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Are hallucinogens the new productivity tool for tech workers?

"Why is this octopus looking over my shoulder?"

Better Living Through Chemistry

In San Francisco of the 1960s, hallucinogens were a way to free the mind, forget the war, and really feel the free love, man. In a twist only capitalism could imagine, those same drugs are now being used in Silicon Valley for less romantic ambitions – writing code.

LSD and mushrooms are replacing Ritalin and Adderall as the not-so-secret weapon that’s helping tech workers finish projects, get apps out the door, or update software. Programmers and others in the industry are using the drug to “to feel a little bit of energy lift, a little bit of insight, but not so much that you are tripping,” Rick Doblin, founder and executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, said in a recent Rolling Stone piece.

To be clear: these tech workers are not partaking of the same doses as their hippie predecessors. They are microdosing, or taking roughly a tenth of the “normal” dose – 10 micrograms of LSD or .2 – .5 grams of mushrooms often taken only every four days. Microdosers claim they get all the supposed benefits of hallucinogens – enhanced creativity, and ability to overcome mental blocks or problems – without the hallucinations.

Naturally, there’s scant research on the subject. But there is, of course, a subreddit devoted to the topic. In a recent post, a group of software developers in the UK, who have experimented with neuroenhancers in the past, wrote about their experiment with LSD.

Their findings were less than inspiring. The Product Manager “found it more productive, creative, and easier to communicate,” but the coders reported “no noticeable improvements, one bad stomach.”

But the group will continue experimenting. “There was a general interest in the team to find new ways of improving cognition, productivity, and creativity in software development,” one of the experimenters told us.

A redditor and self-described tech industry analyst in the Bay Area, compared microdosing LSD to “Adderall in terms of feeling more ‘in the zone.’ Boring tasks can be interesting. I sort of get a mindset of being excited to get stuff done.” This user suggests you do your research before starting your own microdosing routine. James Fadiman’s book The Psychedelic Explorer’s Guide is a good place to start.

Fadiman, who is credited for introducing microdosing to a wider audience, started sending out microdosing instruction sheets to interested parties five years ago. He has also collected emails charting user experiences.

He told Rolling Stone his responses include “a steady, consistent stream originating in the San Francisco area.” The typical user is an “‘übersmart twentysomething’ curious to see whether microdosing will help him or her work through technical problems and become more innovative.”

Another microdoser, an engineer in Canada, told us, “I feel a lot more light hearted about everything happening. My thoughts are very fluid, and I feel incredibly in tune with myself.” Perhaps unsurprisingly the only downside was “from accidentally dosing too high.”

Anyone worried about being caught? A small business owner with a courier service in San Francisco wasn’t worried until we asked. “It’s such a small amount for personal use that it’s not a big concern here in California,” the Redditer wrote. “Now you’ve got me all paranoid though. I’m going to go bury them in the backyard…”

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