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Ask HN: I'm writing a book about white-collar drug use, including tech sector
542 points by Eilene 86 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 615 comments
Hi HN. I’m a journalist who wrote ‘The Lawyer, The Addict’, a story that ran in the New York Times in July. The story was about my ex-husband, Peter, who was a high-flying powerful partner in Wilson Sonsini (the prestigious, Palo Alto-based law firm) and who died in July 2015, a drug addict. Almost everyone in his life missed the signs. The story wound up with enormous traction and was the 55th most read story in the entire paper in 2017. It also generated several threads of commentary on HN, including https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14776864, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14931209 and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14777919.

I’m now writing a book based on that story for Random House. Although it is about what happened to Peter, the broader story is about the problem of substance use (and often abuse) in white-collar professions, where the users are well-off, well-educated, working long hours, often with all the outward trappings of success.

What can you tell me about drug use as a professional or in your profession?

I know there is drug use in law, finance, medicine and technology, and am hoping that some of you will be open to discussing with me what you see and what you've experienced in your profession and professional environment. I’d like to use some of your comments in the book and will not know or need to know your names, so I hope you’ll feel comfortable being as candid as possible. I’m not here to make judgements, all I’m looking for is the truth about what’s going on.

I'm interested in whatever you can tell me about drugs you are using or observe being used in your field: which drugs, what effects you see, any stories you have, any details you can share. Thanks.

I would be careful of overestimating the amount of stimulant use based on comments and emails here. People who use a lot of stimulants tend to love talking about themselves and often have a belief that anyone successful must be taking stimulants secretly. It plays into the motivation of most stimulant users which is that the stimulants have given them a special cheat code in life.

I worked in construction in my younger years and saw this kind of attitude from the occasional meth user on the jobsite. I'm seeing more coherent echoes of it in this thread. Another theme that pops up sometimes is someone who says that they used to take stimulants and they were super productive, but they don't anymore, but actually they still do.

I'll second this.

I don't even drink coffee. I've encountered people who seem absolutely incredulous that I take no stimulants at all. "How do you stay awake?" is something I'm asked. My go-to response now is "I don't. If I'm tired, I get more sleep." Some of these people probably think that I'm lying.

There are a lot of people who think that sleeping at work is a bad idea, but I think it's a lot better than guzzling coffee all day (or taking stronger things). I wouldn't work at a place that didn't allow me to take a nap if necessary. It's not uncommon for me to wake up with the solution to whatever problem I was working on too, so I think it would be wrong to call naps idle time.

As an example, using spaced repetition memory software and getting enough sleep is going to be a lot better for your learning than taking aricept and modafinil. On my PhD quals some people seemed to think I was a wizard for the things I memorized. No drugs were involved, but I did read a few books on memory and religiously used spaced repetition software. I wish this attitude were more common.

As a corollary to the OP, it seems like the people who deliberately don't take stimulants _also_ love talking about themselves and how it's a superior lifestyle. :)

Not saying you're wrong, but the sanctimony from both sides can be a little exhausting is all.

Most people I work with don't know that I don't take stimulants. In fact, it only ever comes up when I decline coffee from someone. I rarely ever mention it, and I hope my post did not come across as sanctimonious. Let me know if and how it did, so I can be more clear in the future. I just wanted to state my preference and reasoning.

It seems utterly nuts to me that someone could sleep at work as a reasonable alternative to drinking coffee. Most jobs and workplaces are just not at all set up to sleep during the working day.

It’s utterly nuts that someone who is tired is still expected to keep “working” without naps. Huge waste of human performance, unless the work is absolutely time-critical (like a legal brief due by the end of the day, or a medical patient who needs urgent care, or some debugging after the whole site just went down).

For most e.g. programming work (deliverable changes due in a week, or a month, or a quarter), it’s more effective to work only a fraction as much time but all of it in a mentally sharp state, rather than to soldier through while exhausted.

One thing I love about working from home is that I can take long naps.

I'm usually far more productive after taking a much needed nap than trying to drink coffee/tea and power through it.

Have you tried an espresso nap? It works great. Drink an espresso when you're feeling tired and go to sleep straight away. 15 mins later you'll be awake and alert but also rested.

Huh. Didn't know about this until I read the Vox article in the comment below.

is the thinking that the espresso takes 15 minutes to kick in?

It's a bit more complicated than that. Here's an article that gives a gloss as well as links to more detailed research:


I was always surprised when I found myself suddenly so sleepy after a shot of espresso in the afternoon. It was nice to find that there's science backing it up.

Woah, thanks for this. I knew the trick, but I always assumed it was just about sleeping until the caffeine blocked out adenosine so you woke up not-tired. Interesting to see there's a deeper mechanism in play.

I'm not quite sure what you mean by "not at all set up to sleep during the working day", but I assume you mean that it would be difficult to find a comfortable place to sleep.

At a place I worked at previously, I asked if they had any quiet rooms that would be good to take a nap in. They gave me a key to the lactation room, which was quiet, dark, and great for taking a nap. As far as I can tell I was the only person to use that room when I worked there. And I believe the rooms are required by law for workplaces with a certain number of employees in the US. (If anyone who was nursing wanted to use the room, I'd gladly leave, though as I said, the room seemed to be unused.)

At another place I worked at, I'd often take a nap after lunch in the library. The location was not ideal due to noise, but it was acceptable most of the time.

Right now I'm in grad school, and I moved a small sofa chair that was being surplussed into my office. Works great, and I'm not the only person to use it for taking a nap.

Taking naps at your desk might be okay. For me, it hurts my neck.

Earplugs may be necessary, particularly if you work in an open office. I probably would not be able to fall asleep so easily in an open office. But you can ask around to see if there are any private rooms you can use.

I have worked at several companies of varying sizes, and have never seen a lactation room. They're certainly not required by law.

I can also say the only place that would have been amenable to workers taking naps was an academic lab that I worked in during a couple years following my time at school. Have you worked in the private sector much?

"I wouldn't even consider a job that wouldn't let me nap" is not a realistic attitude for basically anyone to have outside of a lucky few in tech.

> They're certainly not required by law.

Wikipedia says lactation rooms have been required by US federal law since 2010:


> Have you worked in the private sector much?

Not since college. You make a good point here.

I'll keep in mind that this won't be possible everywhere. So far no boss I've had cared that I took naps as long as I put my time in and was productive. I have never counted naps as work, just a break. Asking was not a career ending move in my experience so far, so I know what to do when interviewing. So far I have argued that taking a nap makes me more productive, with good results.

Additionally, when I worked at a federal government lab, I'd regularly take a nap in the library during my lunch hour right after eating. I can't see how any manager could argue against that. I've read of people in private companies doing the same in their cars.

In countries like Vietnam it is customary for employees to have their own mat and nap for half an hour under their desks after lunch, even at bank offices. It helps that in these countries people are used to sleeping in crowded conditions, noise and light no issue (and being pretty trim too).

I don't sleep at work and I don't take naps. Oddly, if I take caffeine, I get very tired and would probably want a nap. If someone at work took a nap, nobody would care as long as it was a shortish one, no meetings were missed, and the individual usually gets their work done. If someone was coming in and sleeping all day, I'm sure that would be a problem.

If caffeine makes you tired, you probably have ADHD

Caffeine is known to make people sleepy as well. See the comments in this thread regarding "espresso naps". I can attest to their efficacy.


Yeah, I should have phrased that differently:

ADHD people don't benefit from the "energizing" properties of caffeine.

I take naps _and_ drink coffee. We have a few "quiet rooms" here which are equipped with a bed-like large sofa, pillows, and blankets. I think one has a massage chair, too. You go in there, turn on the "occupied" light, and can rest for a while. Sometimes it's tough to find a free nap room around lunchtime, but they are really nice when you manage to get a spot.

I take naps at work occasionally. I'm fortunate to have an office with a locking door. I can just close it, and lie down on the floor.

I think it's just that people who drink some coffee sometimes or get sleep some days better than others, just don't have much to say, because well they don't really have a strong opinion.

Force creates counter force. That's a basic law of human nature. I'll repeat, there is no force without the counter force.

Also, the terminology is arbitrary. Water can surely create endorphin when you are really thirsty. Toxins are problematic, but even water is toxic in high quantities. What's really toxic is dogmatism ... and narcotics that numb senses, which is the opposite of stimulation if you think about it. Only, it's not black and white like that, if the body is stimulated to feel less.

Anyhow it's pretty simple to see which side f the equation is the extreme negative. Fiding the middle is difficult and hence dangerous.

What I have experienced in my present job (with hardware and software engineers) is that there are _many_ who voluntarily or by prescription skip caffeine in favor of hot drinks with no stimulants, but none of them actually is "showing off".

Can't say it's true everywhere, I work in Italy and coffee is a ritual, but I sense that recent trends and issues in nutrition are just making people more self conscious about their health. Some do like talking about it, in my experience I haven't seen that happen within "educated" environments.

Not quite the same, but I used to have a coworker who drank a 2L bottle of Mountain Dew every day. Sure enough, he was the one falling asleep in meetings. I'm sure he felt that the caffeine was necessary to keep him awake, but obviously it wasn't solving the problem -- I imagine the sugar was creating the crash, I know I'm much more sleepy if I eat junk, but then again, I don't know, perhaps he had something else going on.

Yup, I always dozed off after my lunch. Eat the same sandwich every day. After I switched from a can soda to a bottle water with lunch I feel much less inclined to doze.

When I used to smoke, one of my worries about quitting was that I wouldn't be able to do those intense, uninterrupted, full focus 10-12 hours coding sessions.

Every couple hours, those 5 delicious minutes, the fresh air, the nicotine rush, then right back at it.

I quit smoking a few years ago when my wife got pregnant and have smoked only twice since.

I can actually grind more nowadays, and I'm less tired when it ends. It probably doesn't have anything to do with smoking or not, but that fact would be very surprising for my old smoker self.

I don't smoke, but I go outside every few hours with the smokers, just to get that change of pace. I find the combination of fresh air, a change of scene, and a chance to look at something further away than the wall of my office help to give my brain a quick break. I can usually keep myself in flow, and it sometimes even jogs my brain around a puzzle I've been working at.

> I can actually grind more nowadays, and I'm less tired when it ends. It probably doesn't have anything to do with smoking or not[...]

Well, your respiratory system is probably much healthier now. I would expect better oxygenation to make you less tired, to give you more stamina.

I've never been a smoker, so I'm curious, how big an impact would you say healthier lungs had in your life?

Surprisingly, when it comes to stamina and general energy, I couldn't tell the difference.

I don't practice any sport consistently, from time to time I'll join someone for a long jog or go hiking or whatever, but only a few times a year. I tend to walk a lot though, as I don't drive.

Maybe there were changes but the lack of being regular and measuring my performance prevented me from noticing them.

The big difference was more about the upper respiratory system, with huge improvements in terms of taste, snoring, and the throat. I wasn't coughing much when I smoked, but I had a significant amount of mucus, especially in the morning, and had to clear my throat often. I'm also less prone to headaches if I drink a bit less fluids than I should, I feel dry but without the pain.

ya its kinda crazy. the realization that nicotine doesnt actually calm you, just stops the lack of nicotine from stressing you out.

Yeah, makes you wonder how much the psychological part affects you physically, and vice versa.

I often ask myself if the positive things about smoking were just delusions to justify feeding the nicotine addiction, or if the physical consumption was a product of my mind being convinced it was a good thing somehow.

In low doses (like smoking cessation meds rather than cigarettes) nicotine is a pretty effective occasional stimulant for someone who does not have a tolerance for the drug. https://www.gwern.net/Nicotine

To a new user, heroin is f'in amazing, so I hear. For an addict it just gets them back to normal.

Absolutely there's a reason people get addicted to cigs in the first place. But say, driving down a scenic road on nice day with window down, without even the slighted urge to light up a cig, is not something I would have imagined while still a nicotine addict. I mean I'll think about smoking a blunt sure, but that different.

Also glad I quit before all the e-cig stuff came out. If I was able to smoke AND breath prob woulda never got off.

I have managed to quit smoking in my fourth attempt. It's been nine years. Being able to work uninterrupted with an urge to smoke and deciding my breaks with my own free will motivated me. This was not the reason for me to quit, but it helped a lot.

I do drink coffee but have no problem sleeping when I'm tired and, over 35 years of engineering have learned to tell when I'm "sharp". There are plenty of tasks you can take on when you're a little tired too. I don't sleep as long as many people because I have a bad back bit I'd trade that tiny "competitive advantage in a heartbeat.

Other than caffeine I don't take drugs and mostly don't drink alcohol either.

Seconded. I've chugged an energy drink on the job once, and immediately regretted it. So many people forget that programming is more about thinking than typing, and refuse to let themselves just sit (or nap) and think.

Do you mind sharing what books on memory you found particularly helpful?

Would be good to know

Very strange indeed that people are incredulous that you don't take stims. I love stims, especially modafinil. I don't think your methods are better than mine or that you would be more productive with stims. It's personal preference so let's withhold judgment. You have your method and they have theirs. You can stop the debate right there.

Pretty interesting! Can you share what is your favorite spaced repetition software?

I prefer Anki, though I started using Mnemosyne.



Both are good. I created most of the cards I use myself, as I only add what is relevant to me.

There's also a lot of value in learning about how human memory and learning works. Some parts are like learning how to program your brain. Your brain works well with certain data structures. I'd recommend this book for those interested:


> spaced repetition software

Is there any that you recommend?

anki foss

I can totally see where you are coming from, but I hope you aren't directing your comments towards what I said above.

I actually felt pretty vulnerable submitting my comment (as opposed to being someone who loves to talk about myself) It seems to be resonating with others now, so that feeling has warn off, but initially I was a little concerned to open up and be so candid in a public forum.

Also, I did not intend to downplay those who are incredibly successful without drugs. I've just witnessed time and time again the scenario where person A is completely awe-struck by person B and their accomplishments and doesn't realize it 's because they have a literal advantage due to performance enhancing drugs.

Then someone says, "oh yeah, so and so takes a ton of adderall, didn't you know?" and everything begins to make more sense.

In college I worked as a waitress for 10 hour shifts with 8-10 tables at a time, and it was madness. (Mario Batali was a cook when I was there). And I remember thinking all the waitresses and cooks were just really fast and upbeat, the way I was. And then my boyfriend at the time, also a cook, laughed at my ignorance and told me that almost everyone else was doing coke or crank all night long. I had no idea.

Not trying to be negative about you, sorry. I actually was prescribed stimulants as a child for ADD, and still take modafinil very occasionally.

My comment was more directed towards some of the sensationalist articles you see about stimulant use sometimes where I always get the impression that the journalist talked to one guy who talked their ear off and gave them a bunch of juicy exaggerated quotes.

Just to chime in, in my response to OP I felt like I was making myself vulnerable. I was honest about what I experience because someone asked and was clearly hurt in the past by the lack of honesty around it.

I don't feel attacked, but I also really hope I'm right about that. People talking about this stuff openly are exposing themselves. I didn't do it to brag. I just saw someone who was making a genuine request for experiences like mine, and I answered.

To add to this - people often equate energy with productivity. I see a lot of comments saying "it was the most productive I've ever been in my life".

As someone who's been on both sides, I used to believe stimulants granted exceptional focus and productivity as well. After starting my own business and seeing what real focus and productivity look like, I believe stimulants only help when it comes to slogging through proscribed, boring work.

If it's a task that requires creative focus, you are better off getting a lot of sleep and letting your subconscious churn on the problem.

That's why I used to refuse to drink coffee at work. I'll drink coffee sometimes cause I like it, but I'm not gonna take drugs at the expense of my sleep schedule etc. to improve some company's bottom line.

Just wanted to note that I found myself nodding as I read through almost all your recent comments. As someone just starting to bootstrap a business, I'm curious about yours. Care to share?

If it's proscribed, then you probably shouldn't be doing it. :)

When I was much younger I was exposed to a variety of different drug users. Everything you said is 100% spot on with anyone that abused drugs.

I've come to learn that there a few different kinds of drug users.

The first are the users who have not yet had to face the reality of drugs or how drugs affect them personally, even if they are suffering consequences from use. The mental gymnastics at play serve to protect and prolong drug use. I see this all the time with white-collar and middle-class users. They may have to take drugs to function, will crash, lose sleep, have mood swings and resultant relationship problems, but it all gets rationalized away because they have a job and aren't homeless yet.

You'll see things like projection, minimization, rationalization, denial, shifting blame and intellectualization used to defend, deflect and justify drug use.

Another type stays rational about drugs, despite how easy it is to let the honeymoon period trick them into believing that there are only positives and no downsides. They don't tend to lean on the psychological defenses mentioned above. They also tend not to abuse drugs chronically or end up dependent.

The final type, if they haven't died, has been kicked in the ass by drug use and was forced to be brutally honest about it. They might still use, but they know they have a problem, or they might be sober.

If you see a person talking about drug use as if there are no downsides, only positives, you are probably witnessing someone who belongs to the first camp.

You shouldn't be lumping all "drugs" together. Of course technically every drug has a downside, for some it's not significant.

Basically food is just a drug too, except by definition.

Addictive drugs are addictive drugs. If you spend enough time around people who abuse substances, you will see the common threads among them when it comes to how they view their use.

You could replace 'drugs' in my post above with 'alcohol', 'excessive exercise' or 'binge eating' and it would still hold true.

Perhaps I am just a type-a person but I would create separate devastation categories for binge eating and smoking methamphetamine.

"for some it's not significant."

where do i sign up?!?

You might like this book -- "The Pleasure Trap"; summarized here: http://web.archive.org/web/20160418155513/http://www.drfuhrm...

Essentially, they explain how the brain "neuroadapts" to high levels of stimulation to where you are just getting normal amounts of pleasure but with all the negative side effects of the food or drugs (e.g. caffeine) and then you have to go through a painful withdrawal period. The book is mainly about healthy eating and also fasting, but the ideas are more broadly applicable.

See also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supernormal_Stimuli http://www.paulgraham.com/addiction.html

It's rare but there are also people who successfully manage their drug use minimizing harmful side effects and getting by just fine.

I addressed this group in my OP:

> Another type stays rational about drugs, despite how easy it is to let the honeymoon period trick them into believing that there are only positives and no downsides. They don't tend to lean on the psychological defenses mentioned above. They also tend not to abuse drugs chronically or end up dependent.

Logged in to upvote this. Birds of a feather flock together.

I’ve personally never come across anyone who (admits) to using anything stronger than Redbull. In fact, we have some employees who don’t even drink coffee, opting for “natural” stimulants which come with less of a crash. Yerba Mate seems particularly popular these days.

However, I may be in my own bubble; I’m very interested in seeing what you find!

Mate is the 'same' as coffee, in that it's just caffeine. There is some research to say that the mate derived caffeine is largely an isomer of caffeine, in that the molecule is shaped differently. This is then used to explain why mate is more potent to users without a habituation to coffee derived caffeine. However, the research is still ongoing and the isomer theory is not yet proved, AFAIK. Likely it's just a placebo effect, but a strong one nonetheless.

Having spent some time in South America, mate sure is nice and a good change of pace. In the countrysides, it's not uncommon to see people with large thermoses slung under the elbow (for hot water) and a mate gourd in the same hand, happily sipping the days away. I'd recommend it for anyone looking to add some variety in your daily routine. Be advised that it is an acquired taste and may take a week to get used to, just like coffee was in the beginning.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yerba_mate

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Guayaki-Traditional-Organic-Yerba-Loo...

[2] https://www.amazon.com/Mategreen-M0035-Argentina-Yerba-Gourd...

(though there are cheaper gourds that can just sit without tipping, I prefer the traditional hand-held ones)

Redbulls & other energy drinks have B vitamins and such that synergies with the caffeine to make the energy effect stronger. So even though your drinking 70mg of caffeine in a redbull, it feels a lot stronger.

Drinks such as coffee have a ton of caffeine in comparison. A cup of coffee has around ~200mg of caffeine, while yerba mate drinks have around ~70mg: http://guayaki.com/caffeine_meter.html

So drinking yerba mate is a lot like drinking tea as far as the caffeine experience goes.

Unfortunately, it seems that B vitamins do not 'synergize' with caffeine in an appreciable way, per an article from the LA times in 2008. Caffeine does have a 'negative' effect on circulating B vitamin percentage, but I could only find one study from 2008 about it, and it's not unhealthy. As is, the B vitamins with coffee really only seem to help in the elderly.

That said, yeah, mate is pretty mild in terms of caffeine content.


There is some research to say that the mate derived caffeine is largely an isomer of caffeine, in that the molecule is shaped differently. This is then used to explain why mate is more potent to users without a habituation to coffee derived caffeine. However, the research is still ongoing and the isomer theory is not yet proved, AFAIK.

This sounds very dubious. Caffeine has only one stereoisomer. And if you mean a structural isomer, then it's not actually caffeine any more.

I am not up to date on the research. A few years ago the stimulant in mate was more broadly classified as a xanthine, not specifically caffeine.

Like I said, research is ongoing/needed. Personally, I think it's just a placebo effect, but I'm not in that area of research.

One? I wasn't aware of any. And GP did say isomer, not stereoisomer.

Mate is hard to prepare right. I think a large part of people’s complaints about the taste is because it’s steeped for too long. Even "upscale" cafes frequently make it wrong.

I agree. You have to use just enough of just-not-boiled water and then sip it somewhat quickly. But everyone's tastes differ as to the right amount of 'grassy' flavoring. Best shared with friends, honestly.

I’ve been in investment banking, finance, and consulting for ~15 years and had a similar experience. The last time I saw illicit drug use was marijuana in college.

I find stories like this to be important reminders that it is likely happening around me, and I need to be alert for it.

I've never been a daily caffeine user, so I have a bit of sensitivity to it. When I used stims for productivity I especially avoided caffeine because it could push me uncomfortably close to OD territory.

Stimulants aren't my scene so I don't really know how prevalent they are in tech (but it's never been in my face, at least not compared to when I was in high school). However, marijuana and alcohol are freaking everywhere. Second week at a big company and I had a coworker showing me, among other things, pictures of his pot plantation. Plenty of folks vaped at work (some to the extent that they were incapable of doing their jobs).

As for alcohol, San Francisco is a hard drinking town. In other countries if you get a cocktail it will be very carefully measured. Here? Outside of some artisan hipster joints you get hilariously unbalanced drinks. We had a drug/alcohol free policy at work but still had a beer fridge or two. Off-sites were generally open bar. 1:1 meetings? Often at the nearest bar (which typically lasted 1-2 drinks). Weekly team off-site lunches? Booze. First day on the job? Let's go to Kozy Kar (ugh) to celebrate with our high profile investor. Friday night? Let's go to Martuni's and get blitzed. CEO is too drunk to stand? Don't worry he's still good to drive. Hardly Strictly with the coworkers? Sure, let's make a pitcher of margaritas first.

This may be true for many, but my history with stimulant usage was limited to coping with a lack of sleep. I'd work 70+ hours a week between two jobs and then still spend time working on freelance tech work to try and get out of fast food and pizza delivery. There were severe side effects, and even thinking of taking that crap again makes me feel a bit sick.

Anecdotally: Work in wireless telecom. Tower climbing contractors have shifted to hair tests for drugs because so many applicants try to evade tests, or test positive. They also regularly have issues with people who get their drivers licenses revoked for DUI, to the extent that job postings including "must have current/valid drivers license".

If I sound like an idiot, forgive me, but you mean, literally, contractors that have to physically climb towers, right?

Yes, the people who do the physical installation and maintenance of antennas and lighting on cellular towers, for the most part. Also repair/maintenance for mobile radio systems (public safety), AM/FM radio, etc.


Just to add another datapoint to the "negative" dataset, I don't do any drugs, including coffee. I drink decaf. I feel like being in a "natural" state is when I'm at my best.

I drink alcohol sometimes on weekends, but never while working, it clouds my thinking too.

Just my very personal 2c.

>People who use a lot of stimulants tend to love talking about themselves

As opposed to people who don't?

I generally love talking about myself, but I don't love talking about how I had a glass of cab last night, and how I can't wait to get home and have another.

No, but non-drug-using people also love to talk about their abstinence, teetotalism, vegetarianism, healthy lifestyle, Jesus, and so on...

It does seem to be pretty bimodal, doesn't it...

> Another theme that pops up sometimes is someone who says that they used to take stimulants and they were super productive, but they don't anymore, but actually they still do.

or never were. I mean "super" , just regular productive as on "motivated" .

"they don't anymore, but actually they still do"


Adderall and Cocaine.

I remember a CEO of one of my early startups would give me 5mg addies to help me get more done. I appreciated it because it was great to get the added boost to focus.

I eventually worked my way up to taking 30mg of XR daily (legally, doctor prescribed) and it was the most productive I have ever been in my life. I worked 24x7. I was working a normal consulting job while also working on a startup/app in my spare time. I did ui/ux/frontend/backend/api development and sent cash overseas for an iOS developer that I managed. None of this would have been possible without stimulants.

It's only way to do some of the things that the really successful engineers are doing. You forgo eating, exercise, etc... and spend 110% of your time on working and chasing the high of getting shit done.

It's not sustainable though. I eventually went cold turkey. I do NOT recommend that as it will completely ruin your life for 6 months to a year. I was not productive, I gained tons of weight, my self-confidence went to shit. My life really went into a downward spiral.

Now I am 100% drug-free and am not at the same level I was back then, but I am very productive and focused. I would not go back to where I was, even for the productivity gains. I eat clean (low-carb, ketogenic), weightlift in my basement, row 5k/10k every few days for cardio. My only vice is really coffee and the low-carb cocktails on weekends. Best of all, I do not wake up in the morning needing a tiny pill full of amphetamine salts.

Seeing a manager go this path, and seeing his productivity plummet, I'm pretty sure the productivity boost is merely perceived.

There was a story on HN with people trying to microdose on LSD, and the alleged benefits - long story short, when they asked peers about their performance, they noticed they're more distracted and not more productive, while those doing the microdosing thought they're on a super productive trip.

We notice this manager is in a constant state of "brain fog" to a point where his speech changed (like he's drunk), while I'm pretty sure he thinks he's a 10x machine and wouldn't be able to pull all of his workload off without drugs.

You get more sick days, you need more time to recharge, while thinking you're on your absolute productivity peak. And when you crash, you're basically unemployable / unproductive for 6 months to 1 year.

Not worth it IMHO.

Microdosing LSD and taking adderall are going to have completely different effects. That’s a pretty apples to oranges comparison. I can’t imagine how any dose of LSD would ever increase productivity, but adderalls benefits as a stimulant are pretty well documented - you will be able to stay up and focused longer, although as you noted you may end up paying for it in other ways.

As someone who has both microdosed LSD and taken smal amts (<5 mg) of d-methamphetamine, LSD can certainly increase productivity. It’s a similar energy boost as any of the ‘phetamines, but without the classic linearity.

Note: to have an effective microdose you have to take a small amount. <=5ug. I tried 25ug and it was basically a super light trip (distinctive lsd body high and everything).

Anyway, for 98% of people microdosing won’t help productivity in the long run.

Edit: just to preempt the obvious questions, I’m talking about oral methamphetamine, I’ve never smoked it. Orally, d-meth is just objectively better than amphetamine (okay, that’s subjective, but the peripheral stimulation of, say, l-amphetamine is a huge negative)

I think this kind of goes with the idea that if you want to do something then you will do it. Drugs are not as simple as "If I take this pill it will make me do my homework I don't want to do.", but it makes you focus on whatever is really on your mind. I hear stories from people all the time that they will do whatever drug to help them get something done, but instead end up cleaning there house and such. If you really want to be working on what you are then the drugs will help you not to care about anything but that.

Is this manager still going this route? And do you think any of the microdosing (or other drug use) goes beyond the 10x productivity stuff? Could it be some of the tedium of programming work? Does it relieve any of that? I'm trying to determine too if all of the drug use in tech is really aimed at enhancing performance/productivity or if it's also used to stave off depression, anxiety or just that feeling so many of us have and have had that we're not doing anything particularly meaningful in our professional work. Peter was very depressed, so I understand why he did opioids, for sure. And he had an immense workload, so the amphetamines also make sense.

> I'm trying to determine too if all of the drug use in tech is really aimed at enhancing performance/productivity or if it's also used to stave off depression, anxiety or just that feeling so many of us have and have had that we're not doing anything particularly meaningful in our professional work.

This is a fascinating possibility, and apparently there's at least one researcher working on exactly that. [1][2]

On a much lesser level, I know this is a common reason for the divide between focus tips ("listen to white noise, silence, or wordless music to avoid distraction") and people's self-report techniques ("listening to intense EDM helps me code"). The goal isn't to avoid distraction, it's to break through tedium and help code longer without losing focus. I'd hardly be surprised if more intense things like LSD microdosing had similar effects.

Anecdotally, I know at least one very skilled programmer who insisted she couldn't work without marijuana. She didn't think THC did anything to raise her core abilities, but rather said that it stopped her from getting impatient or bored and let her work more methodically for longer.

[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-problem-with-...

[2] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/21507740.2014.990...

The emotional blocks to productivity are a very real phenomenon. I've only ever done this once, but I pushed through a really annoying emberjs refactor through Ballmer Peaking overnight.

I completely agree. When I'm unhappy with my productivity, part of my self-assessment involves taking a careful look at my emotional state and seeing if there's anything there that isn't compatible with the calm/attentive/enthusiastic/alert combination where I do my best work. And if I turn something up, I either switch tasks, take some time off, or try to resolve the impediment one way or another.

