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Ambien can’t make you racist, but it sure can bring out your inner racism

Rosanne Barr
AP Photo/Jeff Christensen
Drugs didn’t make her do it.
  • Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

After Roseanne Barr tweeted racist comments about former Obama staffer Valerie Jarrett, ABC cancelled her show, and her agent dropped her. Although she’s since deleted the tweet, the mistake cost her and countless others their livelihoods.

Barr then tweeted an apology, and even said she’d be leaving Twitter. So far, she hasn’t. In fact, she’s been especially active on the site, issuing another statement at 11pm US Pacific time—local time for Barr—yesterday (May 29) blaming the sleep aid Ambien for her behavior. This tweet, too, was deleted, around 3:20am Pacific, Gizmodo reports.

Ambien, manufactured by Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis, has been putting people to sleep for some 25 years, since it first received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration in 1992. The drug, known generically as zolpidem, works by increasing the effectiveness (paywall) of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, which inhibits overactive cells. This works partially to quiet thoughts or anxiety and make you feel relaxed. It works as a sedative, and helps you ease into sleep—but doesn’t cause sleep itself (there are no pills that cause true sleep).

If you are particularly relaxed and uninhibited and fail to fall asleep…well, it can lead to some pretty weird outcomes. There’s an entire subreddit on the strange things people report doing while awake on sleep aids, including buying more than $3,000 of Tibetan yaks, per Mashable.

The warning label for Ambien states that the drug can cause “complex behaviors” like “driving or eating while not fully awake…as well as abnormal behaviors such as being more outgoing or aggressive than normal.” People taking the drug may not remember these events, either.

For obvious reasons, no drug can make someone racist. Nevertheless, Sanofi-Aventis felt compelled to make this clear on Twitter:

There’s no way to know for certain, but it is possible that if Barr took Ambien and stayed awake,  she may have ended up sharing thoughts with the world she ordinarily wouldn’t. But if Ambien did play any role, it didn’t give her those thoughts, they just made her feel more comfortable sharing them on this particular night.

Barr made similarly racist comments on Twitter four years ago. Nine years ago, she posed as Adolf Hitler in a photoshoot for a Jewish publication; it was supposed to be satirical, but it instigated widespread criticism. It doesn’t appear that she blamed Ambien in either of those previous cases.

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