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Ask HN: I'm writing a book about white-collar drug use, including tech sector
542 points by Eilene on Feb 26, 2018 | hide | past | 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...

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


> 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" .

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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