The referenced xkcd https://xkcd.com/323/

Ha! I was just noticing this recently, smoking a joint early in the day makes it easier for me to focus and way more productive.

Thanks for the links.

Stimulants are not free energy, that’s for sure - my impression is you get more done for 2 days, nothing done for 1 and less done for 2 days, making it a net loss of productivity. So they’re ultimately only useful in short spurts where haste is needed.

they're more like an energy loan, and you better believe there's interest.

I came to the same conclusion after taking modafinil daily for 5 months. I quit because I was getting completely drained by 7pm. I had to hit the bed as soon as I got home, and then slept for 10-12 hours straight. I did the arithmetic and it wasn't worth it. Supposedly, there isn't such thing as a "modafinil withdrawal," but I was nonfunctional for about 6 weeks after I left it cold turkey. Not only that, but because I wasn't aware there was a withdrawal phase, I thought my symptoms (not being able to wake up, narcolepsy, nausea) were an ominous sign of an underlying disease.

Taking modafinil daily, especially for that amount of time was not a wise move. It's a uniquely "safe" substance but even the most avowed users stress not to take it daily even if for nothing more to preserve perceived effectiveness.

Yikes, are the effects still lingering? Have you returned to baseline energy/focus?

That was four years ago, and I was back to my baseline self in about two months.

A month ago I was diagnosed with severe apnea, and since starting treatment I feel like a different person. I wonder whether the apnea was worsened by modafinil four years ago, and that was the reason for my constant wearing down. Maybe I'll do an experiment just to see, but I don't need stimulants anymore to be productive, not even coffee.

Isn't modafinil/stims a treatment for apnea?

I believe you're thinking of narcolepsy

as somebody diagnosed with adhd at older age and that is taking ritalin (legally) i would say it helps a lot. but im taking less then prescribed because i dont want to be dependent on it. i always wondered it the effect is stronger for somebody without adhd.

> i always wondered it the effect is stronger for somebody without adhd

i've wondered this myself. i often hear people say stuff like "people with real adhd can't get high from stims", but i suspect that some of this is just that people want to distance their legitimate use from those tweakers over there.

if there's any truth to it, i'd bet it comes down to the way the drug is used. when you take an extended release formulation (or instant release every n hours) regularly, you tend to have relatively stable blood concentrations of the drug (ie, you don't get "high"). recreational users, and also probably people who self medicate, will end up with peakier blood levels, which results in the perception of being "high". the concentration level over time can be an extremely important factor in how the drug ultimately affects you.

> "people with real adhd can't get high from stims", but i suspect that some of this is just that people want to distance their legitimate use from those tweakers over there.

I don't know if "High" is the right word. I've accidentally taken too much, and it makes me super impatient, which makes me kind of an asshole. I've also taken WAY too much on accident, and it just made me paranoid and think my heart was beating out of my chest.

I will say, being on a normal amount is kind of the best kind of high. Living with ADHD is like drowning, like you have these short moments of coming up for air and being productive, but quickly become distracted for everything else.

Being on the right amount, is like someone finally shut all the extra TVs off in the back of my brain. Like there's no challenge in determining the priority of what needs to be done. I feel human, not anxious, not depressed by my inability to remember where I put my keys 30 seconds ago. and thus, more productive.

Now I don't claim that my experience with ADHD is like another's, but this is my experience.

Thanks for the explanation, really good imagery. I hope you took some acidic vitamin C when you overdosed to kill the metabolism of amps.

I was prescribed too high of a dose of Adderall for ADHD once, and I had what could be described as a manic episode, with some mild hallucinogenic effects. I was awake for 36 hours straight without any fatigue, and my resting heart-rate was elevated by almost 20bpm.

It was terrifying enough that I don't think I'll ever abuse the stuff, but I can definitely believe that some people would like the feeling.

On the other hand, correctly dosed Focalin significantly reduces my symptoms (as in I go from being unable to complete a simple 5 sentence e-mail to being able to be mostly on-task). Avoiding all simple-carbs before noon significantly improves the efficacy of it as well for me (a traditional sugar/starch american breakfast would make me hypoglycemic around the middle of the day).

I think it’s the same for any drug that has the potential for abuse but is medicinal, such as opiates or cannabis.

When you have to take it day in, day out just to feel more normal, the dosage is either too low for pleasurable effects or tolerance negates them, and the side effects start to wear on you. Since it’s something you’re legitimately doing just to feel normal, but you inadvertently suffer from some of the drawbacks of drug addiction, ultimately you'd rather not be doing it.

Every study I've seen of Adderall (and amphetamine analogues like bupropion) says that it really does improve focus and productivity, even in non-ADHD users.

There are two big hurdles, granted (apart from side effects). One is how long-term toleration works - users report continued efficacy, while objective tests seem to suggest decreased sensitivity. Two is how amphetamines mix with intelligence; normal-IQ users appear to have unchanged or worsened performance on intelligence tests despite 'feeling smarter'. (The same goes for Modafinil.)

But neither of those things really challenge the core observation: in the short term, Adderall and similar substances improve attentiveness, focus/willpower, and probably memory.

They often aren't worth it, and non-medicinal use is often unsustainable. But if someone is showing up with "brain fog" and underperforming while feeling skilled, that really sounds like something else is up. Either a paradoxical reaction to the drug, or some substance other than core focus/'smart' drugs.

edit: I just looked, and paradoxical drowsiness is a known response some people have to amphetamines. I'd bet that the person you're describing has an atypical response to amphetamines.

> But if someone is showing up with "brain fog" and underperforming while feeling skilled, that really sounds like something else is up.

One of the things that sustained stimulant abuse contributes to is sleep deprivation and the disturbance of sleep patterns. "Brain fog" - confusion, problems concentrating, memory problems, are all symptoms of sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation experiments have also consistently produced psychotic symptoms (hallucinations, paranoia, disturbed/unusual thinking - the person undergoing the psychosis of course thinks they are doing fine) - the earliest experiment I am aware of being Randy Gardner's[1] in 1964. "Stimulant psychosis" is supposed to be one of the effects of amphetamine abuse; I think the psychosis is likely due to the sleep deprivation involved in multi-day binges.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randy_Gardner_(record_holder)

Wow never made this connection, very insightful observation.

IME the paradoxical response has more to do with tolerance. I’ve never met someone who sidn’t get stimmed out from amphetamines when they didn’t have a tolerance.

But if tou take them wirh a tolerance and your underlying physical body is fatigued, it becomes very, very easy to fall asleep (or worse, to be too stimmed to sleep but too tired to be productive)

> There was a story on HN with people trying to microdose on LSD, and the alleged benefits - long story short, when they asked peers about their performance, they noticed they're more distracted and not more productive, while those doing the microdosing thought they're on a super productive trip.

This aligns with my experience. Microdosing is good when you have physical tasks to do (i.e. running around town all day, reorganizing / cleaning your house), but focusing on creative tasks is harder.

Tbh, the only thing I'd recommend it for is for people struggling with chronic depression or anxiety - for these two, it can be a life-changingly effective "aspirin" (i.e. not a cure, you still need to fix the underlying causes) without the significant side-effects of traditional medication, and any lack of focus is massively offset by relieving the brain fog of depression/anxiety.

There was a book about systematic drug use in Nazi Germany called “Blitzed” that is worth reading.

Meth was extensively used in the German military and probably contributed to the victory over France. Basically to can stay awake and endure, but cognitive ability is impaired in some ways.

> I remember a CEO of one of my early startups would give me 5mg addies to help me get more done.

Jesus. If that happened to me, my first stop would be to the board/investors to report it, and my second would be out the door and to a new job.

> It's only way to do some of the things that the really successful engineers are doing. You forgo eating, exercise, etc... and spend 110% of your time on working and chasing the high of getting shit done.

I suspect your belief of the effectiveness here is quite a large exaggeration. You might have tunnel-vision focus and the ability to stay awake for long stretches and work, but the quality of that work just cannot be top notch. If you don't eat, exercise, or sleep much, your brain is not getting the fuel it needs to work properly, and no drug can replace or mimic that. Over the (very) short term you'll see a benefit, but after that it's just vapor.

I won't advocate the abuse of any particular drug, but I will say it's not as simple as trading quality for focus. There is a margin of overhead that comes with poor focus, so sharpening can lead to improved productivity without loss of quality. To a point, after which your comment applies.

I'm saying this not to say "Actually..." but so that no one discounts your valid point just because they have some anecdote where it didn't apply. There is a point where you pay (or at least stop winning), and our understanding of where that point is and how stable it is is very lacking. Likewise, our judgement under the influence of something should not be considered 100% reliable. Neither should our judgement NOT under the influence, but people tend to become zealots when defensive, and fewer people are defensive of being "normal".

I had a friend that I was discussing nootropics with - It's a topic I'm very interested in, but I'm not interested in any notable experimentation because, well, I've only got one brain and our understanding of it is pathetic. His answer was that by experimentation you'd discover what worked. We were definitely coming at it from opposite ends despite similar interests.

Anecdotal, I know, but I've heard of this at two companies. One of which jokingly put them in Pez dispensers.

> I remember a CEO of one of my early startups would give me 5mg addies to help me get more done.

That person ought to be in jail. A CEO is definitely not in charge of the pharmacy, anything of this kind should be prescribed by your doctor.

Even though the entire ethos of my comment suggests that you wanna stay away from this stuff ... occasional/recreational use is not a big deal. He never pushed it on me, it was just something that I could take advantage of on occasion.

I don't look back on it and think it was predatory or a big deal or a malicious thing. I definitely don't think he deserves to be in jail or punished.

The guy is in a power relationship with his subordinates, he is definitely not the one to go and prescribe medication. The best thing he could have done is to send you to a doctor.

If a CEO here in NL suggested I take some pills in order to improve my productivity and offered to supply them my first step would be to inform the board in writing and my second would be to resign my position. This is simply not ok, and not acceptable.

These moral fiat statements are unhelpful to no one. You simply don’t know the context. In a very flat power structure or a very small company (2 to 3 employees) at the office, social dynamics change dramatically.

Never mind that caffeine is legal yet it’s the shittiest productivity drug I can imagine yet everyone is falling over themselves to serve it to you and get you one while they’re out on break. I’d much prefer people ask me if I’d like a pill of modafinil to the addictive cranky horror that is caffeine.

> These moral fiat statements are unhelpful to no one.

Nice to see we agree.

> social dynamics change dramatically.

I'm sorry, but whatever the 'social dynamics' as a person in a position of authority over another there are some lines you should never cross. Not knowing what your mandate is as a CEO is a recipe for disaster.

If an employee has a productivity issue a CEO does not have mandate to prescribe - or even suggest - medication. The fact that that needs spelling out is worrisome.

>If a CEO here in NL suggested I take some pills in order to improve my productivity

I'd agree that it's not professional/ethical, but the OP didn't say the CEO suggested it.

For all we know, poster might have initially asked (Of course, agreeing to hand out arbitrary medication is of course not the right answer).

It says 'to help productivity' which to me sounds like a benefit to the employer more than to the employee, which in turn suggests which way the flow was. That could of course still be wrong.

This conversation reminds me a little of the Vernor Vinge novel A Deepness In The Sky where the antagonists subjugate their conquered/enslaved foes with chemically-induced “focus” in order to improve their productivity/output. Explored is how this arrangement is not unambiguously good for the employer nor unambiguously bad for the “employee”.

Who the hell would ask their boss for drugs?

I dunno, maybe the CEO was open about using the medication for productivity reasons and both folk had a laid back attitude to the subject?

Point is I'm trying not too read too much into their dynamics and make assumptions based on a short HN comment.

Not that it makes a difference completely but I have a feeling the employee was 22 and the CEO was 24

This sounds kind of in line with the theory that drugs are kind of a zero-sum game. You got a lot of speed earlier on and achieved a ton, but then paid for it later on. Kind of like a, "no such thing as a free lunch" economic theory, but for drugs! Not to knock you or your methods, just an observation.

> a no such thing as a free lunch theory, but for drugs

There's some reason to believe this is literally true - and true in the same sense as the economic rule! In this context, it's been nicknamed the Algernon argument. Gwern (of course) has the canonical writeup.[1]

The short version is: "if some chemical change could make us smarter, why wouldn't it already been in place?" Or, framed differently, "why would the brain evolve to benefit from a chemical it doesn't normally have?" This argument doesn't say cognitive performance enhancement is impossible, only that there has to be some tradeoff for it or we would have evolved it already. If we're going to get rewarding "brain boosts", we need to find tradeoffs that are more appealing than they were historically.

One simple possibility is this one: we can find chemical supplements that let us rearrange when we're performing well, without net gain. Caffeine is an obvious example: it doesn't actually diminish the value of sleep, but postpones the feeling and helps us manipulate our schedules. Amphetamines might be a more extreme case of the same, 'borrowing' energy more generally and paying for it later.

The other dodges are less relevant here, but a fascinating read if you check the article.

[2] https://www.gwern.net/Drug-heuristics

This is a fallacy. There are many things we can accomplish through medicine, or technology more generally, that evolution never could. There are reasons other than it being a net disadvantage that evolution may not have produced something; for example, a particular chemical may not have an easy and cost-effective way to be created in the body (particularly when food was much harder to come by), but be easy enough for us now to synthesise.

Your argument doesn't make sense to me. If the chemical is harder to synthesize, then the receptors could be more sensitive, or bind longer. Why would our bodies evolve to use a messenger molecule that was so prohibitively expensive to make that we couldn't make enough of it?

These drugs are just changing the balances of existing pathways in our brains. They aren't creating new pathways. Either they are causing a substance that your body naturally limits to exist in higher quantities or lower quantities, keeping a messenger molecule from being removed as fast as it would be normally, or removed faster than normal.

So I agree with the parent, it is likely we can choose the tradeoffs, maybe needing to avoid predators and scavenge for food is not our priority anymore and we can turn off some of that so we can think more deeply. But chemically I doubt we can improve ourselves without any drawbacks.

But yes, technology in general, physical things, can have a more pure benefit, and we are already reaping the rewards of those benefits. A new macbook pro is likely to make me more productive while not interfering with my sleep :)

A net benefit is when we can synthesize drugs to allow us to adapt to externalities, which produce fewer side effects than benefits. Vaccines are a net positive in the presence of Polio. It could be argued that stimulants are a net positive in the presence of having to stare at a glowing rectangle and think in abstractions all day.

The Algernon argument is concerned with our inability to make simple, tradeoff free improvements to performance. It says that if you find an improvement, you should be able to explain why it isn't a free lunch. None of those examples make it a fallacy - there's a reason I ended with "The other dodges are less relevant here, but a fascinating read if you check the article."

Gwern outlines three general ways to work around the Algernon rule:

1. We can live under different conditions than evolution prepared us for

2. We can optimize for different goals than evolution rewarded

3. We can make major/multifactor changes unavailable to an local-maximization algorithm.

Condition two is easiest: caffeine is a sensible response to electric lighting, while staying awake long after dark was largely unhelpful in our evolutionary past.

Condition one is sometimes rewarding: piracetam shows efficacy with choline supplements, because we can massively overload a relatively scarce chemical. Other kludges may exist, like boosting immune response by simulating a summer day/night cycle to signal "safe conditions, energy is cheap now".

Condition three is incredibly hard wrt to the brain. It's obvious for the body - eye surgery can improve on 20/20 vision - but I don't know of any drastic better-than-well interventions for the mind.

> why would the brain evolve to benefit from a chemical it doesn't normally have?

You could apply the same logic to Aspirin or any medicine - if reducing swelling was beneficial, why doesn't our body do it for us?

That seems like a misunderstanding of evolution. It's not a master plan driving toward perfection. Our biology is a bag of traits, some of which were useful and some of which just haven't been selected out yet.

I think it applies to aspirin too. You thin your blood, reduce some swelling. You feel better. But maybe you don't heal as quickly. Instead of being immobile and allowing resources to gather at the wound we get back to our work. But our work is leisurely these days and we probably don't need to heal quickly.

Perhaps if you are a runner and you take these seemingly benign medicines to reduce pain and swelling, you end up causing more permanent damage by continuing to run when you should not (I have experienced this).

I think a lot of medicines work by turning off or on processes that are important but inconvenient at the time. Painkillers are probably the best example. We shouldn't take them when we are healthy, it would be dangerous. Other medicines, such as antibiotics, work by killing pathogens directly and don't affect our bodies like the drugs in this discussion.

Yes, thanks for this.

It's I suppose possible to hit a simple optimization evolution hasn't found yet, but that's rarer than people seem to think. The major examples we have are either things which evolution lacks the tools for (e.g. mechanical prosthetics) or major biological leaps (e.g. your antibiotic example).

The things that look quick and easy like "eat some willow bark extract" have tradeoffs, even when they aren't obvious. Taking 'painkillers' to the extreme - morphine - makes it especially obvious. It's generally a terrible idea unless you've recognized that there's a problem and gotten someone else to take care of keeping you healthy while you're out of commission.

Could it be that one reason we use chemicals to "enhance" our brains is because we are living in ways we aren't intended to live? Human beings aren't made to sit in front of a screen for 16 hours a day. We probably shouldn't be as isolated as we can get, we shouldn't be living the way we live (in crowded cities, say, disconnected from family or community, doing one thing--coding, for example--for 10 hours at a time, etc.)Does that makes sense to anyone?

I instinctively like these arguments but I think we should be careful about indulging them. A big part of the human animals biological advantage is just how damn versatile it is. The range of diets, climates, and lifestyles which we tolerate is vast, compared to other animals. Different permutations may produce different outcomes in terms of happiness, health/longevity, and so on, but I doubt that you could find some particular permutation that is "the right one."

There is one version of this idea that I like though, which is that I doubt that we're built for 8+ hours a day of intense abstract reasoning, which seems to be what the modern information economy demands of those aspiring to a middle class or better existence. The vast bulk of humanity did not earn their daily bread this way for most of human history, so I don't think our brains are adapted for "abstract reasoning above all else."

Nor for non-movement and staring at a glowing rectangle all day while doing the intense abstract reasoning. We have all sorts of natural mechanisms in our bodies to produce reward chemicals that are not used at all in our lifestyles.

That's what I'm thinking (as I stare at a computer screen for 8 hours...)

I don't think this type of thinking is very productive - it's a romanticization of an ancestral past. The ancestral environment is useful for context for why things are the way they are, but it tells us nothing about the future. We can point back to the habits and lifestyles of the past and imagine cargo-culting their behavior will grant us the outcomes we prefer, but there's no understanding in it. Various communities even implement this, with varying success - see the Amish or Mormons.

As an aside, drug use was extremely common among indigenous peoples all across the world. I don't even think this naturalism fallacy supports these particular claims.

I think it depends on exactly how the question is framed, yes.

It's very useful to recognize when we aren't 'made' for something, because it implies we can get benefits from either avoiding it or supplementing our performance at the task. When we are "made for" a task, like walking for long periods or throwing objects with good aim, it's tough to improve on human baseline. (At least, not without serious side effects. There's a reason drugs to boost strength and physical endurance tend to be risky.)

But that distinction has to be kept separate from a values judgement. As I mentioned in another comment, "reading a good book" is something I'm not evolved to do. That might mean I should be prepared for challenges with the task (e.g. back pain if I sit for too long), but it's unrelated to whether I want to keep doing it.

The 'ancestral environment' stuff is likely to be easy or optimized-for, but that's not the same as being a better way to live.

Yes - this is one of Gwern's big points.

There shouldn't be any easy way to improve on what evolution tried to do, because evolution would have done it. But there can certainly be ways to optimize for things evolution didn't try to do, like preparing us to do symbolic logic for 40 hours a week or stay up well past dark. And there can be ways to optimize for goals evolution didn't/couldn't reward, like "never having kids and staying healthy until age 90".

I do think there's risk in blurring the moral point with the practical one, though. I'm not particularly evolved for reading books, but it's something I enjoy and I want 'hacks' to do it better - whether that's reading glasses or a cup of coffee. I don't like commuting while tired or being stationary for hours on end, and if I had free choice I'd stop doing those things instead of hacking myself to be better at them.

But in "enhancement" terms, they both count as "doing a thing I wasn't made to do" regardless of whether I want to keep doing them.

Our brains exist as an adaption to allow us to survive long enough to procreate. We did not evolve a brain to work harder, smarter or faster. The fitness function for evolution is not intelligence, it is survival and procreation.

It does not follow that evolution would maximize intelligence or performance.

Human intelligence exists as a by-product of many cumulative adaptions for survival.

One of the obvious ones is consuming excessive amounts of nutrients scarce in the ancestral environment. Like, you evolved in a place where you can't just buy Choline supplements, so "you're smarter but run out of Choline" isn't a thing that comes about.

Yeah, certainly true. I wish I had summarized more of Gwern's take, because he goes into piracetam + choline as a specific example. His take is that it doesn't violate the rule, but provides a case of a changing environment - burning choline for minor cognitive improvements is a vastly better deal than it was in a choline-scarce environment.

> "why would the brain evolve to benefit from a chemical it doesn't normally have?"

That's the thing, that's not how it works

The brain didn't evolve to be affected by substances unknown to it, it's plants that evolved substances that have CNS effects. (Though the body did evolve to depend on a lot of external substances - be that calorie and protein sources or vitamins)

Nicotine is literally a pesticide (and yes, people do use it as such in some occasions). Not sure how other substances evolved though (I think caffeine made the coffee seeds travel further)

I look at it as a loan. You're borrowing a little of tomorrow's (good mood, productivity, energy, etc. etc. depending on which drug it is) to use today, but you'll eventually have to pay it back with interest.

The analogy I like to use is "buying on credit" - you can choose the time and place of your enhanced productivity, but you pay for it later, with interest. You're not actually creating any new productivity, just shifting it around.

Caffeine certainly is a good, tame example. It's chemical effect is basically to block your brain from fatigue signals, perhaps analogous to anesthetic that blocks pain signals. It doesn't actually prevent fatigue, just as anesthetic doesn't actually prevent injury or damage. You are still burning through energy and accumulating sleep debt like anyone else.

I think it is more a sprint vs a marathon. Many people don't ease into drug usage nor do they try and follow any way to actually tell if they are getting any gains from it. We see this in all aspects of life specially in sports where athletes might actually hurt their performance because they start doing something like some oddball workout that is suppose to improve you or by working out more to try and get gains. Without data, numbers, and a third party watching you then you have no sure fire way to tell if you gaining anything from drugs. People abuse them hard starting out thinking they are a silver bullet, then burn out fast.

What made you decide to go cold turkey? (which sounds almost not-doable it's so tough). Did you hit some kind of wall? And would you mind commenting on what you think happens to engineers who don't use some kind of stimulant?

Suddenly ceasing stimulants does not involve nearly as acute or prolonged a withdrawal as opiates. There's no risk of seizures like there is with benzos. Your dopamine receptors will reset their tolerance much quicker than the 6 months I see cited throughout this thread. I have stopped stimulants many times with no more than a 1 week (maybe 10 day max) period of physical dependence symptoms.

When people experienced prolonged withdrawal symptoms from ceasing stimulants, I think it is usually due to being forced to confront life conditions that were being avoided.

I'm wondering if it's life conditions in many cases that is part of the reason for using in the first place? Yes, needing to work long hours is very real, but maybe the drugs also help to avoid life conditions that we don't want to deal with...

I see "helps me work" used pretty often as a rationalization for drug use that's actually a coping mechanism.

> I think it is usually due to being forced to confront life conditions that were being avoided.

This certainly may be part of it.

However, there are long-term changes in the brain that occur with chronic stimulant use/abuse. I'm looking for the correct number, but I believe it takes about 24 months for the brain to revert to its normal state after stimulant cessation.

"changes in the brain" is too vague to be useful.

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) is supposedly a thing that can last months, but it's just an observation of a collection of symptoms - no analysis of a specific mechanism causing it that I have seen.

> "changes in the brain" is too vague to be useful.

I would hope that someone trying to do something useful concerning addiction and the brain wouldn't go by a comment on Hacker News that was posted via a cell phone.

Anyway, please see my comment here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16477351

Source? (not nitpicking, genuinely curious)

I'm pretty busy so I can only do a cursory search. I cannot find the source I originally read this on, however I will try to find it when I am at home.

Here's what I could find via a preliminary Google search on my phone:

From drugabuse.gov [0]:

> In the aforementioned study, abstinence from methamphetamine resulted in less excess microglial activation over time, and abusers who had remained methamphetamine-free for 2 years exhibited microglial activation levels similar to the study’s control subjects. Another neuroimaging study showed neuronal recovery in some brain regions following prolonged abstinence (14 but not 6 months). This recovery was associated with improved performance on motor and verbal memory tests. But function in other brain regions did not recover even after 14 months of abstinence, indicating that some methamphetamine induced changes are very long lasting.

Here's a graphic they included [1].

This is another source [2]:

> Stopping drug use doesn’t immediately return the brain to normal. Some drugs have toxic effects that can kill neurons—and most of these cells will not be replaced. And while changes to connections between neurons in the brain may not be permanent, some last for months. Some research suggests the changes may even last for years.

I cannot find the studies these articles cite, but I'll try to find them later.

This is related, but is not specific to stimulant or methamphetamine use:

Delta-FosB, an enzyme that is critical to achieve an addiction state in the brain, has a half-life of ~208hr [3]. Multiply that by the standard 7 half-lives to estimate significant elimination, and that alone yields a maximum of 60 days until it is cleared. This enzyme is key in drug and behavioural addictions.

This paper [4] speculates about changes in the brain that last longer than the time it takes to eliminate elevated Delta-FosB levels in the brain.

[0] https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/meth...

[1] https://d14rmgtrwzf5a.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/met...

[2] http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/addiction/brainchange...

[3] http://www.jneurosci.org/content/jneuro/17/13/4933.full.pdf

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC58680/#__sec5ti...

I went cold turkey because I did not like the fact that I needed the drug to go about my day. I also started to get into crossfit/fitness and the really high dose stimulants made intense exercise feel like it was taxing my body way more than it should have.

I wanted to achieve everything naturally. I knew going off the drug would slow me down, but I was willing to trade general health and well-being for a drop in productivity.

Do you ever feel like everyone around you is doing some substance to make them work faster or better, and that you'll somehow fall behind or be at a professional disadvantage if yo don't?

My anecdote: In undergraduate engineering, a lot of the people around me were on ritalin. I never felt disadvantaged because I felt it didn't give anyone a clear advantage in the hardest subjects like mathematics or nonlinear control. From what I saw, it didn't seem to improve intelligence that much; rather it helped the distractable people to not get distracted from studying for example.

I felt that sense while I was down in the dumps after going cold turkey ... but now that I have more of a grasp on my life (married, dog, money in savings, living a healthy lifestyle, etc...) I no longer feel that way.

I don't live in Silicon Valley any longer though... so that might be part of the reason I don't feel the pressure.

Right now I might call myself a big fish in a little pond (not really, I am more humble than that) but compared to SF where you are a small fish in a big pond ... there is a lot more pressure to stand-out and be excellent.

Good point. And I'm interested in knowing how being in SV, as opposed to outside that particular fish bowl, affects drug use

I have a similar productive output currently as you described your amped up self to have and i drink 2 (sometimes 3) coffees a day. I get 1-2 hours cardio in 4 times a week and i spend time with my family. I sleep 7-8 hours a night. I take at least 1 day a weekend off completely.

Pills wouldn't help in fact they would make it more difficult. Organisation, ruthless priorization and discipline are the key. The rest is just distractions.

> Now I am 100% drug-free and am not at the same level I was back then

It pains me to think the abuse left permanent damage.

What kind of food do you eat on a "clean" low carb ketogenic diet?

You never had full blown ADHD so you literally were getting high off stims and pulling through insane hours. Amps make the ADHD brain feel baseline normal to that of neurotypical brains.

Congrats on kicking the pills.

Any chance you can explain why? Not enough hours in the day kind of thing? Is the only route to success in software engineering to work 24/7?

I think a human being is really only capable of like 6 hours of solid mental work throughout the day. And even that is tough, with all the distractions of modern life. When you take something like Adderall, that doubles to, say 12 hours and enables you to get hyper-focused on the task at hand. Sure, you can still get hyper-focused on the wrong thing, but if you can reign that in you're golden.

Not only that, the amount of things you accomplish in that time span is far greater. So it really does turn you into a 10x engineer. If you're already very strong, experienced, pragmatic, etc.. then the stimulants will truly make you feel invincible.

So if you see a software engineer at a big company who is making 200k a year while simultaneously putting out dozens of open source projects a year, maintaining them, speaking at conferences, managing complex hobbies, etc... chances are that is due to a stimulant drug. I know very few people who are capable of that naturally.

As someone who has been on stimulants since they were thirteen, you still only have 6 hours of productive time. You just also have 6 hours of flailing about like a headless chicken. Sure it'll help you with mundane and routine tasks, but not with stuff that requires a ton of brain power.

Edit: What I see a lot of is people who think they are super productive while churning out lines and lines of garbage.

This is very true. I didn’t realize I had ADHD until after a year of college, but basically the first few days of taking stims are basically borderline hypo manic - you havw (seemingly) limitless enrgy, enthusiasm, confidence, drive. Work is intrinsically fun (although it’s actually extrinsic since it’s drug induced).

Then tolerance rears its head and it becomes exactly like you said. For me it takes till I get close to t_max (peak blood concentration) that my day really starts, which is from 1-3 hrs after dosing (closer to 3 for the drugs I take)

If it feels more like flailing now than super productivity, have you stopped taking stimulants (or do you have to because of an attention issue)?

