Brian, a camp counselor, gets ready for work like anyone else. He eats breakfast. He sips coffee. He showers. And then he smokes a phat bowl.
If you think that last bit is abnormal, think again: A 2019 survey found that 5 percent of Canadians smoke weed before work, and a spokesperson for the Brightfield Group, a cannabis-minded market research firm, told the New York Post that there are “millions of Americans” getting righteously high in the workplace on a “regular basis.”
Some of our most cherished celebrities have built wildly lucrative careers that revolve around them smoking weed before — and during — work. Snoop Dogg keeps a salaried blunt roller in his posse. Seth Rogen is stoned during “100 percent” of his performances. Willie Nelson is high “pretty much all the time.”
If man is a cog in the vast machine of capitalism, some would argue that weed is our lubricant. Brian, for instance, tells me that his routine consumption helps him be more creative and interactive with the kids at his camp. “We place creative roadblocks in our minds, and weed has always helped me clear that roadblock,” he says. “Creativity is important to kids, so I find that it helps me bond with them more.”
Jack, a software engineer, says smoking before work helps him grind through the tedium of monotonous testing. “It helps with the mundane logistical things,” he says. “It actually helps me do a better job, because I stop thinking about the other things I could be doing with my time and how this work is bullshit. It makes it less agitating.”
For Jonathan, a customer experience data analyst, vaping in the mornings helps him dial in on reports and spreadsheets. “I’m dreamy in the mornings, and it helps ground me,” he says. Andrea (an alias), a law clerk, says weed “helps me calm down enough to sort through the shitshow that’s the American legal system. It’s almost like it helps me slow down enough to understand how to communicate. My brain moves too fast after reading and trying to reconcile a bunch of case opinions, statutes and legal practice guides. Once I slow down, it’s easier to articulate the nuances.”
Then there are workers like Sean, a sales associate in a clothing store, who simply smoke to relieve the stress of keeping their noses to the grindstone. “I generally smoke before work out of boredom, but also as hangover relief during morning shifts on the weekends,” he says.
For all of these workers, smoking before clocking in provides some sort of assistance, but it also requires careful precision. “It definitely makes it hard to focus if I smoke too much,” Jonathan admits. “Strains are important. Some would definitely make me want to just chill or space out.” The best strains for work, he claims, have a wide spectrum of cannabinoids and a low amount of psychoactive THC.
On some days, for instance, Sean has surpassed the limits of being productively high at work, and he warns against it. “My boss was pretty perceptive,” he says. “That coupled with the fact that I was generally high energy while not stoned made him pick up on it a little, and he asked if I was alright. I just said I was feeling under the weather.”
Phew, close call.
To avoid instances of additional anxiety caused by smoking weed before work, Andrea keeps her consumption to when “I’ve already done and organized all of my research.”
For the most part, these anecdotes support the notion that weed can contribute to productivity in the workforce. The science, however, is all over the place. One study of thousands of employees and hundreds of employers found that weed has the potential to slightly decrease productivity, but some sectors displayed an increase. Broadly speaking, we know that weed can result in short-term memory problems, impaired thinking and decreased alertness. Then again, as my colleague Andrew Fiouzi recently wrote, “There is some evidence that suggests that for people with ADHD, smoking weed can actually help them focus.” As Jonathan notes, “Cannabis affects everyone uniquely.”
Even among those who swear by smoking at work, the impact that weed has on them can be hard to anticipate at times. A chronic smoker describes this experience well in a 2014 VICE article: “On some days, smoking helped me relax and focus on doing one task at a time. On other days, weed made me struggle to concentrate, and I spent three hours on Reddit instead of working.”
In some ways, then, smoking weed before work is a gamble. It may get you in the zone, or it may make you spend your day thinking about Cheetos. Therefore, some jobs may be more suitable for weed smokers than others. “I’ve tried to smoke, then do something with tools, like machinery, and I understand wholeheartedly why companies drug test,” Jack says. “You can’t be doing that shit when you’re high, because you’ll kill someone.” Brian adds, “If you’re a lawyer, maybe smoking weed after work is a better option. But if you’re working in customer service, teaching or doing any sort of creative thinking, smoking weed can benefit you greatly.”
To that end, there are also questions about the ethics of smoking before work, even in jobs where being high is relatively harmless (clearly, operating heavy machinery while stoned is a terrible idea). Again, though, many believe the ethics of smoking at work boil down to what you do for a living. As one Quora browser writes, “Office job? Go for it. Surgeon? Get the fuck. If a lack of muscle control could harm you or others, please don’t.”
If you work a job where being high has no chance of harming others, though, Jonathan argues that the act of smoking before work is entirely morally sound. “Cannabis is like our best friend in the plant world,” he says. “The same cannabinoids in the plant are found not only in other plants, but in our body itself. We need to expand our understanding of reality and the human condition. We work really hard, and we should have something that balances it out. There are a lot of societal pressures, and cannabis helps you reflect and respond appropriately.”
Furthermore, Jonathan argues that humans have been smoking before work since we first discovered weed, and that any negative stigma we feel toward doing so is largely cultural — several African tribes have a history of smoking weed before going to war so they felt stimulated to perform “hazardous feats,” and historically, in rural areas of Jamaica, the belief is that cannabis “permits the individual to face, start and carry through the most difficult and distasteful manual labor.”
So, is weed before work helpful or harmful?
It seems that depends on the person and the job. But whether we can come to an agreement or not, one thing is definitely true — smokers are gonna smoke.