Barr has since deleted her initial tweet, but this morning, when someone suggested that she was using Ambien as an excuse, she replied saying it was an "explanation, not an excuse." While it's true that many people report odd side effects from taking Ambien — there's even a sub-Reddit called "Things You Did On Ambien" — none of them include making racist remarks on the internet.
But whether Barr's tweets about Ambien are an "explanation" or an "excuse" doesn't really matter. Taking medication doesn't cause people to have hateful, racist thoughts and views, nor does it make people act on them. And, considering that last week the National Rifle Association president blamed mass shootings on people taking Ritalin, perhaps we should also clarify what this psychoactive drug is and what it does.
Ambien is a sedative-hypnotic drug that works by slowing down brain activity so that people can go to sleep, according to MedlinePlus. It's often used to treat insomnia or trouble sleeping, and tons of people use it (according to a 2011 estimate, approximately 60 million Americans take sleeping medications). Most people who take Ambien find that their sleep improves after 7 to 10 days. But it is meant to be taken in short-term situations, rather than used as a chronic sleep aid, because it's possible to become dependent on it. Most people use them during periods of stress for up to one month.
While Ambien works well at putting people to sleep, it does come with possible side effects. The most common side effects of Ambien are tiredness, headache, dizziness, difficulty balancing, shakiness, nausea, and a "drugged feeling," according to MedlinePlus. Some people find that Ambien also leads to gastrointestinal issues, like nausea, constipation, diarrhea, and gas.
And, sometimes, things get interesting. Taking Ambien can lead to sleep-eating, sleepwalking, or experiencing other parasomnias. In fact, it's possible for people to do complex motor activities like cook or send emails on Ambien. Most of the time, people won't remember doing it in the morning. But, to date, Barr seems to be the only person to report tweeting a racist comment about a former Obama staffer to hundreds of thousands of followers.
Barr's "Ambien tweeting" was so far from the scope of possible side effects that the company that manufactures Ambien, Sanofi, had to set the record straight. "While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication," the company tweeted.
People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication.— Sanofi US (@SanofiUS) May 30, 2018
In fact, the makers of Ambien have strict instructions for what to do if it does alter your thoughts or mood. Technically, Ambien is a psychoactive drug, so it's possible to experience mood changes while on it. But you should see your doctor or healthcare provider if you experience aggressiveness, hallucinations, memory problems, difficult concentrating, depression, or "any other changes in your usual thoughts, mood, or behavior," according to MedlinePlus. People also have to be really careful with Ambien, because mixing it with alcohol or other anxiety medications can lead to serious health issues or overdose.
So, at the end of the day, taking Ambien may make you to do some whacky stuff. But in order for it to make you go to your computer, type out a coherent sentence of hateful words, and press tweet, you have to already think that way first.