I have to. For me stimulants help me put my six hours of productivity to work. I have pretty severe ADHD.

Very insightful, I think, about the exec at a big company. A therapist who treats tech people in Sil Val said she has been told there is coke being done openly at some exec committee/board meetings, etc. and pressure to do it. Like Wall Street in the 1980s. Do you think there's any validity to this?

I'm not so sure about that (never seen it myself)... but cocaine is a LOT more prevalent than people realize.

There is a funny meme I saw recently that rings true:

    Two biggest shocks of adult life. 

    1. everyone does cocaine

    2. cheese is fucking expensive

Man, I really wouldn't. My understanding is that of the people who present to the emergency department with chest pain, something like a third of them have been using cocaine. It causes Real Problems.


Manchego on the other hand, worth every penny and a great source of butyrate, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/304454916_The_neuro...

This is a little disingenuous, without further elucidation. As far as the statistic you have quoted is concerned, it tells us nothing about how dangerous cocaine is. We need to know how many out of the total population of cocaine users experience chest pain, how many of them go to an ER, and then how many of those (who in total make up 1/3 of ER presentations with chest pain) are further diagnosed with some actual serious problem...

if we don't know what the outcome of these ER visits are, then it could well be that for some tiny percentage of cocaine users there is a side effect that causes the perception of chest pain, which disappears with no ill effects after a few hours. or, maybe, this represents almost all cocaine users - 90% of them experience severe enough chest pain to warrant an ER visit, all of whom are pronounced dead withing minutes of arrival.

annoyingly, the website you linked to which details this singular datum, does nothing to clarify as to what the truth of the matter is. it certainly doesn't appear to be "advancing addiction science" in any useful way...

That could also mean a third of the population uses cocaine.

thanks for the link. I need to find updated stats on that. I wonder if the number of those in the ER because of cocaine has risen....

I don't think this is actually true. I've certainly been in places where there have been people on cocaine (and sneaking off the bathroom to "top up" mid-party), but in my experience that's rare, and even rarer for it to be an in-your-face, obvious thing. There are certain social/professional groups where it _is_ the norm, but more so in the sense of being a "vocal minority".

While I'd give you the point, my personal experience is that its only prevalent in certain circles, and in those circles its EXTREMELY prevalent.

Out of curiosity, did the stuff you learned during that time also increase 10x? Did it all stick with you, or did it just temporarily increase your ability to hold it all in your head?

It's great for long-term memory, but short-term memory loss is a side effect of amphetamines. You can read a textbook and retain all of it, but you may not remember where you put it when you finished.

Yes, absolutely. It's still here, thankfully :)

This is an addict's (unreliable) perception, not reality. In reality, software engineers are so valuable and highly sought after that you can have basically any lifestyle you want and still be successful.

That's the perception, and you're likely to find that perception in this thread, but I don't believe it.

Work smart or go home.

I remember your article. I hope it helps to have the ability to so beautifully render the tragedy that befell you in words.

I'm in tech. My first experience with drugs other than weed, which I just don't enjoy, happened relatively late. I was around 30 at the time when I joined friends of a friend taking MDMA at a club.

I have experienced chronic depression for as long as I can remember. I was rarely actually "sad", as one might think. I was simply experiencing most emotions through a sort of fog. The most troubling symptom has always been what one would just call "extreme laziness". Even though I frequently attempted all sorts of methods to motivate myself and acquire discipline, I always failed. Recently, I found a "contract" I made with myself when I must have been around 12 years old, specifying all sorts of activities such as sports, reading, and socialising to be completed on a schedule for certain rewards. Later, I sought help through the medical system. But even though I tried three different anti-depressants and two therapists, their valiant efforts failed to make a dent.

After three years of recreational drugs I cannot say that they are the answer to my problem. But it is certainly an experience that has helped me make some inroads. Much like learning to bike with training wheels, they gave me an appreciation of the range of emotions one can experience. Both exhilarating, all-forgetting thrill, as well as content serenity, were states I only knew from literature.

I've consumed MDMA, 2CB, LSD, Speed, and Ketamine. I'm staying away from Cocaine, all opiates, and GHB. I do consume speed at work. The enjoyment of working in a flow-like state is magnificent, although it comes with its own downsides, mostly a tendency to dive into time-wasting side-issues. Even though I have overdone it on multiple occasions, sometimes working for four days straight, I've have never had trouble not taking anything for a few weeks when I was travelling, or simply ran out. I've also almost completely stopped drinking alcohol.

I've been in a joyful relationship for the last five years, and we've used drugs to find previously unthought-of depts of sexual pleasure.

it was enormously freeing to finally be able to write about what happened to my family, yes, thank you. I felt like I was living in a John Grisham created hell, afraid of telling anyone what really happened and instead acting like Peter was the victim of his own stringent work ethic (which is true and not true). May I ask you what you do for a living? Are you a developer?

I earn my living running a small company selling a consumer product online. The business is mostly automated these days, and my productive time is spend on two projects in the machine learning space, one focussed on politics and one on music.

While still in high school, I started a software company selling mostly to large business and government. It was there that I noticed that I'm incapable of functioning in a corporate world with multi-year 7-figure projects. So the next business was deliberately focussed on many, smaller customers, each of whom I can hang up on if I so feel.

You can email me at anthonyDOTk e m p AT protonmail.ch (remove spaces, replace DOT with . AT with @) if you have more questions.

did you just dox yourself?

I’m not convinced that productivity is a virtue for software engineers.

I have production code running untouched for over 8 years that was produced in the laziest straight forward way as possible, simply because I didn’t feel like working so hard. Indeed, I delayed writing any code until I came up with an idea of the minimum amount of code I could get away with, then I minimized that some more. I’ve eliminated entire features by simply procrastinating them until people realized they didn’t actually need them.

Would a crackhead engineer stop and reflect on the best use of their personal time on this Earth? Probably not, they’d probably just bull through and slave away to “get things done” at the altar of productivity.

By that same token:

I know of two engineers who are pot smokers (wake up and smoke type of people) - without pot they are bulls in china shopm with pot they tend to be calmer and more personable. I don't advocate for self medicating but these two have it down to a science and it is of benefit to their code quality.

By that same token I can point to two people who smoked pot and wrote the worst code imaginable....

The difference between them is night and day -

I get a lot of honest reactions from current drug users because I'm very frank with my past (I ate all the chemicals) -

I think that there is a big set of distinctions between recreation, abuse and use of drugs, and that every one not only treats what they take differently but reacts very differently to it as well.

> the laziest straight forward way as possible, simply because I didn’t feel like working so hard. Indeed, I delayed writing any code until I came up with an idea of the minimum amount of code I could get away with

The quality of a senior software developer.

This is my favorite comment of the thread. I approach my work with a similar mindset. Deliver more value by simplifying and staying relaxed.

Using stimulants like Adderall is not mutually exclusive with this ideal.

I've known engineers who do exactly this. They plan out what they're working on minimally and architect it out in the best and most simple way possible. When it comes time to write code, they take their prescribed stimulants and they work.

Ah, a perl user ;)

For those who don't know :

"The three principal virtues of a programmer are Laziness, Impatience and Hubris." - Perl man page

There is a population of media developers that are fairly heavy marijuana users. By 'media developer' I mean animation, VFX, games, and other graphics & entertainment related type of software. We tend to be older, having been in graphics and media for 20 to 30 years for most of us pothead graphics junkies. We have bongs and all the typical pot smoking accessories out in the open at our offices, and they are in active use throughout the day, from the moment the day starts.

In general, we are people that write the core software of the renderer, the simulation, the shaders, the production tools, or other somewhat overly complex yet creative element of our work. We've been leads for 20 years, at least. We're all people that enter into deep states of flow when stoned, and many of us believe the pot is required to quickly enter flow and then stay there for hours on end as we develop.

We're split between people with pot belly and people that actively work out. The only consistency of this crowd is we all use pot to isolate ourselves into our work, and we're working in media production.

Now media production itself drives many people to drugs, simply due to the pressure of that ever present deadline. I'd like to clarify that the pot smoking developers I'm talking about typically ignore this pressure, mocking it, because they have already adopted an obsessive developer lifestyle. These are basically creative stoners that would work like this anyway, and are glad to get paid well doing what they love anyway. Also, this is all we do, pretty much 7 days a week. We're obsessive, the pot seems to aid that obsession, our employers like our productivity and look the other way towards our open smoking in the studio.

Personally, I smoke about 1 oz of high grade Indica per week. The typical pot smoker is 1/8th that.

> We're all people that enter into deep states of flow when stoned, and many of us believe the pot is required to quickly enter flow and then stay there for hours on end as we develop.

Same here. Extremely deep flow state. Anything distracting or urgent is largely ignorable. Rewards from accomplishing things are increased. The problem at hand becomes the main thing. Anxieties, fears and worries are greatly attenuated.

I spend a lot of time meditating, trying to reduce the negatives so I can cope when I'm around normies at my day job. But I get much more done at home alone, vaping.

btw, have you experimented with edibles? Might be easier on your longs than bongs...

Do you think that the pot is countering any depression or down feelings that may come from being isolated for so long each day? That sounds really hard, even if you really like the work.

We are and are not isolated. The studios tend to put us all together in a less traveled part of the lot, and beyond the fact that we all prefer to stare at our screens 12+ hours a day, we are social with each other. As I said, the bongs are in active use throughout the day. Anytime anyone loads a bowl, it gets passed to everyone in that room, who will pause, take a hit, join the conversation or simply look back to their screen. It's social and isolated at the same time.

A somewhat odd reoccurring conversation we all have is discussing our dislike of long periods of not being stoned. I personally feel I get naively optimistic, and being stoned make me more critical. I am more easy going (too easy going?) when completely sober, and tend towards obsessive creative introspection when high. It is not a rare topic, the discussion of our long term heavy use, for those of us that are more health minded. In addition to my heavy smoking, I ironically am a marathon runner too.

Do you all discuss the heavy use because you're concerned about the toll it could take on your lungs, in the same way you might be concerned if it was tobacco? or is it more than that? (also I can't believe you can run marathons and smoke that much!)

It's split between discussions of physical health and mental health. General consensus towards physical seems to be between belief they are a bit less than cigarettes to surprise and interest in pot being significantly less harmful, somewhat similar to a typical city's smog. Discussions of the mental impact are concession we all achieve flow and greater life stability from the high. Perhaps there is a general tendency towards mild hyperactivity among us, and we're a leveling self medicated crowd that all happened to be around when entertainment went digital. We all certainly know one another, at the multiple studios, now spread out globally. Over the last few decades we've worked at all the major animation/vfx/game studios.

Also, getting high is much, much less smoke than 1 cigarette, sorta. The hits, the draws, are much larger, but in 1-2 minutes you're done. Versus a cigarette is 15 to 20 draws over 5-7 minutes. Getting high 10 times a day is about the same as 2-3 cigarettes. Whereas a cigarette smoker goes though 10-20 cigarettes per day.

> We're all people that enter into deep states of flow when stoned, and many of us believe the pot is required to quickly enter flow and then stay there for hours on end as we develop.

Same here. Extremely deep flow state. Anything distracting or urgent is largely ignorable. Rewards from accomplishing things are increased. The problem at hand becomes the main thing. Anxieties, fears and worries are greatly attenuated.

I spend a lot of time meditating, trying to reduce the negatives so I can cope when I'm around normies at my day job. But I get much more done at home alone, vaping.

I'm a New York-based finance professional (former investment banker turned private equity investor) with a background using a wide variety of drugs, but mostly heroin. Besides heavy drinking and rare cocaine use among younger peers (analysts), I didn't see a lot of substance abuse. I often felt quite alone, especially in using my drugs of choice.

I started using heroin right after I graduated high school, and used it throughout undergrad, as it honestly helped me get better grades by quieting the turmoil in my mind. I experimented with suboxone and methadone after graduation, and was using a mix of methadone, Provigil (a stimulant, to counteract the drowsiness from the methadone), and alprazolam (to take the edge off the Provigil) when I started my first banking job in NY. I was let go for nodding off at work.

At my next job, I started using heroin again after a brief period being drug-free, and started injecting. I had a short-lived job at another investment bank, where I injected heroin, cocaine, or a mix of both pretty much all day at work, even setting up a way to do it at my desk discreetly to avoid having to get up and go to the restroom so often. That job obviously did not last long.

I used like that for a few months, got another job at a bank, and stopped those drugs, but continued to seek prescription painkillers sporadically, and drink to take the edge off. I managed to keep it together for that job, but my overall demeanor made it tough to really succeed. Before starting in private equity, I got sober (no controlled substances or alcohol anymore), and have been sober since mid-2012. It's been the biggest and best decision of my life.

I used to think I was perhaps one of just a handful of finance professionals with as intense background in hard drugs, but I'm coming to see there are too many of us out there.

Serious question, how did you obtain a series of banking jobs after previous employers noticed (fired you for?) your drug use? Do prospective employers overlook these things, or never check references?

A lot of times, previous employers won't actually say anything during a reference-check other than to confirm dates of employment.

However asinine, they risk a lawsuit if they say something negative and the candidate doesn't get hired, and there's no benefit to themselves being forthcoming.

Off-topic & realize it's a throwaway account, but would be interested in discussing the career-switch with you.

wow, what an intense journey.

Glad you're looking into this.

As a counterpoint: I've been a developer 10 years. I've worked at a few established businesses, two startups (one U.S. based and one German), and two consultancies. I worked in-person in Charlotte, N.C. and remotely since then. I've never worked in Silicon Valley.

One employer had a "play hard" culture, encouraging alcohol (ab)use outside of work. I didn't stay there long.

Perhaps I've self-selected based on my values (I don't work overtime), but I've never heard drug use condoned in any of those places, or at conferences I've attended. And I've often heard overwork spoken of as counter-productive and exploitative, as a thing that wise coders avoid.

I was not aware that "drug use as a programming aid" existed in the industry, though, human nature being what it is, I'm not shocked.

Just a caution that this shouldn't be portrayed as if it's ubiquitous without statistical evidence of that.

I definitely fall on this side of the scale. I've certainly heard of people using "performance enhancers" in a programming context, and have seen hard drug use at parties (very infrequently), but it was never my thing (hell, I don't even drink coffee), and none of the people I know well and consider solid developers have a drug habit.

I think -- and this cuts both ways -- people into the drug scene naturally gravitate toward others that are also into it, to the point where they think "everyone" does it. I suspect tech's drug problem isn't markedly larger than society's drug problem as a whole; it's perhaps smaller considering knowledge workers get paid based on how well their brains work, and long-term most drugs seem to mess that up.

I'd love to see a concerted effort to study the prevalence of this sort of thing. It's frustrating that I can't validate my expectations here.

I would love to see a study too.

Yes absolutely understand that. And I'm coming at this as someone trying to learn what the situation is--I don't have a preconceived notion of stimulant or amphetamine use as being pervasive. That's why I'm here--to learn. Thanks.

I'd like to echo nathan_long's sentiments.

I worked for a small startup in Atlanta from 97-2000, then another startup in Silicon Valley from 2000-2004 (yay dotcom boom -- I slept under my desk more than once). I relocated to NC in 2004 and continued to work for that company (from its newly acquired NC office) till it was acquired by HP. I remained at HP a couple years. In 2009, I joined another SV startup (my third I guess) and worked from home for that startup till it was acquired by Yahoo in 2013. I've been at Yahoo, now Oath/Verizon since.

In all that time post-college, I've never used any form of drugs (besides occasional alcohol either outside of work or at a company party, beer bash Friday, etc), never felt any pressure to do so, and I've not been aware of drug use by colleagues with the exception of one person, but even that was hearsay to me.

Some of the stories I read about SV, I wonder how I could be missing so much (see for example, "The Nudist on the Late Shift").

That said, I tend to keep to myself. For me, work is work, and play is play, and I'd rather not cross the lines.

46 y/o, highly compensated software developer, married, father of two, used marijuana recreationally in college (I have a funny federal security clearance story about that...), never used any other drugs besides one not so good evening with LSD. Long distance running is how I keep my head straight, besides getting enough sleep and a relatively good diet.

Working in the valley for the past 10+ years, I've pretty much had the same experience as you. I'm sure in some circles overwork and drug use on the job are the norm, but certainly not everywhere.

a problem for me, as a reporter, is the lack of statistical evidence of any kind for this. It's very difficult to get an accurate portrayal of the problem based on surveys that would require self-reports. That's why forums like these are helpful in informing my reporting.

Yep, I understand you can't easily get stats on this. I just didn't want you to hear exclusively from one side.

There are reports of cocaine being detected in waste water (1). You could approach water companies to see how granular their data is. Perhaps you can see that there are peaks of coke in the sewers near Wall Street or Madison Avenue.

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/cocaine-use-i...

You'd probably just get a heatmap where there is little use of water. i.e. a single individual doing cocaine in a suburb would show far greater concentrations than 100 people doing cocaine at a rave at some farm that's irrigated on a daily basis, or 100 people doing cocaine at a wall street office party above a bunch of laundromat companies.

Wow, this discussion is mindblowing. Working in software dev for 20 years, in Germany, and I have never seen any developer taking any stimulants. But maybe this is because only my first job was at a young startup, and I quickly learned that working 24/7 just isn't for me and I need a more stable environment.

Today, the way whalesalad and others describe the effect of Adderall sounds interesting to me, but I would never take the risk. I want to see my kids grow up, and I certainly wouldn't give this up just to be able to work more hours...

You need to reply to the comment by Blahah who thinks literally every developer in Germany is high all the time.

I think people who do drugs just gravitate to other people that do drugs.

For me, the limiting factor on my productivity is not how god-like my mental state is, it's whether I can get the info I need from that guy on the other team or when the project manager will sign off on a needed change :)

I live in Germany and can confirm that almost every German acquaintance I have who are in my age(27 have been here since 22) and work in tech has smoked or actively smokes marijuana. According to them it is "no big deal". Both men and women. I worked at an employer in the Cybersecurity industry, many potheads as well, openly so. At that employer there were around 60 people counting the secretaries. I know, for a fact, that at least 10(one woman, a couple of the men with anxiety issues and depression) smoked marijuana, at least one did coke and all had the typical "drink booze till you pass out" German attitude.

Take my anectdata with a grain of salt.

I think in the US people are starting to classify marijuana with alcohol and tobacco. It's not illegal in a lot of states, where I live (in the US) it is legal for recreational use. My understanding was this discussion was about more illicit drug use.

I feel completely the same! I have been working in electrical engineering in Zurich, and I've never seen or heard anyone use anything other than caffeine during and alcohol after work. Now I wonder whether I'm just naive or there is a massive cultural divide between Silicon Valley and Central Europe w.r.t. stimulants.

Meanwhile cocaine usage in Zürich is one of the highest in Europe ( https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/drug-capitals_zurich-is-europe-... ) which boggles my mind - I assume this is the finance industry

Not only that but Zurich has been a drug hotspot in the 80s; we had cocaine, heroine, and, we believe, we found out how to fight it: https://www.pri.org/stories/2016-02-12/us-can-learn-lot-zuri...

Now it changed for the better but still the drug scene is relatively big and cocaine is used a lot both by youngsters 18-25 yrs olds and probably also by bankers.

I agree. You really feel how people in Zurich (in social settings) are more tolerant towards drugs than in most other European cities. It's almost like Amsterdam.

You really feel how people in Zurich (in social settings) are more tolerant towards drugs than in most other European cities. It's almost like Amsterdam.

I can add one anecdatum, I'm from the Netherlands and don't know of drug abuse in the two businesses I interned at. I do know that some friends of mine, who are devs/engineers, occasionally use various drugs recreationally, but never for work.

The only drug use I know of is ritalin or other legal stimulants for those diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, and of course coffee/tea/alcohol.

as someone in his late twenties from the netherlands, i roughly have the same experience. The recreational drug use has more to do with age in my experience then workfields. Most people i know who did softdrugs casually stopped doing so once they either settled down or got kids.

It might just be my enviroment, but alcohol use is rampant and also heavily culturally ingrained in my area. (i live in the southern part of the netherlands. Drinking during dinner is not uncommon for example, even on weekdays.

Same here. I have worked in Germany, Spain and London and never seen any drug use. I would have shocked me for sure. I don't see the point or need.

I would apply a grain of salt to the claims of people who are avid drug users, as to the popularity of drugs. There is an incredibly strong “birds of a feather flock together,” effect at play. The social circles of people who think they need drugs to do their job are going to only minimally overlap with people who find that notion crazy and dangerous.

So it's two separate cultures at work in the same industry--people who pretty much have no experience or want of drugs and a culture of using drugs, trying lots of things to get a productivity and efficiency boost?

It’s not just in the industry, it’s probably from high school or uni, but yeah you have the idea.

> There is an incredibly strong “birds of a feather flock together,” effect at play


As an engineer who doesn't take any stimulants, what does it look like when another person is on Adderall? Maybe I'd notice a person snorting cocaine at work, but if I saw someone taking a pill? I'd figure it's probably just a painkiller, or a multi-vitamin, or for some health condition. Never would I suspect Adderall or some other stimulant. I basically presume that nobody at my office takes Adderall because I would never take it myself.

As one of those people, I completely agree. My entire social circle uses drugs in some way. But that means I don't see outside it. And I very often connect with people, adding them to my circle, because we subtly realise we both share that experience. So definitely don't assume my experiences are a random sample of the population :)

I am open to discussing this in raw detail - contact in my profile.

Most programmers, scientists, people in finance and startups I know take a lot of stimulants. I take a lot of stimulants.

[Edit - as others have pointed out, there's a strong selection bias going on here. I actively seek out people who I know take stimulants, and we naturally congregate socially based on a bunch of subtle and explicit cues that signal we are safe to talk to about this kind of thing. My experience is not a random sample - I'm just responding to the request in the OP]

I have pretty severe ADD, so I take ritalin. Initially it was on prescription, but then I realised it was actually easier and cheaper to just get it from other sources.

I was pretty productive before because I developed a bunch of working practices that mostly contained the ADD, but with ritalin... I feel superhuman. And to be honest I can output an order of magnitude more and better than most people when I'm up. I recently moved to Berlin, where everyone is up all the time. Like, I know people who founded or are working for hundreds of businesses. Everyone, every single person, is up all the time. Adderall, dexedrine, ritalin, plain old speed paste, cocaine, kratom, modafinil. LSD or MDMA microdosing. Everyone works best when they are up. Then on the flip side, xanax, zopiclone, diazepam help control the wiredness and allow you to sleep when you want. Everyone is doing this. I know it's the same in London and New York.

If I have a good week, I generally will take perhaps 30mg Adderall IR a day, or 50mg Ritalin IR. If I need to brainstorm or deliver something with someone we order whatever (stimulants are delivered within 15-30 min by taxi here) and work through the night to get stuff done. This is normal. It's strange to me to see this being described as a problem because... it's not a problem. It is fairly low risk (compared to e.g. binge drinking) and it completely transforms your ability to work. It's so normal to me that I don't hide it from anyone and nobody ever complained. I meet random people, like undergraduate students from the USA who are visiting, and they are in exactly the same routine. Everyone works best with stimulants.

I lived in London for a few years to work in finance (top tier banks as well as hedge funds). I haven't met a single person who takes any sort of stimulants besides coffee. I'm a software engineer myself and your world seems very different from mine despite having worked in the same city. Your normality looks completely foreign to me.

Interesting! That is... really quite surprising to me. I don't know many people anywhere in the world who don't at least recreationally take drugs. I think perhaps we just inhabit different worlds. One thing I can promise you though, is that you do know people who are taking stimulants. They just aren't telling anyone :)

I have to say I agree with 'stzup7. I work in finance in NYC; it's a high-money, high-tech, high-drinking environment. I have coworkers that work too hard. They're not taking anything more than coffee.

I know a couple of people outside of my field who are taking stimulants and talking about it. I know a couple people within my field (and outside) who take drugs solely recreationally, not as a performance booster or a way to get to sleep or anything, and certainly not on a regular let alone daily basis.

And I definitely know enough people within my field closely to know that they're not taking stimulants.

I think you just inhabit a different world, yes. (And I worry whether you inhabit a world of people who think they're productive; a sizable number of the the really productive and skilled people I know tend to be so clean that they don't even drink.)

Your last point is a particularly interesting one. A lot of the most productive and skilled people I know are also very clean. But a good number of them are also using stimulants.

I think we all inhabit a world of people who think they are productive - in the sense that many people optimise for the appearance of productivity as opposed to optimising for actual productivity or value generation. I can honestly say that stimulants make a vast, objective difference to my work output and quality (but I actually do have ADD so I'm not a good measure). I have also seen many other people produce extraordinarily good work on stimulants. At the same time some of the very best people I know don't need them and wouldn't touch them. We don't all have the natural ability or background those people have, so stimulants are a proxy. Quite probably many people are not achieving their maximum potential simply by using stimulants. Quite probably many people are decreasing the quantity or quality of their output by using stimulants. But objectively (as in, see the scientific literature) they do work. Whether people make them work for them is a different matter.

>I can honestly say that stimulants make a vast, objective difference to my work output and quality

What objective measures are you using to evaluate yourself? are you in the top 1% of earners for your experience level, position, city?

I am not comparing myself to others, but to myself without stimulants. I simply do more and better work, by very simple measures like completing tasks and delivering projects to the satisfaction (or joy) of my clients.

> One thing I can promise you though, is that you do know people who are taking stimulants. They just aren't telling anyone

Yeah, I guess so. I'm also in Berlin, and a lot of people take some kind of stimulant. As someone not taking any stimulants (not even coffee), it was quite hard to spot it in the beginning. At one point I was working with a larger group of people and only after a few months I was told that more than half of them were on some kind of stimulant almost constantly.

So how do you spot that?

The closest I came was when I had some papers on my desk that were given out for free somewhere and somebody informed me that that was used mainly for smoking pot. I had no idea.

It's almost an opposite of Hanlon's razor: "Attribute to drugs what you could attribute to lack of sleep (or similar)". That plus physical tells are the biggest indicators. In the end I wouldn't say that could give a definite evaluation if someone is using drugs or not in most cases.

You have, they just haven't told you about it and you haven't spotted it.

drug people find other drug people because drugs

I was diagnosed with ADD in college and put on Dexedrine. It does an incredibly good job of helping you focus and help you get things done.

I feared the drug though and never took it as much as prescribed. I phased it out completely after a few years and later realized that there are other factors that can help just as much with your attention deficit. Sleep, diet, and exercise are insanely important. I believe a lot of people on drugs for ADD could just focus on these 3 things and effectively cure their ADD. Definitely not all people, I am sure there are plenty that need help, but a lot of the time I see it overprescribed (in my non-medical opinion). Just moving to a low carb diet helps a ton. Sleep helps a ton. Exercise helps you feel good and sleep well. On the flip side, bad sleep habits (like those you develop in college) lead to bad eating habits and bad exercise habits. It's a vicious circle. Stimulants help you avoid those healthy habits with some of the same positive outcomes (at the expense of health).

I think you are crazy though if you think prolonged exposure to these drugs is fairly low risk. You build up a tolerance, you need to take more, and it does have long term effects. It seems like you are in your early 30's so you may have been doing this routine for the past 10. If so, when do you think you will stop? Never? Please talk to a professional about it.

I am in my early 30s and have been using drugs recreationally since I was 11. Thank you for caring :) I appreciate it. I am a professional though, and I am comfortable with my current use. It has been toned down massively since I was younger, and become much safer and more careful. I do agree though that people should be careful. I don't advocate for wanton drug taking.

I’m that squeaky clean guy in high school that (unbelievably) never even encountered anyone smoking marijuana back then. My social circle did not and still doesn’t really include much drug use. Yet I’ve directly observed Adderall abuse in Silicon Valley. That’s how prevalent it must be.

what makes you resist going that route? Do you also feel pressure in the profession to work longer, produce more, etc.?

Gray hair helps. I’ve got enough experience at this point where I can be productive without going into “production frenzy.” Lots of the younger folks don’t get that yet and think it’s all about how much code you write or how long you’re at your desk. I like to think of it as the difference between doing work vs “producing evidence of having done work.” There is a lot of pressure to do the latter I think, especially for the junior folks.

In your experience, is there more substance use (drugs, assuming alcohol is used sometimes to excess by all age groups) among the junior folks, because of the difference in the pressure they feel?

That would require more speculation than I’m willing to engage in. I can comment on the various pressures to perform that apply to older and younger tech folks, and why I personally don’t feel the need to go the Adderall route (essentially I don’t think the results of merely more output are worth it). To put the two together I’d encourage you to find people currently going down that route for their perspective. Given the discussion here it shouldn’t be hard to find a few! Good luck.

I live and work in Berlin for years now, working in startups, and I haven't met anybody that (openly) uses anything harder than tobacco or coffee, nor I met anybody who said they knew somebody to do that.

Beer is common after work, once in a while. However, what you describe is definitively not normal. Not that I find that problem, or high-risk, or anything - it's just the fact that it would just surely catch attention if anybody from my work environment (30+ close coworkers) notice somebody like you're describing.

