More than one-third of software programmers say they’ve used marijuana while working, with many finding that it helps promote creativity and get them into the “programming zone,” according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Michigan said that anecdotal evidence suggested that those in programming were more likely to use cannabis on the job, so they set out to conduct the “first large-scale survey” on the topic, asking 803 developers to detail how marijuana comes into play in their work.
A main motivation for the study was the fact that drug testing policies remain common in the programming sector, which may be contributing to “hiring shortages for certain jobs.”
That’s even the case at the federal level, the study authors note, citing comments by former FBI Director James Comey, who said in 2014 that he was interested in loosening employment policies around cannabis because some prospective agents “want to smoke weed on the way to the interview.”
“This prohibition of cannabis use in software engineering has contributed to a widely-reported hiring shortage for certain US government programming jobs,” the study says.
All told, 35 percent of survey participants said that they’ve “tried cannabis while programming or completing another software engineering-related task.” Seventy-three percent of that group said they’ve consumed marijuana while working in the past year.
The study—titled “Hashing It Out: A Survey of Programmers’ Cannabis Usage, Perception, and Motivation” and published this month in Cornell University’s arXiv—also looked at frequency of use among those who said they’ve used marijuana while engineering.
Fifty-three percent said they’ve consumed cannabis while programming at least 12 times, 27 percent said they used it at least twice a week and four percent said they use it while working on a nearly daily basis.
The study authors wanted to get a better understanding of why programmers chose to consume marijuana, too. And they found that the most common tasks that people used marijuana for were brainstorming, prototyping, coding and testing.
“Overall, we found that programmers were more likely to report enjoyment or programming enhancement motivations than wellness motivations: the most common reasons were ‘to make programming-related tasks more enjoyable’ (61%) and ‘to think of more creative programming solutions’ (53%),” the study found. “In fact, all programming enhancement reasons were selected by at least 30% of respondents. On the other hand, general wellness related reasons (such as mitigating pain and anxiety) were all cited by less than 30% of respondents. Thus, while wellness does motivate some cannabis use while programming, it is not the most common motivation.”
While there’s a notable prevalence of cannabis consumption among programmers, even most of those who don’t use marijuana are supportive of reform, the study found.
“Ninety-one percent of our participants say that marijuana use should be legal for both recreational and medicinal use compared to 60 percent of the general United States population in 2021,” the authors wrote.
The study also found that “cannabis use while programming occurs at similar rates for programming employees, managers and students despite differences in cannabis perceptions and visibility.”
“Our results have implications for programming job drug policies and motivate future research into cannabis use while programming,” the study states.
Drug testing policies have become a hot topic as more states enact legalization.
After New York opted to end prohibition this year, for example, the state Department of Labor announced that most employers are no longer allowed to drug test most workers for cannabis.
Amazon recently said that its earlier decision to end drug testing for cannabis will also be retroactive, meaning former workers and applicants who were punished for testing positive for THC will have their employment eligibility restored.
Lawmakers in the Senate and House have both included language in recent appropriations reports urging a review of employment policies for federal agencies with respect to personal use of cannabis. The House version passed in July, while the Senate Democrats’ report was released in October.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) issued a memo to federal agencies this year that says admitting to past marijuana use should not automatically disqualify people from being employed in the federal government.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration came under criticism after it was reported that it had fired or otherwise punished dozens of staffers who admitted to prior marijuana use. That came after the White House instituted a policy of granting waivers to some staff who’ve used cannabis.
Press Secretary Jen Psaki subsequently said that nobody in the White House was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.” However, she’s consistently declined to speak to the extent to which staff have been suspended or placed in a remote work program because they were honest about their history with marijuana on a federal form that’s part of the background check process.