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Study Looks at Cannabis Use, Potential Creative Boost Among Programmers

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Many folks find that cannabis is a great source of creative inspiration, helping to jumpstart the brain, even while working. A new study revealed that this seems to be true among software programmers, confirming that many software programmers use cannabis to help boost their creativity and get “in the zone” while working.

The study was conducted by University of Michigan researchers, who said they based their study on anecdotal evidence, indicating that programmers were more prone to using cannabis while working.

The study surveyed more than 800 developers, with researchers’ primary motivation being that drug testing policies are still common in the programming sector and, according to researchers, that drug testing policies may contribute to a hiring shortage for some jobs.

The research team centered four questions in its analysis:

Do programmers use cannabis while programming, and if so how often?

In what contexts do programmers use cannabis?

Why do programmers use cannabis?

How do opinions of programming cannabis use vary between managers, employees and students?

The study showed 35 percent of participants had used cannabis while programming software or completing other related tasks, and more than 70 percent of those respondents said they had used cannabis within the past year.

Fifty-three percent said they had used cannabis when programming more than 10 times, while 27 percent admitted to using cannabis at least two times a week. Four percent said they used cannabis on the job daily. Regarding the last question, despite differences in perceptions of cannabis approval level and visibility, the rates of use while programming were similar among employees, managers, and students.

Approximately 30 percent of respondents indicated they used cannabis for wellness reasons, though despite the prominence of this response, it was not the primary motivation. When asked why they chose to use cannabis, programmers said it made programming tasks enjoyable and helped them to develop creative solutions while working.

“We find that cannabis use while programming is more commonly motivated by perceived programming-related skill enhancement than by medical reasons,” the report states. “This aligns with perceptions among a subset of students and younger people that cannabis use may enhance creativity or cognitive performance.”

According to researchers, the most common tasks for programmers who consumed cannabis while working were coding, testing, prototyping and brainstorming.

Cannabis was the focus of this study, but researchers say there could be other substances, such as psychedelics, that could similarly interact with programming and creativity. The researchers said they hope this study inspires more research on programming and mind-altering substances from multiple angles, including company drug policies, programming productivity and socio-technical considerations.

Other studies have looked at the role of cannabis and creativity on a broader level.

A 2015 study from Leiden University in the Netherlands found that using cannabis correlated with increased signs of divergent thinking, to a certain point. The low dose (5.5 mg of 19 percent THC) was associated with a slight increase in divergent thinking, encouraging traits like fluency, flexibility and originality. The higher dose, on the other hand, had a much stronger and opposite effect, actually decreasing divergent thinking to below the control group’s average score.

Other studies have concluded cannabis’ ability to increase creativity is also context dependent and could depend on the consumer’s personality, along with their dose.

Another study from University College in London looked at divergent thinking in two groups, defined as “high” or “low” creativity, and found that cannabis increased divergent thinking in the low-creativity group, but less so in the high-creativity group. Essentially, the study concludes that if you’re already creative, cannabis wouldn’t make you much more creative, but if you’re not creative, or having trouble accessing creativity, cannabis could help.