I really don't see any reason you would notice it if you aren't doing it yourself. I connect with people based on it, and I find it easy to spot who is doing it because I've been around it for a long time. But most people in my life have no idea that I take stimulants, even though I don't try to hide it. It's just a tablet a few times a day, nobody notices. And the visible effects at work doses are mild, it doesn't turn you into a raving crackhead.

chiming in here to corroborate that stimulant use/abuse is heavily prevalent in scientists and startup types that i know.

even the md/phd types who have been in clinical practice for 20 years do it, even after they've had kids etc. most only abuse coffee-- you can tell because the norm is to drink coffee until you're literally red in the face when there is serious work to get done. there are people who abstain, of course. they aren't looked down on, but they're probably not as productive on average.

coffee isn't bad at all. but plenty of others use/abuse prescription stimulants too, usually a bit more clandestinely in my experience. but if you know what to look for it's easy to tell when they're on them.

it makes sense. the point where people need stimulants the most is in synthesizing experimental insights into new hypotheses in light of other literature. it takes a lot of brainpower to keep trucking... you can take a crack at it without stimulants, but you'll run out of steam quickly.

as far as the downside, a handful of people binge drink to come down, but it isn't the norm, except during social events. there are a few who smoke weed / take xanax at work to calm down, but these are frowned upon somewhat.

> a handful of people binge drink to come down

Biologist here, and yep, that was the only real discernible downside to me. Especially when I was new to the drug (Adderall) and didn't know how to time the doses and therefore took them too late in the day, I would get a powerful urge to drink about 3-5 hours after the last dose to come down. However, if you dose early enough in the day you will come down naturally.

Besides the desire to "drink to come down", the other problem is that Adderall will make you feel clearer and more energetic for longer while drinking, making it easier to miss the warning signs that you are approaching (or have passed) the "too much" threshold.

I am not aware of stimulant use being very common among the people I work with, and you are absolutely right that it is easy to tell the symptoms.

Relevant article: https://www.nature.com/news/2008/080409/full/452674a.html

If ~20% of biologists (broadly speaking, and higher in younger cohorts) "have used" a drug to enhance performance, then the number regularly using must be lower, unless there is selection bias in this informal poll, and if there was I would suspect the bias would be towards an overestimate of use, as people interested in the question seem more likely to respond.

Overall, then, I would guess use in these fields is "semi-rare" (maybe 5-10% of the population are regular users).

>most only abuse coffee-- you can tell because the norm is to drink coffee until you're literally red in the face when there is serious work to get done.

That doesn't make sense. Being tweaked on caffeine doesn't make you more productive. It doesn't even make you feel more productive.

> there are a few who smoke weed / take xanax at work to calm down, but these are frowned upon somewhat.

I find that attitude hilarious. Rampant stimulant abuse is the norm and is accepted, but combining with another drug to calm down is a no-no? Amazing.

So is it almost impossible to be a top scientist in your field if you don't get some help so that you can have those epiphany-producing insights, etc?

I... doubt that's true. I imagine there are people who think that this help will help them become top scientists (and maybe we should have a talk about the pressure to succeed etc.). But I suspect that a lot of the actual top scientists are plain good at what they do, and they neither need nor want the effects of drugs in their work.

(Which is very different from recreational use, of course, or recreational use turning into addiction.)

I was at Cambridge for 4 years and I can safely say that none of the professors in my department were using stimulants other than coffee. I can clock someone who is up across a crowded room. None of them were ever up. A large number of the ambitious PhD students and postdocs were though, and a very large proportion of the undergraduates. I think it's probably a generational thing. Students sell to students. Nobody is selling to professors, and even if they tried, those people have already achieved their success in a generation of people that didn't have access to these things.

I think we will see a generation of people come into these positions (e.g. professorships) where a significant proportion of them are using pharmaceutical enhancement as one of the many tools in their box. Stimulants aren't magic, they don't make idiots clever. But if you're a clever person who is tired or stressed, they can (seem to) make a big difference.

how can you tell if someone is up? Just from years of using stimulants yourself or are there obvious, telltale signs? I missed a boatload of them with Peter.

Dilated pupils. Tense jaw. Muscles around the eyes are slightly more tense (small wrinkles temporarily disappear for example). People react faster and speak more coherently (or if they took too much, incoherently but very fast). Dry mouth (very slight lisping or tongue sticking when they talk). Straighter back, clenched fists, grasping or fidgeting hands that they don't normally have. A general appearance of alertness. Unusually impressive performance in a social situation.

Some combination of the above, but it's pretty obvious once you get used to it. At the same time, I'm pretty sure many people in my life have no idea that I take stimulants (though as I said, I don't hide it), but just see me as being at my best when I'm on them.

understood, thanks.

Flinches if surprised, picks at skin or scratches more than normal (there might be visible sores from this), intense preoccupation with things ordinarily beneath interest, hard to interrupt from work, drinks lots of water if responsible, particularly unconcerned with thirst if not. Particularly prone to discuss subjects at length, perhaps an unusually quiet or loud vocal tone.

There's also of course the side effect list, which usually reflects this sort of thing: https://www.drugs.com/sfx/amphetamine-side-effects.html

> Flinches if surprised, picks at skin or scratches more than normal (there might be visible sores from this), intense preoccupation with things ordinarily beneath interest, hard to interrupt from work, drinks lots of water if responsible, particularly unconcerned with thirst if not.

... is someone giving me stimulants without my knowledge? That's me at baseline.

Or should I cut out even my one cup of coffee per day?

(Excess) scratching, excess fidgeting. Staring off into the distance in the same direction for a while. Overconfidence and they really like to talk about stimulants ;-).

Part of what I'm trying to determine is if that pressure to succeed makes people believe they need something to be competitive. My daughter, for example, sometimes feels like she's at a disadvantage at college because so many of her peers are taking adderall (w/o a prescription) for tests and studying. Is it the same after college, professionally?

IME, in academic biology, the answer is generally no. Personally, I do use, but it isn't a result of competition, but rather a desire to achieve the most I can for a goal I care about. I don't feel pressured in any way to make this decision; if anything, the pressure is slightly in the other direction.

The big trouble with it is that a drug -- any drug -- will alter your perception of the world such that it is difficult to know with absolute confidence whether you are taking the drug for purely rational reasons to further your personal goals...or not.

Amphetamines at least, based on my experience and reading of the literature, improve your ability to do huge amounts of light/easy work at the expense of "deep" thinking. This means that they would be most effective for people who are knee-deep in work that is too easy for them and need to get more throughput. Undergrad is exactly this -- tons of relatively easy work. Professional life is not; quality is in the long term valued over shitty quantity.

I hope your article won't be a complete hatchet job on white-collar drug use -- the reality is very complex. Humans in general, and white-collar workers in particular, are living in environments and doing things extremely different from what humans evolved for. Thus, some of us use drugs to tweak our biology to adapt to the situation. Assuming that these do in fact improve performance -- a very disputable assumption -- this would be a success story for human intelligence and adaptability.

I don't want to do a hatchet job on white collar drug use, no. I want to learn what's actually being used, the extent of the use and then draw some meaning from that, meaning that doesn't intend to say whether the use is bad or good but just why it exists and what that might mean about work culture, society, etc. If you'd be open to talking more about this separately, pls email me at zimmermaneilene@gmail.com. Thanks.

I'm in my last semester of college as a Computer Science student. I know a ridiculously large number of people who use adderall or vyvanse to gain a competitive edge.

Does that make you feel you should be using something too?

No. I think that I would enjoy them too much, so I know I shouldn't participate. Also, I still do better on exams than most of the people I know who use these, so it seems unnecessary.

I'll contact you directly, and appreciate your candor. Do you think it's a European vs. American thing? That we tend to demonize in some ways the need for substances to help us in some way, whereas in Berlin, for example, no one cares? And they've schooled themselves so that they know how to use it 'safely'--whatever that means? surely taking this stuff in the long term has some effect on the body (not sure if the effect is necessarily degrading in some way, but it must have an effect, at least on the liver...no?)

My understanding from my American friends and partner is that it's exactly the same in the USA. Students, software developers, people in finance - for all of them stimulants are normal. I think most people aren't really concerned about being safe - the assumption is that because everyone else is doing it and nobody is getting hurt, it's safe. Which is mostly true (the jury is still out on the long term effects, but for pharmaceuticals the risk is miniscule with normal dosages).

Edit - I will say though that Adderall and coke are by far the most common for people from the USA. For whatever reason those are definitely the North American drugs of choice in my sample.

> My understanding from my American friends and partner is that it's exactly the same in the USA. Students, software developers, people in finance - for all of them stimulants are normal.

This is patently false, and I think your assumed universality of drug use is based in no small part on your use, and the crowds that you've associated with because of that drug use.

I certainly know some people who've used stimulants from time to time (SF bay area), but that's the rare exception, not the rule. I know some people who have used MDMA, cocaine, etc. at parties, but it's not many. And, being in SF, I of course know a ton of people who use marijuana regularly.

I'll accept that drug use is probably higher than what I see (I have the opposite problem with perspective: as a non-user, I tend to associate with non-users), but suggesting it's the norm and is "everywhere" is an excessive exaggeration.

I'm not sure what you think I was saying, but I was saying exactly what I said. My friends and partner report that it's normal - obviously in their social circles. I'm not making any claim about wider society. You quoted the word "everywhere" but I didn't use that word.

You said:

> Students, software developers, people in finance - for all of them stimulants are normal.

That's absolutely untrue. For certain (very small) subsets of those people (well, software developers, at least, which is my main area of experience), it certainly happens, but it is definitely not normal.

Addy / Vyvanse seem to be the doctor's choice (as well as college kids') so it is generally just more available and seen as safer than straight street speed. Similarly, coke is also much cheaper / readily available in the US compared to Europe. I don't / have never opened up to coworkers about drug use/abuse but among my high earning friends, I'd say its a small group that uses it frequently and a large group that uses stimulants recreationally or when there is a big deadline coming up. I fall into that second category - if I have a ton of work and access to addy I'm going to be using it (I can't ever concentrate on work on coke - tons of energy and concentration, just no interest in doing work). However, if we're talking weed it's well over half of my friends that use it daily usually in the morning while answering emails / prior to work and immediately after / while working late. Granted, those same friends that smoke daily have been doing so since college

Why weed? It would seem that would make you want to hang out all day and snack, or just sleep or watch television?

We just love weed? For me putting a little tincture in my coffee in the morning is the perfect combo. The weed takes the slight edge off my massive mug of coffee so I get the energy but not the cracked out feeling that lots of caffeine can give you. Plus, answering emails is boring as fuck, I'd rather have a little buzz when I do it. Also, some of my best code was written while high at midnight the night before a deadline.

seems to be what I'm finding too, thank you.

with all due respect my friend, and honestly I don't mean to insult you, but what you're describing "drugs are everywhere / everyone does them / everyone works best with them / it's all prevalent and normal" is a bit of a drug addict's mentality.

I have friends who are potheads and they swear that everyone smokes weed and everyone who's ever done something meaningful in their life is because of marijuana.

Not everyone does drugs, and not everyone works best with them, it's not normal, it's not enhancement.

Wow, a great view into how two people can live probably yards from each other and live in what are functionally two distinct planets.

Have you had your work evaluated by people who are not drug users, to verify if it actually is better?

And what if you're on a team with someone who doesn't wish to use drugs? Are they just cut out of the big ticket tasks?

My work is evaluated by my clients, who as far as I know are not drug users.

Taking stimulants for work isn't a social activity. We don't all get together and swallow our pills. I just take mine every day and I know a load of other people who do. I also on remote teams with people who, as far as I know, don't. It's not like I discriminate who I work with based on it, so people who don't wish to use drugs would not even be aware that I was taking them and wouldn't be excluded from anything to do with work.

This is, subjectively, absolutely insane to me. In your experience do people have an easy time going off these substances?

Haha, well, I can only assure you that it's basically just fine. Nobody gets hurt. It's just a thing people do - like drinking coffee or energy drinks. But it works better.

In the case of amphetamine-related stimulants (ritalin, adderall, dexedrine, speed), it's easy to come off them if you aren't abusing them for pleasure as opposed to work. There's a level of use that enables effective work, and then another much higher level that makes you feel 'high' all the time. If you get high every day, you might well get addicted. But I've never seen it - I even abused my ritalin pretty heavily for pleasure for months and then stopped cold turkey (by accident), and it was just fine. I was mentally the same as I was before the ritalin, and no side effects that suggested physical addiction. I wouldn't recommend it though, it might affect different people differently.

Interesting. Do you think the drug use is due to pressure to succeed / survive, or because you get more out of your time? Having more productive time is appealing but the idea of working 24/7 makes hanging myself appealing by comparison.

You get more out of your time, but many people want that due to pressure to succeed.

A lot of people think stimulants just keep you going longer. They do that, but for a large number of people they greatly improve working memory, problem solving and systematic reasoning.

I know students that take Adderall because their lives are so complicated that they don't have space for regular studying. So they take an Adderall the day before an exam and cram the whole semester in a day. They ace the exam and don't remember much a few weeks later. Similarly I have seen programmers (and been an example) who have a project to deliver but other stuff going on and use Ritalin or Adderall to pull the whole project out of the bag to the expected standards in a tiny fraction of the time it was predicted to take. And others who use the same to just produce much much more than their peers. And then others who just take stimulants because they think they need them but don't actually produce anything worthwhile, or just end up staying awake too much and being much less productive overall because they destroy their circadian rhythm.

I'd definitely say that if you don't feel you need them, don't take them :)

Keep in mind the therapeutic dose people take to focus better is an order of magnitude lower then the dose people take for recreation.

I'll add a data point, though it's almost entirely negative. I've been at Google over 10 years and have yet to come across a person using illegal hard drugs. I can think of three people with serious drinking problems. There's been a drinking culture (many offices have beer on tap), but I see that changing, as people are more conscious of the negative effects. A bunch of people use marijuana, but off-hours.

I haven't seen people seriously discussing stimulants (such as Adderall and modafinil) as performance enhancers; I've come across a number of people using these, but all in the context of diagnosed ADHD. I've also not seen anyone experimenting with microdosing LSD.

There's a surprising amount of openness and support for talking about mental health issues in general. I think this is a really good thing. The stigmatization we see in broader society is not actually helpful.

Obviously this is all my personal observation, but I think I would know; I definitely saw some serious drug use when I was in grad school at Berkeley.

Is it that because you don't use drugs, the people who do use them tend not to discuss them with you? I was just joking with a colleague about trying the gas and air when his wife gives birth, and everyone in our bank of desks thought that would be outrageous behaviour.

There's no way I'd admit to these guys that I have a load of N2O canisters stashed at home and will go full-balloonatic during festival season, let alone anything else I may or may not get up to.

> I have a load of N2O canisters stashed at home and will go full-balloonatic during festival season


> There's no way I'd admit to these guys

This absolutely though.

Just to add... I've never used any drugs for performance enhancement, just occasional recreational use with no less than 2 months in between any single consumption, usually 4 times a year. But I'd never talk about this with anyone at work straight up. But we do talk about music, going out, parties, festivals.

So when a colleague name-drops they're going to an electronic music festival that lasts 10 hours into the night with glow-in-the-dark effects where >60% of the drinks that are sold are pure water, you basically have a 99% chance the other person either takes drugs or goes to parties full of people (with friends) who're on drugs, and is completely comfortable with it. And that's when you say went last year and talk about what candy you were on.

Most of these parties are obscure enough to be completely meaningless to people not in the know. The might as well be classical music concerts. Similarly, pictures on FB of colleagues wearing sunglasses and holding a water bottle at a festival can be pretty meaningless to someone who's never had friends using drugs or did it themselves.

There's definitely these little rituals going on that prevent people from knowing if they're not into it themselves.

I don't think that's true, though I fully admit there's some sample bias (including the fact that I'm senior, as croshan points out). I know a lot of people that do drugs, I had no trouble observing that when I was in grad school, and people talk to me quite a bit about life issues.

To add a counterpoint - there isn't anything on the line in grad school when sharing stories of drug use... completely different ballgame in the professional world. I've only had one coworker where we mutually admitted to smoking weed and that was because we were talking about music and each threw out a couple names that, well, I don't think there are too many sober people listening to it and we both happened to live in Colorado. In my 6 years that's one person I've told about a drug that is legal where we live - god forbit I tell them about my LSD, coke, nitrous, MDMA, etc usage as benign and recreational as it is. I'd open up about pretty much anything else before that - family issues/etc aren't going to get me fired for discussing

To be fair, as someone who's been at Google for ten years, you sound pretty senior. From what I've seen, I think there might be significant sample bias.

It seems that most people who use/abuse drugs are much younger, and often don't talk about it with people outside of a small group of similar users. I've definitely heard, known, or been close to people using at work, at home, with everything from speed, weed, and microdosing LSD, to modafinil and Adderall (in a non-prescription context).

By the time they get older, I imagine they'll either have stopped, or burned out (as I've already seen) and likely wouldn't end up at more structured companies like Google.

Simply said, you are biased as people don't talk openly about it. I know a lot of googlers that have a completely different experience than yours

I personally know engineers at Google who drink very heavily and do drugs including ketamine, coke, shrooms and acid.

My experience is that its more prevalent outside of work hours, but far less prevalent AT work than people talk about during these sorts of conversations.

Drug abuse is not a big issue in SV in general. There are a few general themes:

1) Some startups have a heavy-drinking bro-y environment.

2) Weed is common outside of work (in all of SF)

3) As part of the burning man culture a lot of people will occasionally let loose all weekend with molly, LSD, shrooms, and anything else you’d expect at BM

4) Some people will use adderall/modanfil to stay productive during work.

5) People in SV are willing to try new, untested drugs more than in any other culture I’ve seen, besides MIT.

In summary, I never expect to see someone jonesing in SV. It’s overall a responsible drug culture, not like what I’ve seen with my medical/finance friends. In NY it’s not uncommon to hear ‘I need some coke’ but I never got that sense in SV.

This is a good summary. It's the same culture in Austin.

I've found that most people don't talk about illegal drugs here, including weed and stims, unless you bring it up first. Once it comes up you may be surprised how widespread those items are.

Would you be comfortable giving some general details about what you do, in what kind of company you work and how long you've been in the industry? (It helps e to qualify your opinion in some way... )

Sure... have worked over the last 15 years in software startups and large companies as everything from an engineer to an adviser.

A lot of "issues" that you commonly hear about with drug use happen when you're addicted and can no longer afford them. I don't think that's a problem in SV.

After all that.. "not big issue in SV"

I’d say having virtually nobody dying of overdoses, going through withdrawals or detox, or being dependent makes it not a big issue, yes.

Well, you don't have tech workers offing themselves with fentanyl in record numbers, at least.

I worked in a very toxic post-series-A tech startup trying to get acquired. We where all expected to work 8am-10pm and the CEO would always tell us that if we wanted to move up in the company we needed to work weekends as well. Just a 15 minute break would get you a lecture on work ethic from one of the upper-management who really micromanaged engineers.

After about a year there I learned about half my team was taking Adderall to keep up. After a two week stint of working until 11am every day of the week I got called back into the office at 12:00 midnight by the CEO and the next day I had to call in sick because I was shivering and cold because of sleep depravation. I started putting out resumes that day.

I wish there was a culture of naming and shaming these companies and executives. This is the sort of behavior that would be really easy for engineers to abolish by simply not working there.

Unfortunately, doing so can be a risk. If the target of such comments gets wind of it, they could easily sue for defamation or libel, and possibly even win, given that it's probably hard to back up a lot of these accusations in a way that would hold up in court.

That sounds doubtful to me. I'm not a lawyer (and I don't think it sounds like you are either?) but at least in the US, my understanding is that courts grant quite a bit of latitude to people speaking freely about their own experiences. I don't really know though, but I would definitely be surprised (and incensed) to find out that this is a widespread problem.

I wouldn't be surprised at all, and at the end of the day you can sue for anything, even if you don't believe you can win. Mounting a successful defense costs money, even if the claims are without merit.

Oh sure, you can sue for anything, and defending yourself is expensive. This is a problem in general, but not one worth worrying about in practice (will I get sued for writing this comment - I could!), but I'm a lot more interested in this part of your comment:

> and possibly even win, given that it's probably hard to back up a lot of these accusations in a way that would hold up in court

Assuming I didn't sign any explicit agreement (like as part of a settlement), if I say, "I did not find X to be a good employer because of Y", I do not believe it is necessary to prove Y in court in order to win a defamation suit.

But we're both guessing. I would say that your side would be easier to find evidence of, though, if you're right: do you know of, or can you find, examples of this sort of suit being brought and won?

I have to shake my head in a mix of pity and frustration when I hear that people are prepared to damage their health for 'the startup scene', and not stand up to CEO's like that. One way to do it is, you band together. If you don't trust your colleagues to band together with, leave. However, I don't think I would have lasted even a week there.

I can understand blue collar workers in a depressed industrial town, but I can't understand elite tech workers tolerating that stuff. I think part of it is youth, and letting people boss you around without being a leader. Sometimes banishing people from your professional circle is called for. Taking a risk of losing a job by standing up for yourself is a powerful lesson to take away and you might be shocked how beneficial it can be to career growth.

Serious question but why would ANY engineer stay in such a company ?

There is such a high demand in the bay area for skilled engineers that there is absolutely no reason to stay into any of those startups that treat you like codemonkey. I would leave the first day I have an "ethical" remark after taking a 15` break

It was almost exclusively new grads

How long ago was this? (also, how awful)

2 years ago, Seattle WA. I am glad those days are over.

I'm glad (for you) too.

There are several topics here that are related in this community.

1) Hacking your mind/body through the use of physical/mechanical environment changes: meditation, exercise, diet, and so forth. A lot of hackers do this.

2) Hacking your mind/body through the use of Over-The-Counter chemicals: vitamins, minerals, amino acids, roots, nootropics, and so forth. A lot of hackers do this.

3) Hacking your mind/body through the use of prescription drugs: adderall, opiates, etc. Some hackers do this, many have probably experimented at one time or another and walked away. (They are hackers, after all)

4) Classic drug addiction, which is where all the drama is. I've been in the business a long time and haven't seen a lot of junkies -- but I've seen many folks who looked unstable one way or another and drugs may have been the cause. Don't know.

My point is this: the hacking community screws around with stuff, including their own bodies, all the time. It's the mindset. There are HNers right now that can tell you to the gram how much protein, carbohydrates, and fiber they've consumed in the last month, along with providing you a chemical analysis of their stool. We're an odd bunch.


I would very much appreciate if the author managed to take a more nuanced view than darpa_escapee here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16468350

This entire thread is probably being massively selection biased by one crowd that wants to costly signal their purity by talking about how no one they know does things in that nebulous 'drugs' category and they would never consider it. And then it's being selection biased by another set that wants to countersignal their insight by talking about how actually, everyone secretly does drugs, how do you think people manage those all nighters, clearly they sit on a throne of stimulants.

I suspect the reality is less dramatic. ADHD is one of the most common adult mental disorders, just on this basis alone we should expect a lot of basically non-abusive stimulant use (and some basically abusive stimulant use, it is an addictive drug after all). My informal impression is that ADD is more common than base rate in programmers, I don't have any formal proof of this but the LessWrong Community survey indicates a rate far above normal.


Of course, that almost certainly has other selection biases involved than just being a computer programmer.

Beyond that you have a large number of people who are higher on Big Five Openness than normal, and are probably willing to take substances in a cautious way for benefit. The entire 'nootropics' strain is testimony to this particular brand of cultural oddity. I suspect these people are distinct from the sort of people you normally think of as meth junkies.

And then of course, nobody wants to talk about this but even just reading hacker news you'll get people occasionally come onto anon accounts to discuss their struggle with heroin or ridiculously unhealthy doses of stimulant drugs. These people are often invisible because their sort of drug use is not fashionable, and so it's often assumed that they simply don't exist in polite society. They of course do, and I suspect their mindset and lifestyle look different from the groups mentioned above.

A fair bit of marijuana in the Seattle tech scene. No particularly visible ill effects from what I can tell. I have the notion hallucinogens have been used, but no one admits current use (to me). I would expect the more far out tech scene to be more into hallucinogens than anything else.

Cocaine, meth, & opioid use - no idea. Personally, I'd guess opioids are uncommon in tech: foggy heads don't fly. No one I know is admitting cocaine/meth to me.

Of course coffee is extremely common, if it is even worth remarking on. And booze flows very freely.

I don't get invited to exciting parties to meet the really odd people out of a professional setting - I go home to the wife & kid. And I work for a big boring company. So my sample is a little skew.

Yeah, same in government contracting with the coffee and alcohol. Older guys all just drink (obscene amounts of) coffee and us young guys go out and drink and smoke.

One thing I have seen quite a bit of in the Gov't contracting world is the smoking of all kinds of tobacco. I'm a pipe smoker but we have plenty of guys who enjoy regular and simi-regular cigar smoking. We also have a more cigarette smokers then I was used to seeing in the purely commercial sector. I don't know why this is. These are just some observations I have made.

hallucinogens, sure. There is definitely overlap between the seattle area tech scene (more so people who live in Seattle proper, not people who live in Redmond/Kirkland/Issaquah and have a marriage, a mortgage, 2 kids and a minivan), with tech workers who are also regular Burning Man attendees. At least to the extent that if a curious person wanted to find a source of Psilocibe Cubenses mushrooms, they would know who to ask.

I have a personal refusal to ever own a minivan, despite the wife, kid, and mortgage. :-) I just note that I go home to the family to indicate that I can't go to the evening events where more interesting people & discussions are.

I can't believe so many people here think none of their colleagues use stimulants. If you don't think they do, and you work somewhere that attracts young competitive people, it's just because nobody told you. I know plenty of people that take them every day and a smaller group of people that take them as-needed (if they need/want to do a marathon-session of coding). I don't know anybody that abuses them, in the sense that they use them to stay up for more than an all-nighter or who takes unreasonably high doses

I'm both surprised and not surprised that so many people aren't aware of this. There is a definitely a self-selection effect in that I would guess that certain demographics (e.g. government contractors in Alabama) have wildly different cultures compared to SV. Drug users are also very good at knowing who does and doesn't take drugs (or at least who would be non-judgmental about them). In part that's because everybody's run into that mormon/teetotal developer or two who would think you're the devil incarnate if he even knew how much you drank, let alone did anything else. And even for well-meaning people who don't abuse drugs, I think they may not know about it simply because their friends and colleagues don't want to implicitly pressure them into it or to normalize it for them.

I also think that, for me at least, it's because I tend to avoid those high pressure, perform at all costs companies because, quite frankly, I'm not interested in that kind of environment. I like doing things outside of work.

Well, there are recreational and performance-enhancing drugs. The attitudes about the two types are different.

Coffee, alcohol, nicotine, and pot are all just normalized. Nobody cares. We chat about it in passing (e.g "so Friday I was high....blah blah rest of story"). Coffee is perf-enhancing but people treat it recreationally.

The performance stuff is alluded to but not really in any detail. Cocaine, adderall, ritalin, modafinil are all considered "ok", to some extent. As in, "ok. You do you, I guess" and it's fine as long as productivity isn't impacted. Cocaine is definitely the black sheep of that bunch, but it's still a fairly clean sheep.

Psychedelics/dissociatives are never admitted to, at least where I work. I have used them (LSD, DXM) but I wouldn't ever consider doing them at work or on a weeknight. They have little business in programming, I think.

Then, finally, the "white-trash" drugs. I don't know anyone who uses opiates, meth, crack, PCP, ketamine, kolonopin, etc. RXs are probably being abused more than I'm aware, but generally, our drug use is pretty elitist. If a poor person would do these drugs, not-poor people stringently avoid it.

White trash drugs? Benzodiazepines, of which kolonopin is one are used by over 15 million people in the US and over 10 in the UK. It's one of the most widely used, widely prescribed categories of drugs and kolonopin one of the top prescribed in the category. And opiates? Who uses opiates who isn't addicted to them? You think being rich gives you a pass on addiction, and chronic pain?

Woah woah woah. Hold on. I'm most certainly not saying that being well-to-do somehow makes me (or workers) better. I'm simply saying that __in the environments I worked in__ (responding to the post), certain drugs were definitely looked down upon when used recreationally. I called it "white-trash" as an example. Taking KPins because you actually have a prescription for something is __not__ what I was talking about. Doing whippets at parties or smoking crack was.

And, I mean, let's be real here, do you know any programmers who casually do heroin? I don't, and frankly, even though I sympathize heavily with people who suffer from addiction, I wouldn't personally associate with a person who does heroin in their free time.

this is exactly why it took me so long to get help for my heroin problem. i'm a senior software engineer, but if i admitted to my addiction at work, the stigma and ostracism from people like you would be awful. fortunately i am now in a methadone program, due to a manager much more open minded than this...

Rare, but:

> Who uses opiates who isn't addicted to them? You think being rich gives you a pass on addiction, and chronic pain?

There's a difference between dependency and addiction. The former is physical, the latter (mostly) psychological. The former is much easier to treat.

That being said, it's almost impossible to not be both be dependent on and addicted to opiates if you take them for chronic pain over longer time.

> Who uses opiates who isn't addicted to them? Regularly? likely no one but there are a ton of poeple who use recreationally that aren't addicted.

Ketamine AFAICT is used mostly for DIY anti-depression therapy. I might have a weird social circle that's unusually receptive to learning about and trying better living through chemistry.

Yes. This is something that needs to be discussed.

Almost every engineer is using some kind of stim in the morning and sedative in the evening. This can be as benign as caffeine/alcohol, but I've seen this escalate to any one of: caffeine, Provigil, cocaine, (meth)amphetamines on the front end, and alcohol, THC, Xanax and even ketamine on the backend.

It's the only way to deal with the abusive hours. We used to joke at a company I worked at-- that if you weren't an alcoholic, you would be in a couple of years.

