Colin Powell: "Yes. Well, I wouldn't call them that. They're a wonderful medication -- not medication. How would you call it? They're called Ambien, which is very good. You don't use Ambien? Everybody here uses Ambien."
-- Nov. 5, 2003 interview with former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell
"Everybody here uses Ambien," former Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a Nov. 5, 2003 interview. Well, maybe not everybody in America uses Ambien, but the figures are astoundingly high: In 2005, 26.5 million prescriptions for Ambien were written in the United States alone, totaling $2.2 billion in sales. Contrary to Powell's 2003 statement, Ambien is a medication -- one with very serious, impairing and sometimes hallucinogenic side effects. With these effects in mind, the fact that 26.5 million Americans -- including major political figures like Powell -- use this powerful drug is alarming indeed.
Ambien is a hypnotic drug; it fulfills its purpose by literally hypnotizing the brain to sleep. Biologically speaking, it binds to the brain's GABA (gamma-amino-butyric-acid) receptors, making the neurotransmitter perform its job more effectively. What is GABA's job? Promoting sleep, of course; GABA prevents the brain cells from firing, which causes you to slumber.
Unfortunately, in many cases, Ambien's effect on brain chemistry results in much more than a good night's sleep. In 2004, the FDA received 48 "adverse event" reports about the use of Ambien, both with and without the use of other drugs. The phrase "adverse events" falls short of describing the horrifying effects some Ambien users have experienced, and some of these "adverse events" have resulted in nearly insurmountable legal troubles.
In the breaking New York Times article, "Some Sleeping Pill Users Range Far Beyond Bed," reporter Stephanie Saul tells the story of a registered nurse who took Ambien before going to sleep one night in January 2003. Sometime after falling asleep, she went out into the Denver winter night wearing only a thin nightshirt, even though the temperature was only 20 degrees. She got into her car, caused an accident, urinated in the middle of the intersection and then got into a violent altercation with the police officers who came to arrest her. In the matter of one night and one sleeping pill, her traffic record went from exemplary to tarnished with a reduced charge of careless driving. Interestingly enough, she says she remembers nothing of what happened during that Ambien-influenced night.
This Denver woman is not alone in her experiences. Every day, an increasing number of people are experiencing the strange, sometimes terrifying effects that this common sleeping pill can create. On AskDocWeb.com, a number of everyday people have posted their Ambien experiences:
On May 20, 2004, "JW" posted an Ambien-related incident similar to the one experienced by the Denver woman. "I had a major problem. At 10:30pm I took one Ambien 10 mg and went to bed. Apparently, I slept at least one hour before getting up and driving off in my car. I was arrested at 01:59 and placed in jail for DUI at about 07:50 am. I awoke to find I was in jail. I have no memory of getting out of bed and dressing and driving off in my car. Fortunately, all charges were dropped. I will never use the RX, ever again."
Then, on Dec. 17, 2005, "Vicki" wrote about her boyfriend, who was not as lucky as "JW" and experienced severe legal consequences as a result of his use of Ambien: "My boyfriend is in jail now with a DUI for "sleep driving" while on Ambien. The first night on the drug that he spent in the house alone, he took the pill, went to bed, awoke, got in his truck, drove two miles down the road and into a parking lot. He bumped into a parked car, was accused of being "drunk," cuffed, beat up and put in jail. To this day, he has no memory of anything before being taised (sic) by the cops. Be careful with Ambien. If you don't stay asleep after taking it, you will do some strange and maybe dangerous things."
The incidents detailed above have some serious implications. Frankly, the idea that each night, there are people driving around the streets, doing outrageous things like urinating in public and becoming violent is a bit disconcerting. Then, these people wake up from their Ambien-influenced nights with no memory whatsoever of the events that happened -- even if the night involved getting into car accidents, becoming violent with police officers and getting thrown in jail.
In 1995, science-themed horror writer Robin Cook eerily foretold the potentially dangerous side effects of brain chemistry-altering pharmaceuticals in his book Acceptable Risk. In the medical thriller, Cook writes of a group of Harvard-based researchers who develop a new antidepressant drug based on the active ingredients of a fungus found in a historical home located near Salem, Mass. The researchers run phase-one clinical trials on themselves to expedite the development of what they believe will be a groundbreaking pharmaceutical. During the clinical trials, the antidepressant makes the researchers "sleepwalk" each night and take part in feral behavior such as attacking animals and people. In the morning, they remember nothing that they did the night before.
