When Elon Musk mixed Ambien with “a little red wine,” he started tweeting about his 1,000-year-old company and how his seven-step facial regimen keeps him looking great at age 500.
Unlike Roseanne Barr, who likened a black woman to an ape in a Tuesday morning tweet that she later blamed on Ambien.
Barr tweeted that senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett looked like if the “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby.” She also peddled a debunked conspiracy theory about activist investor and Holocaust survivor George Soros really being a Nazi collaborator who stole Jewish property.
ABC promptly cancelled the reboot of her sitcom.
Barr isn’t the first person to turn to Twitter while high on the sleep aid (and she certainly isn’t the first to be racist on the platform). In fact, “Ambien tweeting” — and other bizarre behavior while taking the prescription drug — has become a self-deprecating meme of sorts to talk about insomnia, the internet, and the link between the two. A comedian once scored a book deal on Ambien; someone else posted to the Ambien subreddit a picture of a chocolate chip cookie that they’d screwed onto a table while on the drug.
But so far, Barr’s one of the only Ambien users to blame the drug for racist behavior. After apologizing and promising to leave Twitter (which she didn’t), the actress and third-party presidential nominee partially blamed her erratic and offensive comments on Ambien (and also Memorial Day).
“guys I did something unforgiveable so do not defend me,” Barr wrote Tuesday night in a now-deleted tweet. “It was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting — it was memorial day too — I went 2 far & do not want it defended — it was egregious Indefensible. I made a mistake I wish I hadn’t but…don’t defend it please. ty”
But Ambien won’t make you a racist if you aren’t already racist, medical experts told VICE News. Sanofi, the maker of Ambien, also publicly stated that racism isn’t a known side effect of any of their medications, although Ambien can cause “abnormal thinking and behavioral changes," including lowered inhibitions.
“I don’t know what the fuck Roseanne was thinking,” said Carl Hart, the chair of the psychology department at Columbia University who’s studied the effects of psychoactive substances, including Ambien, for over 20 years. “It’s not gonna change your personality, so don’t expect it to. It might actually enhance it.”
Comedian Michael Ian Black, for example, managed to get a book deal out of his Ambien-induced social media use. He direct-messaged Meghan McCain on Twitter and suggested they write a book together. In 2012, they did.
Actress Kristin Chenoweth also told Conan O’Brien on his late-night talk show that she’d quietly live-tweeted crime shows before passing out on Ambien. While she said the combination isn’t advisable, her tweets were pretty innocuous. “Tweeting on Ambien, don’t do that either,” she said. “I’ve been, like, watching crime shows, and been like, ‘Don’t go on a cruise — you’ll never return, especially if you’re a honeymooner.'"
Back in 2014, humor website the Chive made some dude named Mitch B briefly internet-famous for his Ambien-induced tweets about Buzz Lightyear trying to kill him. (If you Google image search “Ambien tweets,” Mitch B’s pop up long before a screenshot of Roseanne’s attack on Jarrett.)
“it’s always fun checkin my internet history after i wake up from ambien,” Mitch B wrote, months before begging Buzz not to attack him.
Not all Ambien posting is harmless, though. White nationalist Jason Kessler, one of the organizers of last August's Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, tweeted that “Heather Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist,” shortly after the rally. Heyer was the 32-year-old woman killed when one of the rally’s attendees plowed a vehicle into a crowd of counterprotesters.
The next morning, Kessler blamed Ambien, plus a mixture of other substances. "I'm taking ambien, xanax and I had been drinking last night. I sometimes wake up having done strange things I can't remember," he tweeted, according to the LA Times. Kessler’s account has since been deleted. (Andrew "Weev" Auernheimer, a neo-Nazi Daily Stormer staffer, claimed he’d hacked Kessler’s account and sent the tweet, though that couldn’t be confirmed.)
If someone does do something cruel or racist on Ambien, it isn’t the drug’s fault, according to Hart, the Columbia University psychology chair. “Bad behavior is often blamed on a drug, and the society turns its attention to the drug, rather than the fucked-up shit the person did,” he added. “I have given dozens of drugs to research participants who have been in bed in our lab. And no kind of shit like this has ever happened.”
Other doctors chimed in with similar thoughts. “Ambien has quite a few side effects, but racism isn’t one of them,” tweeted Eugene Gu, a resident physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “Even if Roseanne wanted to claim she had an Ambien blackout and was sleep-tweeting, that racism had to come from somewhere deep within.”
Gu is a surgeon who prescribes Ambien to patients after operations, and he thinks blaming the drug is problematic. “We’ve seen people scapegoat vaccines, and other things, and it creates actual harm on a demographic level,” Gu told VICE News.
For her part, Barr has tried, belatedly, to own the comments and place the blame on herself, rather than Ambien. Her tweet about taking Ambien has been deleted and she said that her citing Ambien was an “explanation not an excuse.”
Correction 5/31 at 12:03 p.m.: A previous version of this story noted that an Imgur user named "careefreedude" posted a receipt of a yak his friend had bought while taking sleeping pills. He emailed VICE News to clarify that while he's done some crazy shit on sleeping pills, ordering a yak wasn't one of them; the receipt was photoshopped as a joke. The reference has been removed.
Cover image: A bottle of Ambien is shown May 5, 2006 in Des Plaines, Illinois. (Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images)