Bad companies, really bad ones are setup like this: you have to break the rules to get your job done. But some people are blessed by management and others aren't. X breaks the rules because he's a brilliant leader, Y breaks the rules because he's a worthless loser. We had a VP and PM doing coke, fucking each other (very illegal in California), abusing the staff with bizarre and drug-fuelled behavior, all of which was ignored and encouraged. I was fired for "writing a rude e-mail." :-)

For a time, there was even a dealer in the buildings mail room. You put in an order, and in a couple of days, a DHL, FEDEX, etc. comes with your order.

There's a very real human cost to this stuff. I've seen guys have a stroke in the office due to pressure. If there's any way I can help, let me know.

> "caffeine, Provigil, cocaine, (meth)amphetamines on the front end, and alcohol, THC, Xanax and even ketamine on the backend"

I know what you're saying (up vs down), but it's amusing to think of this as what front end and backend devs are taking.


> Bad companies, really bad ones are setup like this: you have to break the rules to get your job done.

Rule breaking seems to be incentivized in many industries. Here are someone else's observations:


Absolutely. Thanks for the link I will explore.

To add another datapoint, I first made this observation as a cyclist. Delivery truck drivers are notorious for blocking bike lanes. I spoke with people at the regional offices of FedEx, UPS, and Amazon Logistics. I recall that UPS and Amazon Logistics said their drivers are not supposed to block the bike lanes. (I can't remember what FedEx said.)

I started talking to the drivers. Often the drivers would park in the bike lane when there was a legal parking spot 50 feet away, and this made no sense to me. The impression I got after speaking to a dozen or so was that seconds matter, and they'd rather risk getting a ticket and save 5 seconds than park legally.

It doesn't help that the delivery companies consider these tickets a cost of doing business. As the saying/article states, "a fine is a price". So, basically, the company explicitly says they don't like bad practice X while also implicitly saying they're okay with bad practice X by paying for it.

This is the cuddly version of psychopathy, forcing people to slightly inconvenience cyclists.

This type of situation occurs anytime employee and manager incentives are misaligned, and blame can be shifted to the other. It's not that every human will take the bait-- its that ethical humans will be displaced by unethical ones.

> forcing people to slightly inconvenience cyclists

That's true on average. The inconvenience ranges from none at all to risking death. Fortunately the distribution is heavily skewed towards no inconvenience. I've very slowly become better at merging left from the far right as necessary over the past 5 years. The problem is aggressive drivers who pass too close. They're less than 1% of drivers best I can tell, but they're so bad that they have a strong effect on my behavior.

My current strategy is to start merging left with at least a 10 second gap (roughly) between the upcoming car and me. I turn around, wave my left hand, and wait for the driver to acknowledge me. Usually they nod, wave, or slow down a bit. No acknowledgement means no merging. If the gap is larger then I'll look but won't need acknowledgement to merge.

I'd love to talk to you. Did this happen a long time ago, your experience(s)? or was this in the last 4 years?

Also, to reiterate, do not need to use your name, etc. Don't even need to know it to speak to you.

All recently. I assume the e-mail address listed in your e-mail is an appropriate contact point?

yes, that's perfect. Thank you.

I've made a throwaway account to comment on this, and I've not scanned down through all the comments so you may already have similar stories.

I am a software developer based in London, UK who uses several stimulants / drugs in my day-to-day work, I also understand that I am the exception to the rule and whilst I do use a number of substances for many reasons, there are very few of my colleagues that do the same - in fact I have very few colleagues that I work closely with anyway.

To give you some context - I work for a financial group and mostly work on software to aid their day to day workflows. The simplest terms I can put it in is that I give a lot of rich city boys the tools to make them a lot of money and in return they pay me what I consider to be an obscene salary. I spend most of my days in the basement of one of those buildings in the city, in a small office, pretty much alone with headphones on and sometimes going days without actually talking to people. I like it.

I am diagnosed with ADHD which is not as commonly diagnosed in adults in the UK ( but becoming more commonly reconsised ) - for that I take methylphenidate ( commonly known as Ritalin in the US ) and that helps immensely with focus. I also vape cannabis regularly that also helps with the focus as my dose wears off. Sometimes, for those long weekend sessions of coding, I will use LSD.

The effects are - I dont have to loathe myself whilst doing my job. In all honesty, I hate my job and the people I work for, but at the same time, I got bills to pay and want to retire at a younger age than most. I also find that the drugs make me zone-in on a task and I am just able to get it done quicker. I write significantly better code high, than not.

I'd love to have a story for you, but in all honesty my life is pretty boring beyond the fact that some of the stuff I have to do is questionable, especially for those people who might be using online trading software.

Other than that, picture a guy, standing ( yeah, im one of those standing desk people ) in a small, fairly dimly lit office in the basement of a multi-billion pound financial bohemoth, with headphones on blasting some music whilst bashing away at a keyboard and thats pretty much my life.

What is it like for you to work in isolation for so much of the time? Do you think the cannabis and LSD are only for focus or is some of it for (for lack of a better word) escape?

I love it and wouldn't have it any other way. I'm working towards a retirement that will put me in a place as far away from human contact as possible. I get a lot of anxiety from being around people so it's kind of perfect for me.

I don't think those drugs are great for escape. I strictly stick to Sativa strain for cannabis as to not get bogged down with the high and still work. LSD is only when I need to power through the weekends and it's a pretty small dose.

Interesting stuff. Around how old are you and around how much do you make? (get as general as you want)

I'm 34 and make £270,000 a year before taxes and bonuses. My bonus is measured against company profits, last year it was £70,000. This year it should be close to £100,000.

Would you mind sharing (in general) how you got such a large base? That seems high for hedge fund standards - I would expect a large bonus, instead.

It is pretty high, I agree.

I started 5 years ago on a 110k salary with no bonus. Over those 5 years I've worked my ass off, done some questionable things and never once asked for a raise. I work in a department on my own, in a small office. In the past 3 years I have done an average of 80hrs a week, occasionally getting in 12-14 hours on the odd weekend, other than my bonus I don't have any other benefits. I don't question why something needs to be done or the ethics behind it. I just do as I am asked and I et left alone to do it however I see fit.

I don't have a 'project manager', stand-ups or a kan-ban board. I rarely need to attend meetings. I have very few days off, take around 10 days holiday per-year ( we are permitted 32 ) and never question a task given too me. I don't know if there is any correlation in these things and my wage, just laying out the facts.

Its also not like they couldn't get in someone cheaper. The work I do isn't that hard. Its just fast-paced. In this place, time is literally money.

1st year - 110k, no bonus 2nd year - 140k, no bonus. 3rd year - 190k + bonus. 4th year - 220k + bonus. 5th year - as stated above.

I'm an ex-scientist and software engineer at a major tech company. I consume cannabis and have for several decades, on a regular basis. I find it helps tremendously when dealing with long, tedious work (common in software engineering) as well as being helpful with creativity.

There are positives and negatives; cannabis affects the memory, ability to concentrate and think, and mood.

One time, my health provider pushed me into a rehab program when I just needed a prescription refilled. I spent time hanging out with other cannabis consumers, alcoholics and narcotics addicts. TBH, there was a distinct difference between the regular cannabis users and the regular users of alcohol and narcotics (physical, mental and emotional).

I worked for a boss who was very successful but after an injury got addicted to narcotics/opiates. He had about 4-5 years of unhappy life before he died. Nobody at the job ever confronted him- they just let him wallow until he died, because he brought all the money into the department.

Many tech companies and elsewhere seem to have problems with alcohol- too much of it on site and off site and it leads to abuse and harrassment. Personally, I wish my company would serve joints or vapes at TGIF instead of crappy beer.

I'm not worried about people knowing I consume cannabis, because it's legal in my state, I have a medical prescription (it helps tremendously for my anxiety), I have a long and successful career, and hell, it's CA- 60-75% of people puff occasionally.

Some people look at my usage and consider it abuse, but I don't. I feel like I've found a sustainable medicine that's preferable to pharmaceutical alternatives, and use it responsibly. I expect to raise my kids, retire, and live to my 80s.

Are you aware of others in your company or at other companies that also use cannabis as much as you? Or are you aware of people using narcotics/amphetamines?

Based on my understanding of the Bay Area, where I've worked, my usage is definitely more frequent and in larger dosages than 99% of employed individuals, but many people consume cannabis on a semi-regular basis. Dunno about the narcotics or amphetamines, it's not something I hear about regularly.

I have never known anyone I have worked with to do drugs (in order to aid work). Doesn't mean they don't, but I hadn't even thought about it until I read this post. One of the first things I learned in my (albeit young) career is that my brilliant, complex, I-worked-all-night-to-make-this super code is total garbage that no one wants to work with. Yes, it's amazing, but if no one else can understand it or wants to, it's dead in the water.

Making code simpler is more important, being reliable and sustaining a constantly improving level of code quality is pure gold. This will allow my team to be more productive, we will get better quality products out faster and be able to build upon them. I think my natural mind is best suited for the complex demands required by collaborating with others, thinking deeply, and turning thoughts into clear, clean, testable and tested code.

Far from wanting to stimulate myself to work more, I'd love to be able to turn my mind off and relax more quickly, and get a good nights sleep to start again refreshed. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of coders had a little alcohol in the evenings, maybe marijuana. The coders I know drink a little (not too much) and one of them smokes weed. That's it.

I agree with other comments that I think people self-select into different groups. There are people that take drugs. They hang out with people that take drugs. Maybe some of them have gotten into coding. There are a lot of people who don't take drugs, and they usually work with similar people. I don't think this is a coding vs non-coding thing, but maybe what type of person you turned out to be in high school. I'd bet most coders aren't the drug-taking type.

I've also been at three different startups in the Bay Area (two in SF) and have never had any drug use going on around me or personally at work. Just the daily coffee/tea and the occasional beer during the end of the day.

NO one I know uses Adderall to get through the day although I know a few that have taken it during finals week and or studying for job interviews, and a decent number (maybe like 10-15% of my friend group) had a year or so with frequent marijuana use but stopped for various reasons.

I'm 34 years old, I've programmed professionally for 12 years, and I discovered adderall 4 years ago.

The timing of this couldn't have been more perfect as that's also right when I landed a role as the sole/lead developer for a profitable internet SaaS company. A lot of work to be done and nothing but a wide open greenfield to start tearing through.

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the effects that adderall has on my attention span and ability to churn through code is close to 2 to 3 times what my ability is without it. When I'm on adderall and focused on coding, I often find that I can see several steps ahead of where I am now and I cannot physically code fast enough to keep up with my mind. It feels like I can hold more variables in my head at once.

Sometimes, when I'm sober, I look at code that I programmed on adderall and find that my approach to solutions can be designed in completely different ways than I would have normally.

I never had a very reliable source of adderall, which meant that there were breaks in my use. This also kept my tolerance relatively low so I never had to take more than 5-10mg per day to feel the full effect. I noticed during the sober weeks in between that there is always a significant lull in motivation that first week before I feel entirely like myself again.

My story with adderall doesn't end well, though. Adderall can affect other areas of your life (like impulse control) and cause you to do things that aren't necessarily characteristic of your personality (especially when mixed with alcohol).

I'd be happy to share more if you'd like. This is a throwaway account for obvious reasons, and I setup a throwaway email address because this is an issue I've thought long and hard about. If you're interested, feel free to reach out (contact info on my profile). I'll check the email for one week.

In summary: the short term benefits of adderall are not worth the longterm inconsistency or effects on other areas of my life such as mood, sleep, and anxiety. At least not for me.

Hi geekout. I tried you via email but I have a protonmail account now. So if you want to reach me there it's eilenez@protonmail.ch Thanks, Eilene

> cause you to do things that aren't necessarily characteristic of your personality

Would you mind giving details if it's a throwaway ? My mind went straight to sexual assault of some sort reading this.

Mix with alcohol and impulse control is completely out the window. It never went to sexual assault (at least not for me) but it certainly makes you open to philandering behavior. It even normalizes it after a while.

I felt like I adopted more risk prone behavior in general. I felt like I was routinely redlining my brain and my health. Why go to bed early for tomorrow morning's meeting when I can pop an adderall before the meeting and feel fine?

I'm going to reach out now, thanks.

A lot of weed and alcohol. People more curious than that will try LSD, schrooms, DMT, cocaine, Exctacy and MDMA. And pretty much any other drug they come across, at least once, except opiates. Never met anyone in IT doing opiates as far as I know (could be wrong). That is my experience amongst colleagues under 40 in the IT industry. Doesn't differ much from the other industry I've been in. None of these people have been effected by their weekend sins much besides hungovers and a thinner wallet.

Where to start.

Living in and growing up in Amsterdam has exposed me to more drug use than I care to remember. It's pretty ugly when you see super smart people slowly slide down and eventually enter a period of rapid decline and eventual death.

A few escaped the latter fate but they'll never be the same people. They serve as very real life reminders for me to never ever even try that stuff.

Some of the ones that died left behind wives and kids, some of them only kids because they were single parents. It's terrible to see this sort of thing up close and to realize there isn't anything that you can do about it without at least a minimum of cooperation from the other party.

I've seen businesses - good businesses - go under because of drug use, I've seen partnerships go South because of it.

From what I've seen up close cocaine seems to be the hard drug of choice for the tech scene in NL, it's not nearly as wide-spread as the media would have you believe but it is a lot larger than what I'm comfortable with and I am always on the lookout for the signs when evaluating companies.

I work for a well known software company now and of the 20 or so developers I work with closely I can confidently say that 50% of them don't even drink alcohol (mostly cultural) and the other 45% stick to craft beers and 5% might smoke some pot here and there but nobody really lets on.

I don't have any data but in my experience the most drug use and abuse has been in the sales org. My hunch it is a mix of personality type, environment and the way they are compensated (always a reason to party big) thing but they are best described as frat houses and make the tech side look like monasteries. And this isn't just small tech companies. Oracle, Salesforce, AWS etc.

I assume you've see this sort of thing among those in sales are your company, yes? Is it coke or all kinds of things? And any idea why? Is sales particularly stressful or somehow more intense than the tech side of things?

As someone who's also seen this pattern: I'd say the type of personality that is good at sales just correlates strongly with the type of personality that enjoys cocaine. Stress level or intensity can be high or low (within limits) in either occupation.

I have to tell you, I've been in Silicon Valley for 23 years and I've never seen anything used at work besides caffeine and maybe a (company-sponsored) beer on Friday afternoon.

Outside of work, I know tech employees who used pot, LSD, mushrooms, 2cb, and (in the late 90s especially) MDMA. None of these had significant impact on their work, although those who did MDMA every weekend seemed a little flaky to me, even years afterward.

I've known a couple of people who combined intensity and dullness to an extent which might indicate Adderall usage, although I've also known completely drugphobic people who come off the same way.

What kind of work do you do?

I have worked as a developer in EDA, educational software, and streaming video. Mostly writing code in C++ and Java.

Please highlight if you can how questions of brain health are often ignored exactly because people seem productive. Learning to do good work under too much stress and with too little sleep is a big part of the problem. We condition ourselves to get the work done, then compensate with drugs and alcohol. But since we're productive, the latter is not seen as a problem.

The pattern is repeating itself all over top universities and why rates of brain health concerns and suicides continue to remain high. Those maladaptive behaviors then carry over to workplaces.

Stress and sleep concerns are independently public health crises, and yet they are two sides of the same physiological coin - the autonomic nervous system. And of course, being high on stress makes sleeping that much more difficult.

I completely agree and absolutely intend to discuss that in the book, thank you. When you say "brain health" do you mean actual neurological changes taking place in the brain, or underlying mental health issues like depression and anxiety?

"When you say "brain health" do you mean actual neurological changes taking place in the brain, or underlying mental health issues like depression and anxiety?"

I've been looking closely at this distinction between mind and brain for over a decade and I have to say the evidence is very thin as to nature vs. nurture wrt anxiety and depression. Moreover, ask any professed expert about the differences between chronic stress and "generalized" or otherwise anxiety, on the one hand, and sleep disturbances and depression on the other. The more certain they seem of the answer you more you know they are not honest arbiters.

The most recent work on sleep suggests a glymphatic system that washes toxins from the brain especially well during sleep. More to your question, the best work I've seen suggests that many mental health concerns can not be treated well if there's an underlying sleep disorder.

Taking a step back, if any person is under a lot of stress AND not sleeping well, and for years on end, the distinction between mind and brain and body would seem to matter little. They are suffering and in need of serious help and likely to self-medicate. However, doctors still today do not know how to treat sleep or stress concerns and specialists are all over the place, from therapists to neurologists to psychiatrists and behavioral health specialists.

Feel free to reach out to me personally. My contact info is in my profile.

I will reach out, thank you. This is very helpful. Your last paragraph describes Peter accurately. At some point, all the years of chronic stress, too little sleep, too many stimulants (even before IV drug abuse) changed him somehow. I'm not a doctor, but I knew him for almost 30 years and over the course of a decade or so something profound changed.

That's the truly crazy thing to me - over a decade if someone was gaining a lot of weight or had a heart attack or drinking more and more maybe the people who care would try to stage an intervention. But if it's lack of sleep and/or too much stress, it's shrugged off as they are so hard working and productive and dedicated. It's a culture of Type A people and the rewards that go with that professionally. And now we're raising generations to act the same way. I'm of the belief that the obesity epidemic is a symptom not a cause. Food is naturally rewarding and de-stressing.

Back to telomerase (Blackburn won the Nobel) and the glymphatic system (Nedergaard will win the Nobel). In short, chronic stress causes significant damage across the body and down to the cellular level. Sleep is the body's way to recover and the glymphatic system appears to be the cleaning process in the brain, down to the cellular level. When you have much more damage and insufficient recovery, something really has changed, like a car driven too fast, too hard, without oil changes for a decade.

This isn't me. But there is Paul Erdős, who made great contributions to mathematics. He was known to use amphetamines regularly. He even made a bet with one of his colleagues on his amphetamine use, betting that he could give up amphetamines for a month. In which he ended up subsequently winning but complained that mathematics was set back by one month.

Yes, Paul Erdős apparently was capable of using amphetamines without excess. I don't know how someone would know whether they could prove capable of doing the same.

Also, at the start of World War II the German soldiers took amphetamines. Accounts of the invasion of France describe some unusually daring/reckless and physically daunting tasks that likely, w/o amphetamines, would not have been done. Staying awake for days seemed to be part of the job:


I pass no judgement and just wanted to remind people reading through this that not all techies are doing drugs.

Adderall, cocaine, caffeine, any number of research stimulants.

disclaimer, I have a long history of drug and alcohol use pre-serious coding, so it wasn’t coding that got me started but it got me off everything but stimulants.

I was going for school for something other than computer science and saw it wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Thusly I turned to adderall and research chemicals to increase my focus and productivity learning to code. I worked all day and night, 7 days a week.

For coding, it worked wonderfully. I was able to learn a tremendous amount in a short time and it opened up many opportunities. However it wreaked havoc on my personal relationships. I didn’t have any friends, I just worked. I became a jerk to my then girlfriend.

My work outside of work and heavy use of stimulants came to a holt when we broke up which led to excessive drug use of all sorts of things from disassocatives to opiates. Eventually I started microdosing LSD and got over it, got back to work.

After college it was hard to find adderall and my research stims of choice weren’t available so I started using cocaine which often tested positive for amphetamines.

I wasn’t using for my day job, I was using on the weekends to have 24 hour coding marathons for side projects + prepping for a new job. Using cocaine was cool for awhile but it led to chronic sinus problems and after a couple months it became more about using all weekend than getting work done. I quit using when I noticed strong urges when I got home on, say, a Tuesday night.

Now I have a prescription for adderall and I take it responsibly. It helps me focus at work and usually take a day off on the weekend or at the least, take a half dose. A couple of weeks ago I didn’t take it at work because I was planning on taking it after to work on side project.

Interestingly enough, I had a hellish day wherein I didn’t get much done and just watched the clock until the end of the day. I was very depressed that night. I felt so bad I didn’t wind up taking it. Instead I laid around and watched TV.

I don’t have any plan to get off of adderall but I find the random drug testing pesky because I like to smoke marijuana to unwind but if I get caught, I get discharged.

so, you can browse my comment history [0] for more detail, but here's the gist:

- heroin addict for ~20 years, smoking and iv injecting, plus crack cocaine

- senior software engineer at startup, contributing to open source and speaking at conferences and meetups

- now trying to quit, using methadone replacement provided by uk national health service

my work situation helped by very supportive boss who knows about my problem, and encouraged me to take steps to fix it when he saw my work was suffering (time management for things other than 'obtaining heroin' often suffers as a heroin addict) but not told anyone else.

there was a bad situation at a previous job where i had good health insurance that enabled me to enter a private rapid detox program (then naltrexone implants to stop opiates having any effect for the next six months, plus CBT/counselling) but then my immediate manager got me fired essentially for completely arbitrary and made up reasons, but i was unable to do anything about that due to not wanting anyone else to know i was an addict.

various interesting things happened to me while travelling to conferences or remote customer offices, often in other countries. it's actually fairly easy to buy heroin on the street anywhere in the world, it turns out, even without speaking the language.

if you'd like more information, feel free to ask me anything and i'll try and reply if i can.

0. https://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=tmp-20150107

"(time management for things other than 'obtaining heroin' often suffers as a heroin addict)"

This is horrible, but now I can't help but see your boss creating a Jira ticket for "Acquire heroin".

thanks, I'd like to email you to the address in your profile, ok?

no problem...

I drink two to three cups of coffee a day. Black. No sweetener. However, I have a major sweet tooth. Oversized Trader Joe's dark chocolate bars are my drug of choice. I can eat two or three pieces from a bar a day. I enjoy the chocolate largely as a dessert after dinner. I find that it doesn't interfere with my coding.

I have an uncle who destroyed his heart by abusing stimulants to get through med school, residency, etc. Ultimately, he needed a heart transplant. As a child, I learned from his mistakes and so my only stimulants in life are sugar and caffeine.

I am also a pizzaholic. I would eat an entire New Jersey thick crust pizza under the right circumstances, such as there being a pizza in front of me and no one there to stop me from eating it all. When I see pizza wasted at a meeting I cry inside.

I'm 37.

Drug use is not a problem in my circle of friends - I have friends who have done LSD, molly, coke, and countless others. They're all productive and mostly well-adjusted. This is mostly a Burning Man, techie set, there are also a fair number of qualified mental health professionals.

Honestly, I don't think a book on white-collar drug use is a good idea - it's too broad a topic.

I would either focus it on unproblematic (and possibly beneficial) drug use or drug abuse - those are too radically different phenomenon, to conflate the two will definitely undermine your credibility.

Based on your past work it looks like you're targeting drug abuse, so I would just stay focused on that, especially what factors differentiate it from general drug use by responsible, informed people.

It started out as a focus on drug abuse, but more than abuse or use, I'm trying to answer a question of why? If, for example, you don't abuse but just use psychoactive drugs in some way, regularly, why? Especially if you like your job or things seem pretty good in your life. I am not judging and don't know the answer. Maybe the query is too broad though, I guess I'm going into this open eyed and open minded and I'll see what patterns emerge.

> If, for example, you don't abuse but just use psychoactive drugs in some way, regularly, why? Especially if you like your job or things seem pretty good in your life.

Given your history I can certainly understand why you frame the issue this way, but I'll point out that this reads to me very much like "Why would you ever ride a rollercoaster, or go on vacation, or watch a movie, if you already like your job? Isn't life good enough?"

Because it's fun, or a change of pace, or just as a break. It really can be just that simple; it doesn't have to be a bulwark against depression or the result of peer pressure or isolation or failure to keep up or Our Modern Dysfunctional Lifestyle or etc.

I'm sorry, but based on this and many of your other followup questions and comments throughout this page it'd be easy to think that you've already decided on your conclusions and are hunting for evidence to support them.

One thing I don't like is that you seem to repeatedly be asking if people felt "pressured" to take drugs to catch up with their colleagues or what their "fear" is. If you want to know why, you should ask "why", and not push your own narrative with leading questions. I think a lot of people, including myself, would actually tell you that they take performance enhancing drugs simply to make themselves the best version of themselves, not to compete with others. The fact that these people are highly competitive is simply because they are over-achievers.

Thanks for clarifying. I don't have conclusions yet, but I do have ideas and didn't think my questions were leading. So apologize if they seem so. If you don't feel "pressured"--overtly or subvertly--to take a substance but just do it because you think it would be fun, then that's the answer, right? And I'll learn from that.

From the Midwest originally. I moved to the Bay Area in the mid-2000s for work right out of college. As a young teen, I had gotten most drug use and experimentation out of my system. Marijuana and LSD were my mainstays then. In my later teens called it quits when I realized grades matter.

Fast-forward to moving to Bay Area, I was astounded by the level of cavalier toking up, dosing, or snorting that folks my age and well into their 40s were doing. None of this was typical at the office, but afterwards yes. Never condoned by the Big Company. The folks who did it in the office were known, but they were never fired or pushed out — even though the 2007 financial crisis was underway and everyone was tightening belts. The worst I saw in the office was a poor guy who had a vat of raw powdered caffeine that he continually ingested due to his sleep apnea.

Outside the office, damn, was there plenty of abuse within the Burning Man and Oakland scenes. Many were professionals, but they were wrecks. All said they were fine, but you could see that a manager East of the Bay Area would have fried their sorry asses in a heartbeat. To this date, two have died from drug related complications and three have wasted their bodies on MDMA, Speed, and other cosmetic drugs. Shocking to see someone earning North of 250k/year snorting MDA with a rusty razor blade.

I moved to Berlin in the intervening years. Everything was tame there in comparison. Just a bunch of low-grade speed masquerading as something better. The folks there who do this match what you would expect: poor mental acumen and lack of patience in the office, and they were everywhere. Alcoholism was especially rampant: I think the dark depressing den of winter there drives folks to it.

Since going back to the Bay Area, most of the folks have slowed down or moved away. So many broken marriages, careers, and bodies. Reminds me of the epilogue scene of A Scanner Darkly.

Trust me there is much more drug use in Berlin than you saw. The dance music underground there is just as drug-addled as the burner scene here, maybe just not as inundated with tech workers

Yeah, I saw all of that. Oakland’s drug use makes Berlin looks quaint.

Through a decade and a half in finance, I never came across someone who was using drugs. I always found this odd considering the reputation of the industry. I was working at hedge funds that were the prime clients of certain brokers, and I could go eat out on their account pretty much any night of the week. Perhaps they sensed I was not the type for drugs and hookers, so I was only offered these kinds of things once.

Plenty of rumours though, and they make sense. Some of the brokers need to be taking clients out every night and then somehow show up on the desk at 7am. But I know plenty of people in the business and nobody a confirmed user.

I work in a major software corporation and have literally never seen or heard of drug use at the company, outside of non-work-related recreational drug use (and even that never ventured very far). Perhaps it's the stability of being at a fortune 100 company.

Those who work here went through a pretty intense interview process. They're pretty good developers, which means if they were fired it wouldn't take them long to find a job. So why bother taking performance enhancing drugs?

Of course, the coffee and sugar is readily available and free.

I worked at Google for a year, and am currently at a much smaller company in San Francisco. There's plenty of alcohol consumption at semi-official work social events, and I've seen some recreational marijuana use as well and nobody bats an eye. But I've never heard of developers using drugs for performance enhancement. It may happen, but it's certainly not part of the general culture, and I've never felt any pressure to use stimulants to keep up. I consider myself to be a high performer.

I personally haven't used any drugs (and started drinking socially only in the past 3 years), but I know some founders (CxO) level using amphetamines almost daily (Adderall from kids' prescriptions or faked shipments from India/Russia) to keep them high performing and focused (US). It also made them more robotic and less compassionate. I haven't seen anyone taking other types of drugs regularly; some smoke cigarettes or weed, but that is becoming acceptable in Europe recently.

Modafinil is surprisingly popular in the nootropics communities. Most people I know have tried piracetam (and other *racetams). I think everyone in tech settles on supplements eventually -- choline, tyrosine, and 5htp. I've had a surprising number of people recommend L-Theanine to me to "take the edge off" stimulants.

If someone is willing to take drugs in the tech sector, they tend to be experimental about it, slowly incrementing their doses and trying research chemicals. Most people come to the conclusion that drugs are too unreliable to use frequently for improving performance and use them as occasional bumps.

People who try cocaine during their professional careers tend to consider it unreliable and dont use it, but those who tried it before their career may continue using it.

Caffeine abuse is pretty common, but rarely makes people more productive, so you see that for about 1-2 years until they realize it's not helping.

Alcohol abuse is really common in high-stress jobs like operations, disenfranchised developers also drink. I don't see many engineers using alcohol as a "social lubricant".

Entheogens (mdma, lsd, 2ci/b, doc/doi, etc) are popular as a party-drug and "social lubricant".

Opioids are under-represented in my experience, probably because their affects dont lead to productivity in tech.

I take choline (lecithin) and l-tyrosine too (not 5htp because it makes me incredibly nauseous) and you're the only other tech worker I've encountered that even knew about them.

I think it's interesting how some drugs (including very dangerous drugs) are normalised. Alcohol, caffeine, and (with a prescription, and in some cultures, even without) amphetamines[1] are just seen as "fine". People use them dangerously, openly talk about using them, joke about using them, participate and encourage a culture of abusing them, and nobody blinks. An acquaintance of mine ended up in the hospital after abusing caffeine to try and hit a project deadline, yet how many caffeine/coffee jokes have you heard? It's a dangerous, addictive, abusable substance. Hell, I'm writing this while drinking a caffeinated beverage. It's nuts.

