, pot afterwards. I can use the weed as an incentive to get work done by saying 'can't smoke weed till it is done.' I can't program while stoned though, it makes my mind wander too much and simply means it takes 5 times as long to get the work done. I can however design programs on a conceptual level when stoned, and it leads to more inventive and interesting ideas. This even applies to designing complex algorithms. For me though a stoned brain doesn't lend itself well to slow logical stepwise operation, and therefore the actual typing of code will always be left to caffeine and nicotine.

1 Mole = 007 Secret Agents