Roseanne was canceled by ABC yesterday following a racist remark star Roseanne Barr tweeted about Valerie Jarrett, who was a senior adviser to President Obama. Following the cancellation, Barr tweeted out a long-winded apology, which included a claim that the damning tweet had been influenced by a dose of Ambien.
Barr’s excuse prompted Sanofi, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Ambien, to weigh in.
So the maker of a popular prescription sleep medication wants you to know that — presumably after rigorous, double-blind testing and absolutely not in relation to anything a right-wing celebrity might be tweeting — its medical product does not produce racism as a side effect. This pharmaceutical contains no racism. (The obvious caveat here: the deeply racist history of medical research.)
That isn’t to say Ambien doesn’t have any adverse effects; some common ones include headaches, dizziness, and dry mouth. Two downsides, though, have become particularly popular: hallucinations and sleepwalking. Naturally, the internet has seized onto these over the years and turned “Ambi-tripping” into something of a culture, dating at least as far back as 2000, when the first Ambien posts appeared on the drug experience forum Erowid. “I’m remembering being a tree,” user Starfish wrote in May of that year. “The bathroom tiles are woodland creatures, and they’re talking to me.” He goes on to say that the tiles have the personalities that squirrels and woodchucks would have if they were sentient, although he doesn’t describe what those might be.
Drew Fairweather, who draws the popular webcomic Toothpaste For Dinner and was an early online Ambien user, described his own experiences with the drug via a character called the Ambien Walrus in 2007.
In 2011, the subreddit r/Ambien sprang into existence. (Its mascot: a walrus.) Posts on the forum lean toward comedy clearly written by people under the influence. The most popular post reads like a self-contained standup joke. “Last Night, I Really Fucked Up. Took an Ambien and Didn’t Go To Bed Immediately. I Ended Up Shaving My Balls and Snapchatting it to Half of the People on my Friends List With the Caption, “Smooothest balls in AMurica tha US.” In an edit, poster Offalshade explained that he’d also tried making a sandwich. “I didn’t have any bread,” they write. “I woke up with a layer of mac & cheese and mashed potatoes between two slices of deli ham in a bowl.”
In other words, there is a reason Ambien is a controlled substance.
Barr’s injured tweet suggests that she must have absorbed the internet’s love for Ambien’s odd waking properties. But she doesn’t seem to have learned the lesson that drugs like this only amplify parts of your personality.
Correction: An earlier version of this story identified the first Ambien reports on Erowid as having appeared “at least as far back as 2007.” The site’s earliest Ambien reports appeared in 2000.