Conversely, research seems to suggest that modafinil is vastly safer than caffeine, non-addictive, not habit forming, doesn't build tolerances, essentially impossible to overdose from. The fact there's a coffee machine in my offices breakroom and free beer on Friday's, but not a basket of modafinil tabs[2], is one of life's mysteries. People die from alcohol (especially), amphetamines, and (to a much lesser extent) caffeine all the damn time. There are no recorded deaths due to modafinil.

[1]: By which I mean Adderall, of course. But it's still speed, with all the danger that implies. Adderall is habit forming, tolerance building, and can and has killed people.

[2]: Not suggesting that would actually be a good idea (although...), just that if we live in a world tolerant enough of dangerous drugs that we encourage the use of caffeine and alcohol, then why don't we tolerate drugs which are, at a minimum, an order of magnitude safer? (And probably more like several orders of magnitude.)

All stimulants are habit forming, including Modafinil, especially when used long term. Modafinil just happens to have much weaker withdrawals than other popular stims.

It's not mysterious. Coffee has been around over 500 years, and modafinil was discovered less than 50 years ago. Most people haven't even heard of modafinil. Plus, coffee tastes good.


1) We've banned a lot of dangerous drugs that have been around for centuries. Opium has been used since at least 1500 BCE, so over three THOUSAND years.

2) I think coffee tastes awful and can't even stand the smell. So maybe I'm biased. :)

> Plus, coffee tastes good.


Good luck with your book.

I worked as a software developer for 6-7 years in San Francisco and Emeryville, CA, and never became aware of or suspected widespread drug/stimulant use apart from coffee (a beloved thing in my view). Alcohol was definitely something one saw consumed at startups.

At the present time (now in Colorado, working with a remote team), a colleague of mine uses prescription medication to deal with ADD. Another is into the psychedelic drug scene and micro-doses LSD.

I've a got a bit of a different use case than seen in here.

I'm not sure I would go as far as calling it an addiction but it's probably pretty close.

I've been BnC (blast and cruise) steroids for the last few years. This means that I never completely come off so my body hasn't had to produce test naturally since I started which may mean it might not ever work again if I do come off steroids.

Currently on a blast of testosterone enthanate and trenbolone acetate. Going to add in an oral soon as well.

As far as getting an edge in work I don't know if theres anything there but I have had people comment on how I just never get tired. I also never get depressed since I started using high doses of test. Of course I'm also working out a lot and it changes the dynamic of social encounters with people when you're all jacked. Some times it's good and some times it's bad.

Now by bodybuilding standards it's still very mild doses and I have not yet gotten into insulin and hgh yet but because of my salary I've been contemplating going on hgh Because of all the benefits of it. (HGH even the under ground and Chinese stuff is very expensive but has great benefits to regular people, see Elon Musk as an example of an obvious user)

The way I see it there's mainly 2 types of drugs in this case: recreational and performance enhancing. For instance both cocaine and modafinil are drugs, but vastly different in terms of safety, addiction and last but not least - social stigma. If you want more information regarding performance enhancing substances, more specifically mind performance (very relevant in tech sector), I suggest you visit /r/nootropics.

Yes, realized that in the last 20 minutes, when I went to look up modafinil. Do you think that the use of performance related drugs and stimulants are far more prevalent in the under 40 set? Or under 30? than among those working in tech that are over 4o or 50?

I've picked up nootropics at 30, mostly trying to catch up with younger, more energetic developers. Part of it was also because these resources weren't around when I was in college. Part of it is because those of us who have been working several years in a soul draining job often look for other ways to enjoy life and take some risk.

My guess is the younger the more familiar with stuff like modafinil. There's growing outrage that at least half of Oxbridge is on it and that it provides unfair advantage against "clean" students. It's also my understanding that in the valley especially where hours are long and nights short, modafinil is the go-to.

I recommend examine.com for finding science-backed information about nootropics and other supplements. Great resource.

Haven't done anything myself other than smoke weed in the evenings. However at times I've wanted to give Adderal a try to get me through challenging times. When I was in college I used relatively high doses of pseudophedrine during exam times and found it helped me focus. I used it once during finals to stay up for 3 days. I aced those exams.

Currently I am a high level IC at a major web company. The pressure and competition at this level is incredible. I only do this job and put up with the pressure because I need the money (long story) and am trying to put my family ahead. I do like what I do though but would scale myself back if I didn't need the money.

When I get stretched too thin, I have trouble focusing. Adderal would be a way for me to focus when I'm running on fumes. It's not something I'd use daily but something during crunch times for sure. I've not done it because I haven't found a non-risky way to get it. I won't buy this kind of thing on the black market because I don't trust the product or the people. I'm not going to ask my doctor for it. But if I had a reliable way to get it, I'd have it.

Not necessarily endorsing stimulants but here is a good analysis of Modafinil suppliers: http://www.gwern.net/Modafinil#suppliers-prices. It's worth reading the whole page from the start though if you're interested. Includes some comparison with Adderall too.

Also consider Adrafinil. It metabolizes into Modafinil, but Adrafinil can be purchased legally from just about anywhere (Amazon has a few listings).

Adrafinil has side effects on one's liver. It would be wise to do at least some cursory reading on it before taking this advice.

I'm a software developer. I've taken adderall for the last 15 years. I have ADHD. Adderall changed my life for the better. I thought ADHD was bullshit until I saw the difference adderall made in my life. I don't function without it. I don't see it as a performance booster or a productivity aid. For me it's a necessity. It's the difference between remembering to pay my bills and having my car repossessed even though I had the money (true story). Negative side effects... I have an essential tremor. The adderall makes it worse. Eating peas is a frustrating experience. Beyond that, nothing. I wish it curbed my appetite, but it doesn't. I wish it gave me superhuman coding skills, but it doesn't. For me it enables me to hold a job. I understand that it's a different experience if you don't have ADHD. Friends tell me that they buzz. Their heart pounds. It's speed. None of that is true for me. I take 60mg XR daily. At this level I'm a functioning member of society. Nothing more.

The only drugs I have observed personally are caffeine, nicotine, refined sugar, and ethanol. The only other drugs I have heard about or suspected are prescription drugs for diagnosed medical conditions, such as hypertension, pre-diabetes, and high cholesterol.

But people around here would tend to keep even the legal drugs out of public knowledge, as that sort of thing may affect background checks and security clearances. Everyone in my workplace is very square. My office-neighbor uses a nicotine vape and prescription mood-stabilizing drugs, and doesn't have a clearance explicitly because of the latter.

It would be nice to be able to get drunk or high a few times a year, but the career risk isn't worth it. I have worked exclusively in the Midwest and South. In general, people of those regions collectively have a rather low opinion of people who use drugs of any kind, legal or illegal, although the Southerners are a bit more hypocritical about it.

Does anyone else want to weigh in about geographical differences in the use of drugs or the perception of those who do? It's very interesting to me how different your experience is from those, say, in the Bay Area or in big coastal cities.

As a Midwesterner, I can echo the sentiment that those who use illegal drugs are generally considered to be lowlifes or otherwise looked down upon by older folks, and some younger ones. Cannabis use is something of an exception - it's seen as acceptable by most of the younger crowd and more of the older folks are being convinced it's not dangerous as well. Legal drugs are a-ok.

For tech specifically, in my experience there seems to be a higher-than-average number of smokers. Coffee and soda are drank as if they were water. That's about it.

Soda? You must be from St. Louis.

In the finance industry Adderall is very popular. I know someone who works as an in-house psychiatrist at a top-tier investment bank. Most of the employees that go to see her are looking for an Adderall prescription.

I've known a few people who use cocaine. It is useful for the people who want to stay up late at the clubs and be able to work the next day.

Wow the notion of having your own private Dr. Feelgood on staff just seems bizarre. It's a whole different world I guess.

No, she doesn't. Happily her job is structured in such a way that she has full control over her job and decisions. The employees can get her fired for not giving them what they want.

And do they get the adderall prescription there? What does your friend's employer think about this?

She doesn't give them the prescription. Sorry I should have mentioned that in my previous reply.

Do you use Adderall too?

Nope! Not for me.

Only mentioning this because no-one else has, but.. beta blockers (e.g. propranolol).

Even at a very low dose, these have been a game changer for me when dealing with being on stage or heavily social situations where I might ordinarily fall into fight-or-flight.

This is all legal and apparently quite common though, so not the "sexiest" story for sure.

Hi Eilene, interesting questions, but I don't have anything to share except for a few questions of my own.

Have you done any of these drugs listed in the responses?

Would you ever try any of them and why/ not?

What is your understanding and general ideas on things like addiction, the war on drugs and the typical taboo impression of these substances and culture?


Let me clue you in on something: Your bias is showing, and while I'm sure it comes from a serious place of care, concern, and pain, it's offensively reductive.

As in I already hate your book for supposing substances used or abused is a problem. Life is a monumental series of problems and our species has adapted for thousands of years. Unless your book is 90% about alcohol then it's starting from a premise of Puritanism that will not sit well with probably a large swath of your intended audience. They will - and research will - shred it without mercy, and rightfully so.

How we treat our bodies and lives as individuals is incredibly diverse. I would submit switching out "drugs" with "Religion of Choice" and see how interested people are in joining your perspective.

I've been medicated by necessity for my entire life and not by my choice. I choose to identify any and all substances I take as medication now, and I will admit that I'd call my lifestyle inherently addicted to modern medicine. I would not be here without a wide swath of legal and stigmatized substances, from basic stuff like tobacco over the years, to more exotic compounds like designer steroids or other mind-bending, reality questioning opportunities throughout the years.

I guess what it really boils down to, in my case and - I don't want to infer here, but it's hard not to with my 20 plus years of adulthood - is that it's none of your business what I put into my body whether it's between me and a dealer or doctor, and I have a gut feeling Peter maybe felt a similar sense of privacy and shame.

You know, because people like to publicly shame drug addicts and throw them in jail in the US on the regular, and unless your book has a roadmap to fix this terrible misunderstanding of human nature and lack of compassion, well, it's part of the problem a lot of society refuses to recognize, accommodate, and adapt our lifestyles to understand and address. I think Ozzy Osbourne said it best: "Sobriety sucks"

You may have legitimate medical conditions that require treatment with drugs, but that is no reason to minimize the problems of drug addiction. It's a plague on society, and causes massive amounts of damage to not only the addicts themselves, but also their friends and families.

Sobriety sucked for Ozzy because he had heroin withdrawals. He was obviously not endorsing drug abuse, but empathizing with the struggle of overcoming addiction. Unhealthy people may say working out sucks, too, because it's hard. But in the long run it's rewarding. Sobriety should be celebrated.

Reading the comments I feel like there are 2 polarized sides that state that everyone they work with uses some sort of stimulant or that they have never encountered it during their career.

It's hard to get a sense of how common it is to encounter stimulants in the tech sector from reading this thread.

Water testing is now so good you could just gather samples from the sewage line of various companies to do some testing.




I really think it's that drug users are very good at recognizing who's "cool" and who's not. I wouldn't be surprised if half the people at my undergrad CS program weren't even aware of the stimulant phenomenon because they just weren't friends with people who did that kind of stuff

There's also a huge age gap in that older people are probably less likely to abuse drugs for maturity/responsibility reasons, and that no 25 year old developer in their right mind would mention their/their friends' drug use to their 40 year old colleague. And older people didn't grow up in during the era where stimulants were being handed out like candy to kids to get them to shut up

Seattle based techies I know definitely seem to enjoy weed. With legalization and advances in weed tech (e-nails), dabbing concentrates or vape pens are the typical mode of usage. It's a daily thing for most of the ones I know.

I do see some stimulant usage (adderall, modafinil, caffeine, 5 hour energy), but it's usually in people with ADHD who are taking prescribed medication. Sometimes others will take it too, though I suspect some of those are are people who probably have ADHD and aren't getting treatment. Hyperfocus and love of novelty make tech an appealing field for ADHDers and those with ADHD tendencies.

I've only known one techie to use coke, and thought he was crazy and way out of the norm for my group.

Medical student here.

Used to drink tons of coffee. Sleep 4 hours a night, and micronap. Eventually realized that this was hurtin me long term when I found my memory becoming impaired. This only happened when I was in really intense study, so I feel like this thing won’t show for most people.

But I eventually changed my ways, stepped down from 4-6 cups a day to 1 cup in the morning, and I get 9.5 hours of sleep every night now.

I’m more productive, and healthier, and I know I can SUSTAIN this productivity. Sure, some of my classmates use adderall, others use cocaine... but I know that I’ll have better long term productivity and outlook than those people.

Modafinil is a hot topic these days

Yup. I used adrafinil(prodrug of modafinil) regularly during university and found it particularly useful in my programming classes. It helped me get "in the zone" while avoiding the euphoria, BP issues, and recovery periods/withdrawals that stronger stuff does. Plus it doesn't show up in most drug tests.

When it comes to programming, I think I've found that modafinil (and doubly so for something which must be metabolized first) is not as helpful as I used to think it was. My problem tends to be getting started; but once I'm started, continuing is relatively easy. So for my purposes, a bit of nicotine gum is just as useful: cheaper & legal, doesn't last as obnoxiously long as -afinils do, and doesn't require as big or long-lasting dose. I've often wished for a modafinil which had a half-life of half an hour or an hour...

Do you still use that now? or other stimulants? Or did you find you didn't need it after college?

I don't currently use it or other stimulants because I'm recently graduated, currently unemployed, and looking for work. Well I suppose I take caffeine, but I've mostly cycled off that too, and only take a single 200mg pill per day. If I get a job that requires a steady flow state or a high amount of productivity, I very likely will begin using it again.

I use it because I am not naturally suited for the work. I have a genetic variation(gs224) that makes me tired all of the time and stimulation-deprived. However in our current economy, it seems like the only career path I can take that will work with my abrasive, likely autistic personality while still providing long-term career growth opportunities.

It sounds like you would need a stimulant of some sort, just to counter the genetic issue. Thanks for your candor.

I generally agree except that it seems to be a huge migraine trigger for me, so Ive stopped using it.

In my experience that’s dehydration. Modafinil is a diuretic, and appetite suppressant. Not only are you taking on less water because you’re probably eating less but your body is expelling water at frightening rates.

It's that or I think a lack of choline can also cause it. Cheapest and easiest solution is to eat some eggs.

That may be true to some degree, but I have also had them happen while purposely chugging water. My migraines are kind of cyclical as well. Could be coincidence.

Peter said he thought he needed modafinil. Why is it a hot topic now? His thought way back was that it was everything he needed at the time--mood regular, stimulant.

It said to have characteristics of a holy grail stimulant: increased performance without the crash or heavy tolerance build.

That’s an odd assertion to make when the full pharmacodynamics and mechanism of action are unknown. Modafinil doesn’t increase your cognitive performance in the way that a substituted phenethylamine would. Focus and attention are certainly related to wakefulness, but wakefulness in and of itself doesn’t increase cognitive performance.

Can you tell me what substituted phenethylamine is?

Substituted phenethylamines[1] are derivative compounds of phenethylamine. Many substituted phenethylamines are stimulants, while some are psychedelic too. Dopamine, epinephrine, amphetamine, pseudoephedrine, MDMA, and many others are considered to be substitued phenethylamines.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Substituted_phenethylamine

No crash might be the problem with it: you try to go to sleep and end up just kind of laying there half the night.

Modafinil interferes with sleeping less than other drugs - it's only a problem if you rely on the "crash" of running out of energy over the day to fall asleep.

it's heavily dependent on the right genetic makeup from what i know.

for some it provides clarity, for others, fog. the dopamine transporters are very mysterious to me.

regulator, sorry.

I started a large latte habit (which sounds silly) a couple months ago at my new startup job, but I've been working in tech for 3.5 years now. My tolerance is low so thats all I need to get kickstarted... but now I'm pretty dependent on it and can't get nearly as much done without it. At my last job, some SEs would have 5+ cans of coke a day. I think it was an overdose of caffeine/sugar.... which actually might be more unhealthy than Adderall. I'd be curious to see what people think of that.

I am working in tech sector as a software developer and also do a little marketing/consulting. I use cannabis to boost my creativity and it also helps me calming down after hard days of work. Of course I drink coffee in the morning and until afternoon, don't know many people who don't do at my work. I smoke (e-cigarette) and many colleagues do, too.

When partying I like to drink (beer, wine, cocktails). So pretty normal in my opinion and nothing to hide for in 21st century.

You should look at Gwern's research on the topic: https://www.gwern.net/Nootropics

will do.

Programmer in NYC working at various companies for almost 10 years. Never seen any drug use, or even heard of any. People drink a lot of coffee and tea, but that's it.

Developer in finance here.

Honestly I've seen zero drug use in the engineering world. Work hours aren't crazy (the max I did was 13hr/day - usual is 9/10), so you don't really need the stimulants like cocaine.

Social alcoolism is common, so is recreational marijuana, but it doesn't seem related to work.

Finance-wise, I think things are a lot less 'sex and drugs and rock n roll' than people believe. The finance guys are more like what you see in The Big Short: serious geeks.

In the 90's startup environment I knew a surprising number of engineers who regularly took meth and/or cocaine (and probably other uppers -- they were after productivity boosts). It tended to travel in packs -- particular companies had a decent percentage doing it, while others had zero (as far as I knew).

These days I hear more about the "focus" drugs -- which seem like pharmaceutical versions of the same stuff, with reduced dosage.

An important and interesting topic that could definitely use solid (professional) journalistic treatment.

Some suggestions, in that vein:

(1) The tech sector is quite different from other white collar sectors -- and I gather you'll find their usage profiles to be quite different, also. So really, drug use in the tech sector deserves to be a story (or a series) all its own.

(2) Within tech, there's always been a huge divide between the engineering and business sides (they're almost from different planets, in some respects). So basically we're talking about completely separate analyses for these groups.

(3) You may want to completely exclude the Wall Street crowd from your surveys as well -- or at least be careful to note it as a distinct subclass. They're also something of a culture apart from the rest of tech, so if you put to much focus on them, your research will definitely be skewed.

(4) My own observation from the engineering crowd (over many years and having lived in various geographic areas) suggests that the use of normalized (or "mostly normalized") substances (alcohol, marijuana, caffeine, "smart drinks" / herbal stimulants, psychedelics (and ecstasy) and very rarely, low-grade amphetamines) is probably about what you'll find in any high-skill, sometimes stressful line of work. Perhaps alcohol and caffeine are used a bit more, and marijuana a bit less (except in places where it's been legalized or effectively legalized).

(4b) Added qualification that psychedelic use seems quite rare outside the Bay Area, but I could be wrong.

(5) Use of harder substances (cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin) on the other hand appears to be exceedingly rare among engineering types -- for the simple reason that they're effects are fundamentally incompatible with the "head space" geeks need to be in 24x7 to be even remotely capable of doing the work they do. I'm not saying there are no heavy users or tales of abuse among engineers - of course they are. But if anything the general rate of incidence is probably distinctly less than that of other white-collar professions.

(6) Finally, by far the most serious substance problem in the industry is alcohol. This has definitely changed over the years, and a serious examination of the reasons behind this shift would also be quite welcome.

Where I work it doesn't seem to be much, but there are certainly people who have tried weed. Some have done cocaine I know. I colleague of mine many years ago started doing cocaine at around 25 and he got into a lot of problems. I remember him talking about how drugs were much easier to handle when you start late and is much more mature. Turned out he was wrong and couldn't control it.

But I live in Norway, where I think drug usage is somewhat lower than in the US, at least for weed. I hear much more crazy stories about drug abuse from my blue collar friends from my old industrial home town.

Personally I don't even drink coffee. Occasionally I drink red bull to stay awake. I've tried soft drugs in the past many years ago but that had nothing to do with the industry, workload or anything like that.

However I do suffer a kind of burnout/mild depression and often think I would have loved to do drugs just to get through the days. But I know that is a horrible idea so I have no plans on acting on it. People never seem able to control their drug usage, no matter how certain they are before they start.

> I remember him talking about how drugs were much easier to handle when you start late and is much more mature. Turned out he was wrong and couldn't control it.

No, he was right. It's just that this drug still wasn't easy enough.

I've known a few friends in SF with meth addiction. Vice and Buzzfeed have talked about Meth in the SF gay community, but https://thump.vice.com/en_us/article/zmvej4/meth-ghb-epidemi... is a first hand account.

thanks for the link. And I have found meth is alot more common, it seems, in the gay community.

Depends what you define as drug use; but yes.

I’m on the consulting side, and I personally take stimulants for ADHD, but I don’t abuse them. Stimulant abuse is pretty obvious on the job, be it coffee or meth, so it’s best to avoid them if you can get by without them.

I don’t drink or abuse illegal drugs; but I have known plenty of functional alcoholics and more than one literal code junkie. The culture honestly enables the alcoholics, and there’s nothing worse than being on a project with an alcoholic partner because they’ll make you go with them to the bar every night. Ugh.

Marijuana (normally hash oil in the form of vape pens) is a whole other thing. It’s nearly universal among consultants given our mobility and the high level of stress — nearly everyone has a friend on a project in a recreational state who brings back vape cartridges for their pals. Depends widely on the location and how illegal it is in various places of course.

Everyone has done it on the DL for years, but we’re just now starting to talk about it.

While working at a local Datacenter in Austin Texas(2016), I was introduced to and regularly used these performance enhancing drugs:

------------ Armodafinil Adderall 4-ACO-DMT ------------

Sleep is the foe that austinites try to vanquish; psychedelic interconnectivity its modus operandi. Community building is the endeavor of this weird little city of Austin, the future its dream.

Are you still working in the industry in Austin and do you still use this?

I moved to Oahu Hawaii, I am no longer using. I decided to slow down and start relying on sleep.

My extra ability became more of a problem for me in the work place than a blessing. The harder you work, the more that will be expected of you.

It was a fun experiment though; sleeping for 3 hours a night for a month and a half straight at one point. Forget about what 4-ACO-DMT did to me.

Sleep is good, balance is good.

Ooh yes, I am still in the industry. I'm currently studying for my Security+ certification (experience validation) and I'm in the interview process with a local company: Network Security Manager.

I had a bunch of bay area tech friends all become meth addicts while I was out of the country (2001-2008?). It was self-reinforcing. I think a few people on the periphery died, and then eventually it stopped, although I'd drifted away by then. It was just weird seeing people who had used lots of other drugs without becoming addicts become addicts en-masse.

I have a daily shot of espresso at the office at 8am. It tastes good and helps me focus. Sometimes there's a happy hour on Friday. I don't drink, but some of my coworkers do in moderation.

I'm sure there is a drug/party/binge drinking culture in some companies in the Bay, but it's the mildest I've seen in any industry/geography so far.

In your professional career, have you been in other industries and regions where it was far more prevalent?

I used to work in finance as a banker. It was more prevalent there. I'd say more so with those who were based out of NYC.

This is tangentially related but I attend a leading CS university which sends a lot of students into highly sought after tech, consulting, and investment banking jobs. Students here do every drug under the rainbow and they do them a lot. When I talk to students at other schools the problem doesn't seem to be anywhere near as widespread.

Does that make you think it's a problem in computer software more than other professions?

I think (not OP btw) that it is more a problem of being in a highly competitive enviroment? These people are all trying to one up each other, which will eventually leads to finding substances to getting an edge over others? (otherwise they wouldn't be there in the first place?)

Did you take a look at that google executive Forrest Hayes who died from heroin OD injected by a sugar baby from seeking arrangement? I think that's a huge story in itself. The Bay Area has created a lot of wealth, a substantial amount given to individuals who display characteristics of introverted, libertarian, extreme individuality, which along with high drug use has resulted in a burgeoning sex for money trade. In my extremely limited and potentially erroneous pov, this has indirectly further increased drug usage for both the women and men. There are a lot of negative externalities from Silicon Valley and multiple threads to pull on but the extremes of everything from politics to high costs of home ownership has resulted in some quite depressing realities.

A tangential question for the journalist @Eilene:

> I'd like to use some of your comments in the book and will not know or need to know your name

How do you verify the stories? I'm sure you don't just trust random postings to Internet forums and print them as truth (I hope?).

Personally, I've been in SV for 20 years, founded several successful startups, sleep 4 hours a night on average, and eat only nuts and berries. Or I live in my parents' basement amid a haze of pot smoke, and spend my days trolling the Internet. Or I'm a 16 year old provocateur writing this when I should be paying attention in trigonometry class, but I'm not out of spite for the ADD meds my parents make me take. Or I work down the hall from you and I've really wanted to ask you this question in person, but I only have the courage when I drink. Or maybe I'm someone else today ... let me think ...

I have been suffering from depression for a long time... decades. I have tried many antidepressants; none of them help, and/or the side effects are worse than the depression itself.

Until I took oxycodone one day. I don't remember the reason... perhaps a toothache... but my wife had them at the time (for pain) and I took half a pill. (Not sure about the dosage.) Suddenly, euphoria! That was a really strange sensation, considering I had not been feeling good in... years, probably, except for the (very) rare mood swing that went "up" instead of "down".

Of course, the next time you take it, it doesn't work as well, so you take a little more. The usual addiction cycle. Except that didn't happen in my case; a higher dose (say, a whole pill) would not make me feel good; it would just make me feel weird and nauseous and dizzy. So I would wait a day or two, then take the half pill again. This went on for a little while without any bad side effects (that I am aware of).

(At some point my wife stopped taking it, and so I had to do the same. I don't think there was much of a withdrawal, probably because of the low dose.)

I think oxycodone might actually be helpful for me, as an antidepressant. Feeling better every three or four days is not a cure, but it sure beats feeling miserable all the time. There is even some evidence that for some people with non-addictive personalities, it might be beneficial. [1] But, needless to say, I am very reluctant to bring this up to doctors or counselors, and even if I did, they probably could not, or would not, prescribe it anyway.

It's frustrating though, to know that there is a medicine out there that at least does something against my depression, yet I am unable to get it.

[1] https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/full/10.1176/ajp.156.12...

I work with information security. I have depression and anxiety (I know lots in infosec and software engineering who also has - maybe it's a mix of loneliness, impostor syndrome and the feeling of underachievement?) and I use marijuana (a blunt per night) to help me treat it. It doesn't affect on my daily work in any bad way. Besides that, on the past I've used a lot of alcohol and occasionaly MDMA to party on weekends, which didn't lead me to heavier drugs and/or more frequent uses and it also didn't affect my job.

As a side note, I'm not sure about the relationship between this industry (infosec) and mental health issues, but, from what I know/have seen, the numbers are very high compared to other industries. And mental health is sure worth a look to find more about drug (ab)use in a particular industry.

The infosec mindset is really mentally unhealthy. Your literal job is to be unreasonably paranoid and distrusting of everybody. I can definitely see how this could take its toll on mental health if you’re not balancing your work with the rest of your lifestyle.

A lot of people experiment with various psychedelic drugs for the psychedelic purposes. Marijuana is pretty much normal. LSD is sometimes used in the form of microdosing that produces no psychedelic effects and should improve focus and creative thinking. And of course coffee and alcohol are abused hugely.


I've heard a fellow engineer say, "it lets me enjoy being an extrovert."

I found CandyFlipping - First LSD,4hours later Molly, is one of the best combination for coding. It gives you a very strong sense of color.

Can you work better on ecstasy though? Isn't that more a recreational thing than a productivity related thing?

i find psychedelic experiences to be very beneficial to productive states if you wield them properly, and stimulants often do help with focus and efficiency when it comes to working, so, i could certainly see MDMA having some very beneficial neurological effects during the course of the experience.

I’m perfectly agree with “Neurological” effects on MDMA.

Yeah, forgot to mention that one, very true.

Yes, I've been reading about psychedelics. But that seems to be more to spark creativity (and there also appears to be some actual therapeutic benefits to it). Whereas opioids or stimulants seem to be used for different purposes.

Sure. LSD is very special because it actually helps to focus more as well as increases creativity (if we're talking about microdosing). Stimulants and opioids are not really that common. High quality cocaine can be seen but it's not really "normal" like the other drugs are. Meth, crack and heroin are hugely frowned upon, it's a failure to be a user of these. MDMA and LSD have very different effect based on dosage. It's entirely possible to work (better than normally) on small doses and of course it's purely recreational in bigger doses.

And the drugs that are frowned upon... that's (as far as your experience goes) in the tech industry? I know lawyers that had meth addictions. Peter used coke, adderall and meth. It sounds like cocaine is more widely accepted (and perhaps legal stimulants like adderall, ritalin, concerta, etc.?)

Yes, in the tech industry, and all of it is of course only my personal experience. It's seen as a failure to get addicted, so these highly addictive substances are out completely. They also don't really give you anything apart from problems (compared to other drugs). Cocaine is seen as somewhat OK but uncommon because it's hard to find cocaine that is of OK quality for an OK price (you definitely can't buy that on the street) - and again, addiction is a failure. Some people fear legal stimulants more than they fear LSD; but they're definitely pretty common (especially within student groups) and not frowned upon at all, I've seen people have (not prescribed) Adderall placed visibly on their desks.

Being visibly influenced by a drug is a huge failure as well. It's OK if you take and it's not visible but once you act differently (e.g. talking too fast, slightly jumping around while standing etc.), people will think badly of you and you will be a target of jokes. Having a different behaviour even if you haven't taken the drug (e.g. if you get cravings for it) is seen as bad too.

SF Bay Area: Are you worried that it’s a bit tone deaf to be writing a book on drug use among well-paid programmers and other tech sector workers when they are living among a sea of homeless people living in squalor under bridges with high levels of heroin and alcohol abuse and mental illness?

