Sleep aid Ambien can come with side effects, but racism isn't one, Ambien's maker Sanofi said in response to TV star Roseanne Barr's suggestion that the drug contributed to her recent controversial tweets.
Barr suggests that sleep aid contributed to racist remarks
Earlier this week, Barr tweeted that former President Barack Obama's adviser Valerie Jarrett, who is black, is the product of the "muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes." The tweet has since been deleted. Barr apologized for the comment and called the actions "unforgiveable."
However, Barr on Wednesday tweeted that she'd made the earlier tweet about Jarret after taking Ambien. "It was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting," Barr wrote. Barr added, "Not giving excuses for what I did(tweeted) but I've done weird stuff while on ambien — cracked eggs on the wall at 2am etc." She has since deleted references to Ambien, according to CNN.
Sleep aids don't explain racism, Sanofi says
Ambien's maker, Sanofi, along with scientific research, say there's reason to be skeptical of Barr's suggestion, Benedict Carey reports for the New York Times.
Sanofi responded to Barr's suggestion by tweeting, "While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medications."
— Sanofi US (@SanofiUS) May 30, 2018
So what does happen when a person takes Ambien?
Ambien is a sedative in a group of medicines called "Z-drugs," which are used mainly to treat insomnia. According to the Times, people who take these drugs have reported a range of adverse reactions.
According to Carey, sleepwalking, memory blackouts, and nighttime feasting are among the best-known reactions. Stories about Ambien's effects typically entail physical actions, rather than comments that suggest the user is conscious and aware.
According to Vox, Ambien has been tied to odd behavioral and psychiatric side effects in 1% to 4% of users. UpToDate shows under 1% of users reported having abnormal thinking, delusions, and aggressive behavior.
While Z-drugs can have morning-after effects, such as slips in verbal memory and mental focus, these effects are more like sleep deprivation than "Tourette-like outbursts of insults and epithets," according to Carey. Further, Barr has made inflammatory remarks on Twitter and elsewhere in the past.
Ambien users have also reported hallucinations, though these are typically visual in nature.
Sleep scientists believe that some of the reactions people have while using Ambien indicate that they are in "mixed states," meaning that mental processes in the slumbering brain are happening while a person is awake, Carey reports. Cases where people "sleepwalk" to the fridge, meanwhile, are believed to happen when the sleeping brain is active but the chemical that paralyzes a sleeping body isn't circulating.
These states typically give a person "spacey quality" when awake—"not the kind that lends itself to tossing off vituperative insults," Carey writes (Belluz, Vox, 5/30; Stelter/ Kottasová, CNN, 5/30; Carey, New York Times, 5/30).
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