Though Cook's work is of course fiction, it is based on historical precedent that also applies to the "sleep walking" and "sleep driving" incidents involving Ambien. People taking part in deviant, nighttime behavior that they don't remember in the morning is reminiscent of the "witches" that were persecuted during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. This is more than a simple coincidence. Based on Linnda Caporael's research, experts now believe that the nighttime deviance of the Salem "witches" was due to ergot poisoning. When the fungus Claviceps purpurea infects rye and other grains, it turns the grain kernels into sclerotia -- which contain potent chemicals, including the lysergic acid from which the hallucinogenic drug LSD is made.
Now, what does this have to do with Ambien? Like the Salem "witches," many Ambien users are being legally persecuted for the nighttime behavior they exhibit while under the influence of the hypnotic drug. Instead of being executed, they're being thrown in jail and are then faced with charges of DUI, reckless driving and more. Furthermore, like the sclerotia's lysergic acid component, Ambien is a hallucinogen.
Take a look at the following, Dec. 6, 2005 AskDocWeb.com post by "Tammy":
"I have only taken Ambien a few times. The last time was about three days ago. My husband got in the shower as I was taking it and when he got out of the shower he came into the den where I was and found me staring at the Christmas tree in horror. I remember thinking the tree was grabbing at me and although I knew it wasn't real it seemed very real. Everything almost looked 3-D to me. When my husband called my name, I turned and looked at him and his face seemed to melt away which freaked me out and I started crying. He got me up and walked me to bed and he practically had to carry me because I could hardly walk. I do enjoy the great sleep I get while taking Ambien but I'm not so sure I can handle the hallucinations."
Tammy's story almost sounds like a bad LSD "trip," and as you might imagine, drug abusers worldwide have already recognized Ambien's hallucinogenic qualities. "Drug experience" sites contain many accounts of Ambien hallucinations that are contributed by visitors to the sites. Now, as the FDA and Sanofi-Aventis (the pharmaceutical company that produces Ambien) will surely argue, many of these Ambien abusers combined the sleeping pill with alcohol and other drugs -- combinations that Ambien's label specifically warns against. Given this warning, neither Sanofi-Aventis nor the FDA should be held accountable for Ambien abusers who overdose on the drug or combine it with other substances. However, many Ambien users -- people like Tammy, who have doctor-authorized prescriptions for the drug and who use it in the recommended dosages -- are nevertheless still experiencing hallucinogenic effects.
Drug rehabilitation centers worldwide realize that Ambien can cause dangerous side effects, as they have seen and heard accounts of Ambien-induced activities. Narconon of Georgia describes Ambien's effects on the mind and behavior as follows:
"A variety of abnormal thinking and behavior changes have been reported to occur in association with the use of sedative/ hypnotics. Some of these changes may be characterized by decreased inhibition (e.g., aggressiveness and extroversion that seemed out of character), similar to effects produced by alcohol and other CNS depressants. Other reported behavioral changes have included bizarre behavior, agitation, hallucinations, and depersonalization. Amnesia and other neuropsychiatric symptoms may occur unpredictably. In primarily depressed patients, worsening of depression, including suicidal thinking, has been reported in association with the use of sedative/hypnotics."
Unfortunately, the FDA and Safosi-Aventis fail to recognize the seriousness of these effects, and doctors continue to prescribe Ambien with alarming frequency. Former Secretary of State Powell's description of Ambien sums up the popular perception of the hypnotic drug perfectly: "They're a wonderful medication -- not medication. How would you call it? They're called Ambien, which is very good." Unfortunately, this concept of Ambien as "not a medication" but rather some sort of sleep-regulating "non-pill" is misguided.
Who wants to live in a nation where "everybody," including the country's most powerful political figures, take hallucinogenic drugs?
Note from Mike Adams: "I thought all our politicians were on crack. Turns out it was Ambien."
Cook, Robin. "Acceptable Risk". New York: Penguin Putnam, 2005.
Lewis, Mark, dir. "Secrets of the Dead. Case File: The Witches Curse." 2002.
Narconon of Georgia. "Ambien." 2006.
Saul, Stephanie. "Some Sleeping Pill Users Range Far Beyond Bed." New York Times. 8 Mar. 2006.