Much like what we have seen with the opioid epidemic I suspect that people will pay more attention to stories about well-educated, affluent (read white) members of the upper middle class suffering from drug abuse. If the end result is more humane drug policy and enforcement then maybe it's a good thing?

I'd love for to investigate caffeine. At least in American society, coffee is the most utilized in office jobs and also seen as the most accepted.

Does this lead to a lack of scientific and corporate interest on the long term affects? What are the adverse affects on various job performance factors: quality of sleep, memory and attention, actual productivity vs perceived productivity?

Personally I'm an active drinker of caffeinated tea. And I feel less productive drinking it than when purely sober after a month of fasting in Ramadan. While this is a small sample size, and maybe not even correlated, I feel like year after year after re-introducing caffeine I lose productivity and eventually sleep.

Scott Alexander has written, in the past [1], about acting as a gatekeeper for people who want Adderall. Could be worth interviewing him?

Gwern Branwen is also quite open to talking publicly [2] about his experiences ordering things like modafinil without a prescription.

[1] http://slatestarcodex.com/2017/12/28/adderall-risks-much-mor... discussed https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16033574

[2] https://www.gwern.net/Modafinil

appreciate this, thanks.

I drink coffee. Up to three cups a day when working over 12 hours. Beyond that? No. I have an occasional glass of red wine at night, but have little desire to ever try any other drug. I am curious about the effects of micro-dosing LSD for creative productivity, but would only ever consider that in a medical research setting - I am more curious about the results of such a study. I don't know anyone who used/uses illegal drugs in my profession, and I am in my 4th job as a developer. Be careful about the comments here; not everyone uses drugs and you have no idea about sample size and representation in these comments. I am sorry about your loss, and wish you the best in your research and hope it can help others in the future.

Do you have contact info you can share for those of us who wish to not publicly disclose information.


I have found that the high tolerance for recreational activities throughout the workday has made software development easy to cope with. Stuck on algorithm? Go play some ping pong. Stressing about a bug? Pick up Dr. Mario or maybe some Ms. PacMan. However, since my brain is expected to be on full speed all the time, I do find myself drinking a lot of espresso. Around 8 shots per day. In this profession, we work weeks and often weekends to meet deadlines. I cannot imagine that software developers who abuse drugs could live through a typical software project. And I can't recall any professional developers who use drugs. Although I did know a graphic designer who I'm pretty sure did crack. Not 100% sure though.

Of the developers/tech folks I know it's mostly a weed/booze crowd. A few people that do party drugs. And a few people who occasionally do psychedelics. No one I know seems to have any outwardly visible issues with it. I do know one person who I am sure has problem with painkillers, but it's that scary blurry ground between "addict" and "chronic pain sufferer". I don't think it effects her work, but I wonder about their personal life.

Also stimulants. I almost forgot to mention them because they are basically water in this industry. Almost everyone who isn't on some sort of health kick is using some combo of caffeine/amphetamine derivatives/coke/modalert/etc.

do you just steer clear of those using stimulants of some sort (when you say those you know are mostly the booze/weed crowd). Is the reason it's 'basically water' in the tech industry only because of the hours needed? What's the fear--if you don't keep up, do you lose your job? Does your career flounder?

10 years in tech and I’ve never seen drugs in the workplace, other than alcohol at the occasional mixer. I would say pot usage is pretty high, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone come to work stoned (thought I had a customer who was smoking on a call once).

Honestly, you have to operate at such a high mental capacity all day long in this profession that I think consistent drug use (beyond weed and alcohol) would be evident to your coworkers after a couple of weeks.

I’m sure drugs are done by lots of people in this industry, but I’ve never even heard it referenced openly, let alone seen anything.

I'm a dev at a startup. I was a regular cannabis user in my younger days, mostly by smoking, but some edibles and quit years ago. In the past couple of years I've started to start using cannabis again. I now vape because I don't need all those combustion byproducts in my lungs, and it lasts much longer, and you can reuse the already vaped material (ABV).

It helps me relax after work at night, and get to sleep some days. I prefer indica rather than sativa for its relaxing and stoning effects. It helps me deal with the stress and makes sure I sleep and eat.

Have you always found you need some way to decompress from the stress? I'm trying to learn how stressful your work as a developer is. Is it the work or the work environment (a startup). Do most of your peers find some way to come down at night, be it weed or drinking or something else?

Here's the thing: when you're at a startup you and potentially your friends have equity in, you have to be ON 80% of the time -nights, weekends, middle of the night for a page, etc. You sit for hours at a time, you eat takeout a lot, etc etc.

It's a blast from a technical innovation and engagement perspective, but it is just really stressful to be in such a high octane high risk environment most of your waking life. A couple to a few hours a few nights a week of just forgetting it all, relaxing to a few puffs and a video game or movie or a few episodes of TV or listening to a new album really helps. For me, it also helps me weather the stress at work(i would never come to work stoned), as I'm less liable to get worked up about shit that goes bad or deadlines etc. I just execute instead of dwelling.

Ok, just my datapoints: mid-30, married, 2 children, never smoked a single cigarette, never taken any other form of stuff that is covered by the „War on drugs“ or that soon could be (or any other „prescription“ drug like painkillers). I drink a glass of champagne maybe 4-6 times a year and coffee about 3 cups a day. I prefer a glass of fresh orange juice (which I perceive as real luxury) and self-baked bread over any sort of alcoholic beverage (I like beer a lot, but 99% drink the non-alcoholic version).

This is a great initiative. The hyper enthusiastic nature of our tech industry hides many of the underlying problems. You can also mention about the tech addiction that is ruining so many people. I am one of the victims and not a recovering tech addict. But one particular friend of mine had it worse. He is borderline ADHD, high sugar and fat due to sedentary lifestyle, anxiety issues, eye problems, headaches, insomnia etc. I am not sure how many people will have to suffer before this problem is addressed.

All the responses I have read here discuss illicit drugs but it would be worth trying to gather some information on prescription psychiatric drugs like SSRIs, SNRIs, and Benzos. I know a lot of people who take these drugs and they are often not even talked about as being drugs. I believe the use of these drugs isn't entirely about having a serious mental disorder and are often an indicator of people being in toxic environments that breaks them down. Doctors hand out prescriptions for these drugs like candy on Halloween.

I'm a professional developer. Some weekdays I use cannabis after work to relax. In my experience using THC and trying to code doesn't work, I just can't get focus as when sober.

Non-software engineer - don't use any drugs, no idea if any of my coworkers do. Probably not... my job environments have been way too stale.

I don't even drink coffee - I fall asleep regardless. Smoking weed never got me "high" or whatever that's like - I just end up with a scratchy throat. I can drink my share but don't do it on my own - and now that I rarely drink, I just get the shits even having a couple of beers.

Either I'm a really boring person, or the drug scene is way overblown.

IT devops here, Australia, also worked in Electronic engineering, as well, about 20 years experience all up.

Stimulants are heavily abused,usually various forms of legal ones like Dexi Amphetamine, Adderall, Vyvance etc

You get the occasional cocaine user, but not a lot of meth heads, they tend to burn out fast.

There is a pretty big work hard / play hard culture so a lot of drinking after hours, and party drugs during the times we have off. (Cocaine, MDMA)

Not a huge amount of weed smokers in IT Devops, not much use of drugs like LSD.

I drink three cups of English Breakfast a day. If I try going without it I get a really irritating headache.

If Im feeling extra sluggish I'll upgrade to the strong stuff - PG Tips!

Without wanting to sound like a pusher, you tried Yorkshire Gold? Go on, give it a go.

I am a web developer, male, early 30s. I consume marijuana/weed every day in some form, typically vapepen but sometimes flower or beverage before yoga. I was microdosing LSD for about a year with great results, but enjoy it more not microdosing but social interaction becomes more frustrating, other trade offs. I've used DMT and derivatives, but they weren't as beneficial as LSD. Lots of experimentation but these are the ones that stuck around.

In no particular order: the use of caffeine, alcohol, cannabis, adderall, and modafinil are absolutely rife in the academic research world.

Postdocs and young faculty, in particular.

For all the same reasons it's used in tech--to enhance productivity? are junior faculty and post docs overworked or are the hours required of them kind of insane too?

I'm a junior academic, recently a postdoc, and I saw a little bit of ADHD stimulant use among peers, and the increasing popularity of modafanil. Basically just due to publication pressure; in my field assistant professors at a top flight university have to write not one but two peer reviewed books to get tenure. Others go in an orthogonal direction and get obsessed with intense exercise routines, also with the aim of increasing those ~six hours of usable cognitive time per day.

MDMA and cannabis are both quite popular and talked about openly but I think that's more a general reflection of the culture in places like NYC and the Bay Area, where I have personal experience.

Good luck with the book by the way. One word of warning: please try very hard to avoid falling into a simplistic narrative that will contribute to drug prohibition. Criminalization of drugs has, IMO, ruined far more lives than drugs themselves. A former Columbia colleague, Carl Hart, professor in the psych department, has written a lot on this and might be worthwhile as an interview subject for your book. Personally I think he sometimes pushes too far in the opposite direction, but he is nevertheless an important public voice speaking up against decades of scaremongering.

I am not trying in anyway to contribute to prohibition (and history shows it doesn't work anyway). But I'll keep your warning in mind, sincerely. And I'll track down Carl Hart. Thanks.

Just realized I've reached out to Hart but have not heard back.

Pretty much, yeah.

Postdocs and junior faculty are generally worked to the bone for little money. Postdocs need to crank out papers that benefit the lab, but also advance their own career prospects; faculty need to do the same, as well as write grant applications, serve on prestigious committees in order to look good for tenure review, etc.

There aren't enough hours in the day.

I've worked in SV for the last 3 years at one of the top 5 tech companies, and I haven't seen much drug use, personally. I would say that there's a significant percentage that have/had medical marijuana cards and would either smoke or partake in edibles, but marijuana use is the only drug I've seen first-hand. I haven't even heard of anyone doing other drugs here, though I'm sure it happens.

I haven't really noticed much of anything in recent years. That should be surprising, since many of our sites are in states that have legal weed. However, there's a decent amount of coffee use and many of us drink a microbrew beer late in the afternoon once or twice a week. I believe the Ballmer Effect is real, but it's also risky and no one wants to be perceived as having a drinking problem.

i may have a somewhat atypical story and experience to share with you as i was certainly a heavy user of mind altering substances during the period of the past where I was a white collar software engineer. ive sent you an email about it, hopefully we can discuss it there. but all that aside I am madly interested in the potential output of this project as it has strong relevance to my individual life path.

I will be checking that email too, later today, and will respond. Thank you.

Probably not what you're looking for, but I've cut out anything remotely addicting in my life, including sugar and caffeine. I feel a lot of people in the software industry have the luxury of developing and improving themselves. Most people I work with exercise regularly. Alcohol can be regular in some offices, and people smoke weed, but I don't know anyone who I would consider an addict.

I have had a fairly large amount of coworkers who microdose LSD to tackle heavy problems. They all seemed to speak of it very highly, but a few of them ended up using harder drugs because they bought it along with their LSD via whatever dark web channel they used. One person in particular moved from just microdosing to using Crystal Meth, while still being a highly functional developer.

dont work in tech, Work in direct patient-care. When patients are admitted as in paitientswe ask health hx questions. People tend to be very honest with health care workers and always tell the truth about their substance use. Whenever i see a (usually) Caucasian male btw 25-45, its always cardiac issues and there's always coke in their hx. These are not losers living in their moms basement, it's Yale town yuppies, coal harbour finance guys,north van architects etc that thought they could handle it, till that angina kicked in. These guys get the benefit of the doubt, but First Nation males and people that live on the DTES dont. You have no idea how many patient charts i see, that clearly say " DO NOT DISCUSS SUBSTANCE ISSUES WITH FAMILY/FRIENDS IN ROOM" as the patient hasn't told them and doesn't want them to know. At least we have a more progressive approach to substance abuse. This abstinence, just say no Nancy Reagan BS is unrealistic

I appreciate seeing the Vancouver perspective. I don’t live there anymore but I went to UBC and the openness about drugs in Canada was surprising. Like everyone’s attitude was “we’ll be fine, have some fun, none of it really matters”.

The company I work for does a lot of defense sector work, so most of us have a clearance.

I know of zero drug use besides the occasional social drinking. It seems like half of us, including me, practically live off of caffeine, but that's it. Using any drug could result in loss of your clearance (and hence, job), so if anyone were using, they would be unlikely to let it be known.

I've been doing software development in a small midwestern town for ~10 years. Most people drink coffee, but only a handful that I've known take other stimulants. In my (completely anecdotal) experience, the people who drink coffee or take drugs feel dependent on them for performance, but don't actually perform better or worse than those who don't.

I'm working in a small/medium business in Montreal, Canada. I've been hear for almost 3 years and AFAIK no body here takes stimulant.

Of course I might be wrong, but I know a lot of these people well enough to call them my friends and I have not see anyone taking stimulant nor overheard anyone talking about their consumption.

You can contact me too, no problem.

Here in Canada I've seen caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, and cannabis in the office, all seem generally well tolerated. I have heard of people taking narcolepsy drugs for productivity, but that was just one person I knew and I have never really seen people taking, or talking about taking much else at work.

What I wish people were saying on this thread are:

1. Do their friends in tech partake more/less/same than non-tech friends? Because I know people in tech who've done shrooms etc, but way way less than the ones outside of tech.

2. This would be better viewed quantitatively, seeing the whole gambit of responses here.

Yea, if there is one conclusion from this thread it’s that this topic is in dire need of solid academic study and measurement.

Hardly a drug, but I take a "cosmonaut pills", Phenylpiracetam, for years. No side effects for me (tho it varies from person to person as I saw), but compared to Adderal (which I'd gladly take but it is too much pain to obtain here) it is like kiddie vitamins.

I have a masters and I’ve been taking adderall and other forms of it for 10 years. I now live in San Fran and have a lot of inside info on founders and tech people who use all sorts of drugs. Email me if you would like to talk further lifeofsarahmiller@gmail.com

Sales and cocaine. It's a very real problem. Or not, depending on your view of it.

I'm in Finance. Mortgage Broker.

Use of cocaine and adderall is rampant to keep going all day long, take calls, multi-task, and overall just operate at a very high level of efficiency.

Not just white collar, but white people. I crossed a border once with thousands of dollars in drugs with a pretty white girl (we worked in finance). No one thought twice. I get the 3rd degree whenever I cross though.

I just take a few basic supplements regularly: creatine, fish oil, caffeine with L-Theanine. We also have quiet/"nap" rooms in the office to take a break in when needed, which are nice.

Email me and we can talk lifeofsarahmiller@gmail.com. It won’t be a waste of time. I live in San Fran , have a masters, date someone in tech and have been taking adderall and other forms of it for 10 years.

I'm in my 20s and have worked as an engineer at a top tech company for over a year. I've seen a moderate amount of drug use during that time. I wouldn't characterize it as ubiquitous by any means, but it also isn't that uncommon. I've never heard of any of my coworkers doing drugs at work, but many of them do them recreationally outside of work and occasionally at work functions. This all may sound a little judge-y but this is what I know:

Two of the engineers on my team do drugs with some regularity. One likes to consume MDMA and other club drugs socially when going out with friends (I'd guess he does it on roughly a semi-monthly basis). The other is a regular cocaine user. He's somewhat cagey about this, but I suspect he does cocaine at least weekly. They have told me stories about doing cocaine together with other people in the office including college interns.

At my company there are also multiple managers in their early 40s/late 30s who frequently get drunk to the point of blacking out as part of after-hours work functions. These are guys with wives and kids at home, some of whom are very senior.

Best guess as to why they tell me this stuff is because my coworkers seem to assume I smoke a lot of weed (I don't) and therefore feel comfortable telling me what they get up to outside of work. I also typically drink liberally with them at the aforementioned work events so I'm seen as somewhat trustworthy. It's unusual enough that I'm still surprised when I find out my coworkers do some of these things but try not to judge them for it as I tried a few drugs in college. I'd probably do them too if I enjoyed drugs more.

The attitude of my manager and others towards this kind of behavior is best summarized as "the less I know the better". My boss is also pretty young and definitely has some idea of what young engineers at tech companies get up to. I get the feeling he willfully turns a blind eye so he doesn't have to feel responsible for the indiscretions of my teammates.

My take is that there's a little bit of denial about substance abuse within tech. It becomes very easy to see the drug use described above as normal when you're in an environment where lots of your peers are doing it and everyone is extremely well-paid and well-educated and able to rationalize self-destructive behavior in ways that are hard to argue with. It's a symptom of an industry that puts a premium on people with a lot of raw intelligence and high work ethic but not much self awareness.

If you are interested in hearing more feel free to reach out at the email on my HN profile.

I don't drink coffee but drink 1 to 3 bottles(0.5L each) of club-mate. It contains caffeine and is not well known to the general public but is in the Berlin techno and hacker scene.

did the startup grind for a couple years getting out our MVP and wearing tons of hats. smoked weed on the daily. Still at the same company a few years later. Still chillin on the weeds (only on the weekends now) myself. A lot of my co-workers are pretty straight-edge, vegans, no drinking etc. We are in the midwest though so there is no west-coast fancy cars fast life cocaine shit going on. Its more about buying a 30 pack of cheap busch lite and gettin drunk in some corn fields

I can answer any questions you have around Modafinil and Armodafinil over a 4~ year period. If that’s of interest to you free to contact me via DM on twitter - @s_mcleod

I'm a male in my mid-40s. I own a web development shop, code daily and employ about a half dozen people. Relatively healthy, although should work out more than I do. Long history with stimulants and work.

These days my main stimulant is coffee, but it makes me very jittery. I go through phases, maybe weeks to months at a time where I ditch coffee and take small doses (< 5 mg) of Adderall. I think I'm starting one of those phases now.

This morning I was stressed about a new client kickoff, so I took about 5mg of Adderall IR, along with the rest of the dozen or so supplements that I normally take. But I didn't drink my normal morning coffee and now I have a wicked headache. I hate overdoing it on the Adderall, because it changes my personality too much--makes me cold and distant from my friends and family.

My last startup, with big time VC funding--the whole startup team, myself included were heavy daily users of Adderall. It was an open secret. The CEO was the worst, with a 40-50mg/day habit. The COO was over the top neurotic, I'm sure made worse by her Ritalin habit. Biggest victim in that situation? Empathy and true friendship.

My last startup before that one, was a YC-backed bay area with a CEO also on mega doses of daily Adderall. This guy was the worst person I've ever worked with, and that is quite an accomplishment. He didn't sleep and insulted everyone on a regular basis. Would criticize everyone behind their backs about not working enough.

My own stimulant use and abuse dates back to my very first startup when I was just a programmer, during the first dotcom boom. My partying friends introduced me to meth, and I rationalized taking it based on the fact that it is available in prescription form, so "how bad can it be?" and that also I was clearly suffering from extreme ADD.

I was a daily user for over a year and a half. Would crush up the crystals and snort them. Was terrified of smoking or injecting the stuff and never tried it that way. Totally rationalized my use as necessary for the insane hours my team was putting in at work. 60-70 hours per week were normal. On some weekend I'd go out and party all night and not get any sleep. Eventually as the needed dose went up, I started losing a lot of weight, was down 100 pounds from my peak at one point. People were definitely noticing I was strung out although nobody ever really said anything at work. My close friends were aware and supportive. Some of them would do it sometimes too. I quit when it seemed my girlfriend was going to start using too--she wanted to be skinny and beautiful and popular, in her words. My conscience hit me too hard in realizing what was about to happen with that particular situation. Also I didn't really recognize my face in the mirror anymore. I flushed about 500 dollars worth down the toilet and quit cold turkey, knowing that I wouldn't be able to afford to buy more even if I wanted to do so.

My boss fired me about 2 weeks later. Said something had changed, that I had lost my spark. I'll never forgive that asshole for that. He knew what was going on and didn't care. It was only fine because my next job had me flying all over the place and making new friends, which made quitting a lot easier than it would have been otherwise.

I still miss meth sometimes. It gave me invincibility. I would code for what felt like days at a time, and all the practice really let me make strides in my skills very quickly. For a brief period of time I was superhuman, but there was almost always a crash. During those days I was using a lot of other drugs too and going out partying a lot, it all kind of blurred together. I barely remember it now more than 15 years later.

Quitting meth left me paranoid about getting hooked again for quite awhile afterwards, but after maybe 2-3 years realized that the ADD is real and that I really did need some meds to cope. I went to the shrink and easily got a script for Adderall. The first time around I remember that I was on it daily for almost a year before realizing that I didn't like who I had become. It made me cold and unloving and I hated it. I quit again. Ever since I've only taken it sporadically, when I really really have to focus something that I really really don't want to focus on.

Don't really have any regrets. Drugs should be legal--all of them. People should be able to decide how to use them and live with the consequences. Sometimes they're not that bad. Just think of how many people do coke on a regular basis and don't really have any ill effects. It just comes with the lifestyle of going out and staying out til dawn. And then eventually you grow up and don't want to do that anymore. At least that's what I've seen amongst my friends.

I'm a programmer. 22M. And oh boy do I love telling other people about drugs!

It started from pure taurine. It made me talkative like coffee and was in white powder form like cocaine.

Nowadays, it has come to the point that a friend of mine has started giving me a notice that once I am drunk, I don't shut up about drugs. Last time he said, in a very lightweight manner, that maybe I have a drug problem. Couple weeks later, I sent him some giddy messages, and I got a response asking am I baked again. I got upset, as I was not, I was merely having a happy moment. Then it drew upon me. I had taken modafinil that day.

I've also powered myself with caffeine, usually in the form of Red Bull and coffee. I also cut pure caffeine when I need an extra kick. I do it with a razor blade, as it looks cool. The terrible thing is, I have to remember which stack is the caffeine one and which one is modafinil. That's easier though if I'm cold, then I use pseudoephedrine, which is in capsules. The Ritalin which I have is stashed elsewhere.

I did not always use amphetamines. At one point, I consumed 60oz of coffee a day instead. Then one day the wall appeared, e.g., I crashed, and I was sent to ER. Doctors thought I have a blood clot in my heart, and I might die. That experience gave me a PTSD, to which I got opioids. The opioids are the best drug I've ever had.

Later on, a co-worker asked me whether I had thought about just moving to Adderall, which some of them have a prescription for.

I also use cannabis. I find it the best way to start the weekend. It gets my thoughts away from work and school. Some of my friends use LSD instead. For example, my roommate might lock up to his room, ask not to be disturbed. That means drugs. But, he sold a company and is in VC now. This validated substance use as a fair thing to do.

But, I've worked on two different continents. Where I am from, the Nordics, condemns brain doping. In the US, all the answers were in a pill form. Ask and get it. Here, it's a bad idea. You get in on a record, but you don't get the pills you _wanted to_. Tobacco products, snus or smoked, and alcohol, are fine of course. I also use those. Snus during work sometimes, alcohol never.

The sad thing is, and worth mentioning is that the working hours are different. I don't have to put myself on the line here to qualify for a good contractor. It's almost as people lack the ambition, but I guess that's more or less what a work-life balance means. I don't like it here.

Which brings us to the sad part. Despite comfortable life, I continue to push myself with stretch goals, which bring me back to substance use. I think I have a problem with wanting to do more than necessary. In the US, I came to my flat every day empty-headed, drank chamomile tea and went to sleep. I was mentally drained every day, but it felt like this is what my hefty paycheck is substituted off. Now I'm paid more, and if it just would suffice for me, I could bare it with coffee only.

Unfortunately, I feel like there are two phases in my working life. The first one was without amphetamines, and the next one was with them. So it is not just about working anymore, it is working without amphetamine.

For some reason, I can't edit my post, so I'll just self-reply: In the Nordics, none of my peers use drugs.

How do you know ? Another Nordic here.

One thing I think is important is that people have such a wide array of backgrounds, I think it's a mistake to simply categorize them as white-collar, without examing how they got to where they were.

I've been in IT for years, but before that I was in the military, saw combat, and developed PTSD. IT is just one of the things I'm good at that pays the bills, but that alone wouldn't tell you my story of drugs.

I got out and immediately used my GI bill to go to uni. I was drinking a lot at the time though. I got up to about a fifth every two days. This was for a lot of reasons. The transition from infantry to civilian life so quickly was rough. I was the oldest person in most of my classes of smartass 18 year old rich kids who mommy and daddy paid their way to college and bought them vehicles etc. I became bitter about the war and started researching it further and fell further into disgust because I realized how much of it was a lie. I made some ROTC cadets cry because I snapped when I saw them doing a "patrol" on campus with poor dispersion and yelled at them. I failed out of a math class... things were generally not headed in a good direction.

Then the tables turned, and it was all thanks to cannabis. See, I was always brought up anti-drug, so I was one of the few outliers who literally never did drugs in high-school of any sort other than alcohol and caffeine. As part of my military goals of getting and maintain clearance I also was very strict with myself about drugs, always feeling contempt and disgust for those who particpated in them. (not realizing the hypocricy and double-standard when it came to tobacco and alcohol).

So it wasn't until after two semesters of this downward spiral that a friend pulled me into his room, and said he wanted to talk to me about cannabis. He said he knew my position, but that being scientific minded I should read up on the scientific facts known about it and then read some first hand experience articles from a place called erowid. After a few weeks of reading every scientific paper I could get my hands on, and reading a few erowid posts from other PTSD military types, I finally decided I was a civilian now, I could give it a shot.

Cannabis literally saved me from becoming (or staying) an alcoholic. It was an almost instant turn around. I found being drunk disgusting. I stopped smoking tobacco completely. (Smoked a pack of cigs a day in-country, quit cold turkey when I left Iraq for the last time, but continued to smoke cigars/pipe tobacco every once in a while.) I found myself able to process things better. I was getting sleep I had before had to be drunk to get (hypervigilance is a bitch). I was being nicer to other students and not as standoffish, and started making friends.

I eventually quit college to do a startup that I left a few years later but that is still going strong. I stayed in the industry and have been in IT since. This sounds like a success story right? That's not all.

What I didn't tell you was I lived in the bible belt, in a state where it was/is illegal. I started having issues with the demographic... that is to say the people. I started having issues despite fairly regularly smoking cannabis, and started drinking again at the same time (cross-fading). I eventually got so fed up with the area I was in I jumped ship and moved to the east coast, where I had a support structure, to try to finally get help from the VA.

The VA was horrible. They put me on shit that made me feel like a zombie (trazodone in particular, but all of it did it.) Finally I realized the VA was not helping, (the most help I got was from learning how CBT and CBET worked from an independent org), stopped all their bullshit drugs which I think are a major health problem, stopped drinking, and came back to my state. I didn't mean to stay. I just wanted to catch up with family and friends, and was intending to go to Seattle because cannabis had just been legalized, and then I met a that woman I fell in love with.

I ended up staying in my state, but my SO had a druggie brother and an alcohol dad, and many concerns about the illegality of it, so my usage of cannabis, no matter when or in what amounts, became a fighting issue. So I tried to quit (because love is more important than anything right?). What ended up happening though is that I fell into this vicious cycle where I would have a particularly rough time for a while and would give in, toke up furiously for a week or two, cause a fight, and then quit only to find myself drinking instead (even once started dipping for a few months as my vice to replace the others, and let me tell you dipping is nasty as hell). Then I'd be "good" for a while until I had another hard time (like a week of super bad hypervigilance at night causing very little sleep), and the cycle would repeat. Obviously this eventually ended the relationship.

I tried very hard to keep this all in my personal life though, and protect my professional life from those troubles. This whole time I was performing fairly well in my job(s). I could have been doing so much better, but I was surviving given the double life I was leading. Eventually the stress leaked though, and I ended up quitting my job with very little notice because of an unrelated unhappiness there (being underpayed).

So now I am now using the rest of my GI bill to go to an online school and finish my degree while I job search in legalized states so I don't have to deal with the paranoia surrounding it's legality. I determined it was my medicine and I deserve to have my medicine without feeling guilt or ashamed or being scared of being arrested.

That said, I wanted to test myself to see how bad things are as a baseline, so I am now two months drug free (minus caffeine) and despite the ol PTSD rearing it's head a bit, it's better than it ever has been and I intend to stay drug free until I make it to a legal state.

Right now my main internal discussion is if I am willing to be on a list of patients in a medical only state or if I find anonymity important enough to only go to a recreationally legal state.

That's my story. I hope it's useful to you in some way or interesting to others.

Stimulunts such as speed or ice, are not so good for me, It’s not for creative work also comedown is so hard.

Acid and Molly are best.

Loved that story in the nytimes. Keep up the good work. I think you're on to something here.

Is this observational, a study, or do you get to do "research" with the participants?

last year, someone was telling me that at an Ayahuasca retreat in Peru (?) they bumped into a team of programmers from a startup who hoped to use the visionary trace to come up with new applications for the Etherium blockchain

I have strong opinions about this, because like most developers, I've tried to see how I can use drugs to augment my life.

As a programmer at a startup, everyone seems to accept marijuana, alcohol, and caffeine as acceptable, though I think it's considered unacceptable to be high at work (but probably nobody would care). Opiates are considered taboo, and rightfully so. Adderall is prevalent and easily available.

For me personally, after an exploratory phase of trying all the drugs, I've figured this much out:

* MDMA, LSD, mushrooms, 2-Cs, etc can be great for expanding your world view and generating new ideas or as therapy, but aren't really helpful in a white-collar worker sense. None of my peers would judge each other based on use these weekend drugs, but IMO they shouldn't really have a routine place in anyone's life. I'm pretty sure this is why people go to burning man, as a sort of drug-induced retreat.

* Dissociatives (ketamine, DXM) are a strange class of drugs. I believe that ketamine or dextromethorphan will ultimately be seen as the most effective treatment for chronic depression. These probably don't have any place for daily use, but could be useful to get out of a depressive state. The research isn't in yet on this though, so tread with care.

* Cocaine has supply chain issues, so I refuse to try it, but it's also very expensive and doesn't seem to be that effective for productivity compared to alternatives.

* Modafinil and armodafinil have gained popularity lately (probably because of grey-market sales), and they're super effective for staying awake, but not very effective for improving productivity.

* Amphetamines (adderall, vyvanse, dexedrine) and phenidates (ritalin, focalin) are super useful, but have to be used with care. I have an adderall prescription which I use a couple times a week to power through the week's work. This is great for me because I work from home and can spend an uninterrupted day or two crushing the work for the week. These drugs are unfortunately prescribed daily for ADHD patients like myself, but you'd have to be insane to take them every day. You'll quickly burn out after about a week and be worse off than you were before you started taking them. People consuming massive amounts of caffeine probably need one of these drugs instead. These drugs are addictive, but not seriously so... stopping will mean a couple days of rest before going back to normal.

* Benzos (xanax, klonopin, etc) are super useful for anxiety, but the same rule applies to be careful. They're only useful a couple times a week before you develop an addiction problem. Xanax is great for getting to sleep and resetting your schedule, and klonopin is great for when you're going to have a super stressful day with things outside of your control and you'd like to temper your emotions a bit. These drugs make you not give a fuck and feel great, which can be a problem for some, but is another tool in the toolbox of the responsible drug user. I have also have a prescription for both klonopin and xanax, but my doctor knows I don't take them daily. Almost anyone drinking alcohol daily probably actually needs a benzo and counseling about responsible use. I don't use alcohol for stress relief, but I will have a few drinks at a party. These drugs are addictive, but very seriously so... stopping suddenly once you've developed an addiction can cause erratic behavior and seizures.

* Tobacco seems generally frowned upon, but vaping is somewhat acceptable. Sometimes I vape low amounts of nicotine to help deal with stress, but I always regret it and end up quitting. It's much easier to quit than cigarettes.

* Marijuana I use daily, usually after work and before bed. My doctor thinks I might have PTSD from various life events, and I have some very disturbing dreams. Marijuana both lets me change my perspective, which helps to end the work day or shift my mood when I'm really upset about something, and it lets me turn off dreaming while I sleep so I can get better rest. If I stop using marijuana, no withdrawal happens, but disturbing dreams do.

* I don't like opiates, so I don't take them and don't know that much about them, other than they seem to cause the most problems for the most people. I would love to understand how people enjoy them though... They make you feel warm and sleepy, but with nausea and constipation. I don't think this is a good trade.

If I wasn't a relatively privileged person as a tech worker, I would likely not be able to go to my doctor and demand adderall, xanax, and klonopin while being open about my marijuana use. It is nice, however, to have a drug toolbox that's completely legal and insurance paid (well, except for the weed).

All together, I would say that drugs (whether prescription, off-label, or illicit) have had a hugely net positive impact on my life, both professional and personal.

Let me know if I can answer any questions for you and good luck with your project. I hope you'll find that education and safe access are better than prohibition.

Great overview. Could you go more in depth with your experiences with the first group and second group?

I know lots of people do pot.

Don't forget the alcohol!

What about other kinds off addictions like porn?

I wanted to mention this as well. Porn is the one that mostly gets away in these discussions. It kills motivation, enhances anxiety and depression over the long term. And these are just first order effects. It can easily affect your relationships, work and personal, and make you numb. It's something with limited upside, that feeling of ecstasy when orgasming which has been reported similar to that of heroine. But that is short lived. Other than that there are only downsides.

OP If you're interested in the topic, I'm happy to go deeper into the subject.

LSD, Ritalin (Daytrana is the best man), Terestrone...

Do you use all of these? And why do you like Daytrana?

Drop me an email, you can find it in my profile.

I will do that. Forgive me, I'm new to HN. When I click on your handle, I don't see an email. Do I find it somewhere else?

The "email" field in your HN profile is not shown to other users. You need to put it in your "about" field if you want it to be public. Many people don't realise this.

(The same is true for you, Eilene - your email address is hidden. If you want people to be able to email you, click your username in the top right of the page, and add it to your "about" section.)

Didn't know it wasn't shown, I've added to the about section of my profile. Long history with dope, happy to share if it'll help you.

edit: I'm a senior software engineer

so dope meaning weed right?


edit: found email info

It's probably easier to provide your email or put it in your profile, many commenters might not want to associate their username with a public comment.

thanks. Will do that now.

Drugs make you less smart and you need to be as smart as possible to program.

I've never once in 30 year career noticed anyone taking stimulants to enhance their work.

I will say first that my current position in life comes with exceptionally uncommon circumstances and so I'm not a good measuring stick to use against others. I've been a programmer for decades but I am also a combat veteran, during which time I saw and did many things that even the movies don't show. I was an alcoholic for many years, mostly in response to those things.

But besides that, I am am a lifelong recreational drug user. I have a special relationship with addiction in that I stop myself from getting in too deep. Before I continue, I'll address the overbearing people who think all people should live the way they do and say that yes, I'm completely and utterly aware of my own vulnerability and the knowledge that I'm not invincible or exceptional is actually what keeps me so acutely aware of my own drug use. I keep myself as informed as possible about the substances I use through the use of dose journals, where I track every substance I put into my body (including e.g. caffeine and regular food), along with as much ancillary information as possible, such as my sleep patterns and mood. I spend money to test the substances I buy to ensure they're not adulterated. As for the addiction, I've been bitten a couple of times over my entire life of drug use, early on as a young adult, but for example if I recognize that I'm flirting with addiction, I will just cold turkey whatever substance I'm using and allow my body and brain to "heal". I think it's a willpower issue which allows me to maintain control over the substances, because I've never in my life chased after a high such that I got to a point where it would be dangerous. Even with pharmaceutical opiates, I would completely stop taking them far, far before I ever let myself get to a point where I might be in danger. Willpower and also being informed. I am the only person I've ever met that cares so much about testing my drugs, keeping logs of my drug use, and never taking drugs in dangerous amounts in combination or chasing a high.

So, for the sake of productivity and mental efficiency, I take stimulants pretty regularly these days, but rarely on a daily basis. Adderall and methylphenidate (Ritalin). I swap these prescriptions with my doctor pretty regularly to avoid addiction. I occasionally smoke marijuana. I occasionally take kratom. I do drink caffeine almost on a daily basis, but I can get too busy to remember to make a cup of coffee or grab a Monster from the fridge.

In the past, for recreation, I have used pharmaceutical opiate painkillers, MDMA, mushrooms, LSD, cocaine, and raw opium. I am extremely careful not to chase the high! I am completely at peace with the fact that I cannot feel good at all times, and feeling down or "just okay" is as much a part of life as sleeping. As far as others in the companies where I've worked, I am aware that a small minority of my coworkers used some drugs recreationally, and I am aware that a minority of my coworkers used pharmaceutical stimulants, although the vast majority do use stimulants on a daily basis through caffeine. I think the "drug-using" proportion of my coworkers is a minority, and mostly clustered around the use of pharmaceutical stimulants and marijuana, if we're not counting coffee and tea.

The usage patterns I've observed in other techies matches suspiciously closely to my own -- which really tends to support the selection bias that many other people have mentioned: drug users tend to be very much birds-of-a-feather, they cluster among their own kind and tend not to notice the other types unless they're being really unsubtle about it.

So with that grain of salt in mind, here's what I've got. The context here is long-term contracting at a wide variety of different offices ranging from button-down big corporate, to tiny angel-funded startups, over a couple decades. All US, mostly outside silicon valley.

Pot: not uncommon, but also not noticeably more or less than the general population as far as I can tell. Most often as a wind-down-after-work thing, very occasionally as a brainstorming tool among the design folks -- never seen this done openly in-office, but on a telecommute day or after hours it wouldn't be too terribly unusual. I did some work with a company in post-legalization Colorado; people there had much the same attitude toward it as in areas where it's still not legal. Which is, increasingly, No Big Deal.

Alcohol: I have the general impression that coders tend to drink slightly less than the general population. With a few exceptions, the ones really hitting the bar hard at the sales meetings and the corporate retreats tended to be from sales and marketing. For what it's worth I know a lot more people who are alcoholics (or former alcoholics) outside the tech industry than I do inside it.

Stimulants: I'm sure there are people using Adderall or the like as a productivity enhancer, but I've never heard anyone discuss it, and have no idea how that usage would compare to the rest of the population. The idea that "everyone has to take adderall to keep up with the rest of the team, it's just so competitive!" is a common thing sounds... odd. (I'm not saying it never happens or doesn't exist. I'm saying that in 20 years of work I've never seen an office that worked that way.) I know of exactly zero coders or designers who use stimulants recreationally. There was one obvious cokehead of a CEO, who was the subject of a fair amount of eye-rolling behind his back; and I've known a few sales guys, investor types, and non-technical managers who were prone to the occasional burst of jitteriness and sniffles, but I've never seen anything like that among the tech people. (I had honestly been under the impression that cocaine had mostly gone out of fashion, until some friends who work in the restaurant industry set me straight. If you want coke, talk to a line cook, apparently.)

Hallucinogens / psychedelics: Not at all uncommon as a "oh yeah I used to do a lot of that back in the day," or, like, "only when I go to burning man / firefly / my pagan festival / etc". Not so much beyond that. Nobody has that kind of free time.

Other: It's difficult for me to imagine downers or opiates being at all compatible with technical work, but perhaps that's just naivety on my part. Prescribed antidepressants are quite common, and have little stigma attached these days. Tobacco smokers are few and far between. I wouldn't be terribly surprised to learn that some of the younger developers are doing ecstasy or whatever counts as club drugs now, but I'm too old to get invited to that sort of party anymore, so have no direct information for you.

it seems these are common attitudes:

> [heroin's] effects are fundamentally incompatible with the "head space" geeks need to be in 24x7 to be even remotely capable of doing the work they do.

> It's difficult for me to imagine downers or opiates being at all compatible with technical work

> Meth, crack and heroin are hugely frowned upon, it's a failure to be a user of these

it depends. as a heroin addict, I need the heroin (well, methadone now, as well) to be physically and mentally well enough to work. without them, i'd be a wreck. now, if i took a large shot of heroin, i'd nod out and couldn't work, but i have had a morning injection every day for years to get going. of course, i do feel like heroin has made me slightly less intelligent, i guess the equivalent of ~10+ iq points lost, maybe. but i can certainly produce good quality technical work, and have been recognised for this by peers, so it's possible, just not advisable ;) and of course, i'm selling myself short, since i'm probably capable of much more or better, at least i hope i will be once i am properly clean - maybe this year will be the one?

interestingly, i've not met any other heroin using it professionals in real life, but probably for the obvious reason they don't want to make it known. i could probably tell if i checked, e.g. pinned, tiny pupils, that sort of thing, but i'm just not looking for it in the work environment. a consequence of trying to blend in is that it imposes a high cognitive load that takes away from other thinking i might be doing - i generally have to lie about non-work activities or be vague and non-committal, and so on.

Totally fair point -- that was indeed my naivety talking; opiates aren't something I have any experience with outside of a hospital.

And you're absolutely right to point out that all of this is skewed by the fact that different categories of (current- or former) drug user will tend to be more covert about it than others, for a wide variety of reasons.

Temporary account for obvious reasons, feel free to direct message me, if you'd like to discuss in further detail. I apologize for the length of the post in advance :)

Most of my experiences are filtered through the lens of working at companies in the SF Bay Area, with "a good work-life balance". This is effectively code for "we recognize that the work week is approximately 9-5 or 10-6, Monday-Friday". California has had legalized medical Marijuana for a few years, and recently legalized commercial sale of recreational Marijuana. In this comment, I'll try to offer a survey of what I've seen other people in tech doing, as well as what I myself have been doing.

By far, the most prolific and most visible mood-affecting substances are Alcohol and Caffeine. In every company where I've worked, these were freely available to employees, and consumed socially.

Caffeine feels like a major component of programmer culture. There's a plethora of boutique coffee shops peppering San Francisco, and having a discriminating coffee taste seems to be a mark of refinement. It's worth noting the popular software engineering book, Code Complete - the cover most prominently features a keyboard, and a cup of coffee - suggesting these are the essential tools of programming.

Personally, I consume coffee once or twice a day, and make a bit of conscious effort to limit my dependence, and not become too tolerant. I have a bit of difficulty keeping a regular sleep schedule and getting enough sleep, and caffeine helps counteract that.

At multiple companies I've worked at, beer was freely available, on-tap from a keg. However, it generally was not consumed during work hours, but after-hours, socially. Companies also tend to host happy hours on certain Fridays, with a variety of mixed drinks available and a party theme. Tech-related meetups are typically sponsored and hosted at a company office, and free beer is provided. Broad use of public transit, or Uber, likely resolve potential problems with drunk driving, I'm unsure on that point. I've not typically seen people drink to excess at work functions, but it's not unheard of for someone to get themselves fired at a holiday party. A taste for unique beers seems to also be a social mark of refinement.

Personally, I don't consume alcohol. This is a bit unusual, and usually raises some questions from coworkers, but the choice is generally respected and I don't experience any pressure to drink. That said, it still feels a bit alienating to have an unusual stance on drinking, and a bit alienating when there's a variety of unique mixed drinks or small-brew beers available, and only water/coke for non-alcoholic options. Non-drinkers are respected, but not considered.

I know a few people who smoke Tobacco, but it seems to be very rare. It's looked down on a bit, and there's several health laws restricting where it's permitted. Vaporizers have made it marginally more accepted. I personally don't smoke.

My impression is that many coworkers enjoy Marijuana at least occasionally, but this is far less visible. I've never noticed someone at work smelling skunky, and it seems like a substance that would completely prevent any kind of productivity at work.

I recently had my first marijuana experience, via edibles, and quite enjoyed it. It's not something I am going to make a regular habit of, but it was fairly inexpensive, and I had basically no negative effects the next day at work (except for some worse-than-usual sleep).

Purchasing marijuana was one of the most privilege-demonstrating experiences I've had. Being aware of decades of racial discrimination, of dime bags being exchanged surreptitiously, etc. With all that, I was able to walk into a well-lit store, peruse products, stand in line with several respectable-looking folks wearing tech company hoodies, present an ID, and walk out the door. That feels a little mind-boggling to me.

At a previous company, I've heard at least one employee openly talk about having tried mushrooms in the past, and recommending other people try it at least once.

Other than that, I'm generally unaware of _any_ use of any other mood-altering substances.

In terms of productivity, it seems much more typical for people to be very concerned with diet or fitness. There's quite a few vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free, etc., and many people are involved with a gym, or some outdoor activity.

My personal philosophy is that good development is a marathon, not a sprint, and properly maintaining physical and mental health is a key component of being happy and productive.

Outside of physical substances, video games are also quite popular as a recreational activity, and my use of them has, at times, bordered on addictive and life-interfering.

As an additional comment about the 'white-collar' aspect of things...

It's worth reinforcing the state of the job market for successful software engineers, and how that relates to drug use.

I try to be productive at work, but ultimately, I'm not very stressed about financial matters or job security. After starting my career, I've never been without employment for more than a month, and almost never without it being my choice. I also have a substantial safety buffer.

With those factors, I'm able to have a comfortable and relatively worry-free life with my partner, and besides a bit of recreational fun, I don't really feel a need for escape from my life.

I have a bit of an addictive and depressive personality, and I could see myself abusing substances in a different life situation.

I drink a lot of coffee.

Can we email you?

I am a software developer and someone running their own project. I am a recovering stimulant addict, and a recovered cannabis addict.

And by stimulants, I mean caffeine in it's various forms. In the beginning when I was under 20, it started with coding through the weekends with the power of Pepsi. I used to vomit this black goo out of my body after quickly guzzling down a 1.5l bottle, and I thought it was just ok, the sugar and caffeine rush was worth it so I could code through the night. When I started coding professionally later in my life, when I was 28-29, I would go back to this connection and always drinking strong black tea while coding. Did this for many years and though of nothing wrong in it. At some point I started to gravitate towards green tea and mate. Yerba mate became my favorite stimulant for a long time.

I thought the caffeine gave me a way to get into the zone, to go deep in the code and continue that for hours and hours. What I didn't see in the long run until later, was this habit was eating away my core power, slowly and bit by bit, and giving me trouble sleeping, something that in combination with deep depression led to me to discover cannabis as a cure for those. Couple of years of daily cannabis use by vaporizing, and I thought it was the best thing ever. Now I could be more creative, focus better, and even get sleep. At this point when I was bored with my work, I would vape in the morning sometimes and go to work slightly stoned, thinking I was acing it. I didn't do this very often, but definitely during a period when I was thinking of quitting my job I was many times stoned at work, just trying to cope with it.

But slowly this habit started to have it's toll, I was becoming weak, addicted, I couldn't function without cannabis. I thought it would be easy to quit, but man, the habit and addiction is strong. Took me over 7 years of periodical on and off usage to really decide and see how continous use of cannabis made me make bad decisions, made me think I was creative and able, while I was making silly creative decisions and letting the drug affect my work.

Many times while high I would think my work and designs were really beautiful, but when looking at those sober I would see they were really not something I would make when I was sober. The drug had it's effect on my work, and it was not coming purely out of me, but through the filter of that drug. Cannabis also made me really sensitive to things, not being able to stand my own opionion, I really didn't care in that mood, I just wanted to escape to that bubble and be there.

I managed to get out of that habit and thought pattern with serious inner work. Meditation was the most strongest thing that stayed with me during those years. It helped me during all the ups and lows and I never needed anything external to do it, I could rely it being always with me. I wish somebody had taught me this skill, or told me about it with more persuasion. I always tought I was ADHD and that I couldn't focus on things long enough. Then I learned how to quiet my mind, with meditation. It calmed my mind down. It clears the plate so to speak when done habitually. And it's always with me. It's the best thing that has happened to me. Seriously.

Anyway, I'm still recovering from the stimulant use. While starting to work on my own project and startup thing, I went to coffee because I could go to a nice coffee place and work there without having a workplace, drink one cup of coffee. Later I would combine this with L-teanine to get the perfect combination of stimulation and calming down. Little did I know how addictive coffee was, man that is one strong drug right there. After one year I started getting panic attacks, something completely new to me, just from drinking one cup of strong coffee.

Anyway, long story short, caffeine started to put me really towards the edge and in the long run just drained my energy, I had to quit. Now, finally I have also gotten out of the psychological pattern of combining coding with caffeine, it took serious work but now I see that by being sober I have more focus and sustainable work time, if I am well rested and nutritioned. If the rest, nutrition or exercise is out of place, I have to fix that first, not try to push it with stimulants.

I've also worked with many entheogens and psychedelics during the years, which psilocybine mushrooms, LSD and ayahuasca being the most beneficial for me. I can't stress enough how much especially mushrooms and ayahuasca have helped me to heal myself from chronic depression. But those are again only tools, the inner strength is the one that carries through all of these external tools. In the software development field, I see many people taking LSD and other psychedelics, it's really common place, to get visions, to see how to build things, to heal one self to be able to contribute for making this world a better place. Heavy stimulants like amphetamines are not really talked about, but I feel many are doing that also, many with a prescription drug for their ADHD/ADD perhaps.

Perhaps an email to send stuff anonymously would be good.

of course. please send to zimmermaneilene@gmail.com.

This looks like it might be your personal email. Consider protecting yourself by making a temporary email for the purposes of your research such as booktitle@gmail.com.

I appreciate the caution, thank you. That email is what gets funneled from my website, so it's fine. It's not my personal personal email. It's for the book.

Or better, consider protecting those offering their experiences as well by using an encrypted email provider like protonmail, or offering a GPG key.

I don't know what those are, I'm sorry. I'm not in the industry (software engineering/tech) so am not familiar with those (though I know they exist). Is it something I can do in the next hour?

I'd suggest going through https://www.privacytools.io/#email. These providers won't give your data to NSA or third party companies(or at least this is more likely, than with another provider like google). Given you are asking for some sensitive data, I'd suggest you use one of these, at least for this specific project if you can't make the move completely.

A good tool for every journalist to have in their tool chest: https://keybase.io

Journalists tend to want people to be able to contact them. The spam etc. is just the cost of doing business.

completely true.

Now you and Google will know!

Consider using a mail provider that is not in the business of selling personal information.


please send to zimmermaneilene@gmail.com.

Can opiate addiction be better understood by young people by comparing it to Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in sports? Crime in football players may be related to TBI. Both Alzheimer's and TBI patients share Delta FosB peptides. https://www.statnews.com/2017/12/07/traumatic-brain-injury-c... ​ Delta FosB protein is seen in epileptics, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), addicts and Alzheimer's brains. US football and NHL hockey teams too? ​https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FOSB ​ Can NIH work with Genspace in NYC? They teach neurohacking. https://www.genspace.org/​ Can students learn the effects of aging, trauma and addiction via computer simulations? Can they develop a Brain for Blender TBI model? Showing brain injury? ​See attached file brain_TBI_simulator.txt showing brain injury and cell_TBI_simulator.txt capturing TBI. ​ ​New Mexico went from 100 women at Grants Correctional in 1990, today it is over 600. Opiate and meth addiction is ripping many communities apart. Biology education in NM is basic. https://www.amazon.com/Pastoral-Clinic-Addiction-Dispossessi...

Many families in NM are broken. When drugs remove women the society breaks down. ​My wife sees released women inmates and their children living out of cars at Santa Fe Community College. We volunteer at the Santa Fe Interfaith Homeless Shelter with addicts to feed and house them. I worked with AIDS patients in Jamaica, WI in US Peace Corps and alcoholic students in Gallup UNM. AIDS patients suffer brain issues as the disease progresses. I also work training women in IT in summer internships at the State of NM. Many work in NM. I completed a thesis on DNA shotgun sequencing at the US Human Genome Project at Los Alamos National Lab. I graduated with MS CS at NM Tech while at LANL.

​My son is now a senior in Chemical/Biomedical engineering at CSU, Fort Collins building Alzheimer's, TBI, and addiction models using neural nets/machine learning. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCWN3xxRkmTPmbKwht9FuE5A?app... Unfortunately there are no Chemical/Biomedical Engineering BS programs in New Mexico? My son has studied the Chinese language. How do we stop importation of Fentanyl from China?​ https://www.statnews.com/2018/01/24/china-fentanyl-usps/​ Delta FosB protein is seen in epileptics, Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), addicts and Alzheimer's brains. US football and NHL hockey teams too? ​https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FOSB ​ Could a plastic contact lens absorb Delta FosB? Could Korean contact lens be used to monitor Delta Fosb in addicts? A lower amount could mean effective drug addiction treatment? Could you develop a contact lens sensor for Delta FosB? https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/01/25/th...

Delta FosB may be detected in eyes via contact lens? Cheaper than MRI. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaophthalmology/article-a... https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11006248

TL;DR: I've had issues with alcohol in the past, and am currently on prescription drugs to focus at work.

I've bounced around a bit.

After losing my job in '00 I started drinking pretty heavily. That was probably my worst period, and definitely in the abuse zone. I was able to pull myself out of it long enough to get work, which helped me keep out of trouble with it for a while.

In '06 I was working in the banking sector in NYC. There was a pretty string drinking culture there. Never at work, but afterwards you'd head out to bars and have a half dozen beers, then maybe go to a whiskey bar. I'd stumble home at least one night per week.

I had to do a lot of introspection about this and decide whether I wanted alcohol in my life at all. In the end I feel like my drinking was trying to avoid a shitty point in my life. If I hit a point like that again I stop drinking altogether (this has happened once since then, and it went well). But otherwise I don't really worry about it. I probably drink about twice/month, and usually only a drink or two when we go out for a nice dinner.

These days I've been having focus issues. I've always been borderline ADD. After my son was diagnosed with ADHD he started on Methylphenidate (in the Ritalin family) and I saw a night and day difference. So I saw a psychopharmacologist and I'm taking 60 mg Vyvanse (in the Adderall family) most work days. I don't use it when I'm not working, and I never stack more than one. But there has been a lot of pressure to keep up with peers. I'm 38 years old and have two kids, working as a software engineer at Google, my team lead is 22, and the average age of the group is 23. I just can't match their work-life balance. The Vyvanse keeps me focused on my job, and my peers and manager have noticed and commented on the increased productivity.

I've gone through periods when I smoked pot heavily to unwind from stressful work. These days I smoke extremely rarely.

After dabbling in the alcohol addiction, I don't want to fall back in that, so I keep a pretty close eye on myself. My wife also feels comfortable telling me if she thinks there's a problem, so I feel supported by the people around me.

I am a successful engineer with a wonderful loving family. I'm also addicted to hydrocodone. It's been about 7 years. It started I'm sure like many others, a bad back, a wisdom tooth, and a little slip of paper good for 3 refills. One day I asked myself what these wonder pills would do for me when I wasn't in pain. It was instant bliss, like nothing I'd ever imagined life could be. I confined my indulgence at first to weekends, then a few times a week, then....

I'm at 50mg a day now, down from 100 so there's that. The real junkies will be laughing at me, and perhaps rightfully so, but I'm not laughing. I've experienced withdrawal a few times, and never longer than 3 days. Just as words cannot describe the sensation this drug gives me, it is equally impossible to explain the nightmare that occurs when my lazy mu-opioid receptors don't get what they are accustomed to. I keep myself on the edge of withdrawal all the time, only taking when I'm about to get the shakes, to ward off the demons for just a few hours more. I have a fighting chance to kick this thing, unlike many and I realize how lucky I am, but also I know I may not live long enough to reach my goal.

I'm very good at spotting the fakes, but the fakes are getting better every year. The sad consequence of the tightening of supply in the past several years--closing the pill mills, rescheduling, limits on number of prescriptions a doctor can write--is a sharp increase in the black market price, a surge of demand from addicts whose doctors have written them off, and a massive incentive for counterfeits, many containing fentanyl. Prohibition doesn't work, people are dying. But who cares, right? We're just a bunch of junkies.

I keep a note in my wallet explaining to my family that I love them and that I am sorry.

The #1 and #2 drugs consumed by far in Silicon Valley are simply processed/refined sugars and caffeine. The former via foods of all kinds and sodas, snacks, and the later via coffee and sodas.

These are far more dangerous drugs in this sense... even a small child can tell you cocaine is bad for you or that LSD is a “drug”, but no one considers soda and coffee to be drug laced.

These are the real gateway drugs, by far.

If Silicon Valley had decent espresso, no joke, there would be no demand for any of these stupid drugs people are messing with. But the espresso tastes like absolute poop. In the bay area you can market and sell poop drinks as artisinal or small batch or whatever. Its essentially poop. E.g. if you think blue bottle tastes good, I could sell you a cup of poop for $10 easy because you have been fooled.

Back to seriousness, the real problem in all of this is failure to understand the real impacts of seamingly harmless things (processed sugars and caffeine) NOT obviously harmful substances. There must be a progression from the former to the latter. Who the fuck wakes up one morning and says: “shit, works been hard lately, id like to try a line of cocaine, i heard its really great for relaxation”. Wake up, it doesnt happen like that.

Yes, i have conveniently left alcohol out of this ranking, but its #3. If you dont know how bad alcohol is for your brain and body... heh...

The real story is the engineer drinking 8+ cups of black coffee or 10 sodas per day... not the coo ceo or vp doing marijuana or cocaine before work. The latter knows what theyre doing, they may be depressed but they know whats up. The former, probably not. And those seemingly safe substances kick off the dangerous ones.

> The real story is the engineer drinking 8+ cups of black coffee or 10 sodas per day...

Very much agree. Compulsive consumption of sugary/caffeinated beverages is very much an eating disorder. People engage in this at work as a means of coping with stress. There are very harmful side-effects to this behavior: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/...

I never really got the point of people referring to things other people eat or drink with terms like "poop".

With coffee there is actually a link to poop in some cases: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak


I've been taking Adderall just about daily for 12 years. 15yrs old to 27yrs old. I've been looking for a way to contribute to a study, specifically on the productivity. My theory is that overall a life on amphetamines does result in increased productivity in your target areas and the downside is a serious dopamine problem in areas that people don't typically have problems with. I've quit cold turkey for periods of up to 3 months 5 times in the last 7 years. I NEEDed 3 days to sleep hard each time and then there were no noticeable side effects other than borderline zero productivity in the areas I used amphetamines to increase productivity the most. Amphetamines give me the ability to change my interests completely and when I get off of them my brain seems to reject what it was forced to care about while stimulated.

I've took everything under the sun... Now I don't touch anything but cannabis due to experiencing mental health issues myself and seeing a lot of my peers, who also took drugs, have similar issues. I've had more than a few peers who were upstanding, intelligent and well presented members of society, end up in a mental hospital for the rest of their lives or in a grave.

You can't place every drug in the same category, no, but excessive use of anything leads to negative consequences, especially for males under 25 who haven't fully matured.

I'd say in the UK, in those professions, most people are middle class and have not seen the damage that various drugs and alcohol can do. Most people in these professions can afford the habit and it does not affect their lives.

From growing up in a poor area I have seen the damage that drugs can do, but even then it was never something that never really entered my mind when deciding what drugs to take or how excessively I was going to take them until I had a scare myself and lost close friends.

I still have a weed habit though, consumption has increased along with my wage, but I haven't touched anything else for years and have no intention of doing so. Before I used to really want to take hard drugs, now I really don't.

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