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Ambien maker to Roseanne Barr: "Racism is not a known side effect"

Last Updated May 30, 2018 1:37 PM EDT

Roseanne Barr says the sleeping pill Ambien played a role in the racist tweet she sent about Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser in the Obama White House, which led ABC to cancel her TV show. "It was 2 in the morning and I was ambien tweeting," Barr said in a late-night tweet, adding that her comment was "egregious" and "indefensible."

The maker of Ambien, Sanofi-Aventis, took issue with that rationale.

"People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world," the company said in a statement. "While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication."

Like all medications, sleep aids like Ambien can come with side effects. According to the drug's label, common ones include headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

Sanofi-Aventis also includes a warning that "abnormal thinking and behavioral changes" have been reported in patients treated with Ambien. These side effects can include aggressiveness, agitation, and hallucinations. In rare instances, people have reported performing activities, such as driving a car, preparing and eating food, and having sex while not fully awake and not remembering these events later on. The company warns consumers should stop taking Ambien if they have such episodes.

"It can rarely be determined with certainty whether a particular instance of the abnormal behaviors listed above is drug induced, spontaneous in origin, or a result of an underlying psychiatric or physical disorder," the company says.

Timothy B. Sullivan, M.D., associate chairman of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Staten Island University Hospital in New York, said that despite these possible side effects, Ambien is a "largely safe" drug.

"Ambien, the brand version of zolpidem, is used by millions of people to assist with sleep onset," he told CBS News. "In an initial review of the literature I can find no scientific reports of disinhibition caused by zolpidem (Ambien). Sleepwalking and related disturbed sleep-wake states may produce automatic, stereotyped and at times atypical behavior. None of these traits appear to be relevant to the behavior Ms. Barr has expressed."

Barr later said she was not putting blame on the sleep aid for her racist comment.

On Wednesday morning in response to a critic she tweeted: "Yes, I have had odd ambien experiences on tweeting late at night-like many other ppl do. I BLAME MYSELF OK? It's just an explanation not an excuse."

ABC Entertainment's president Channing Dungey announced on Tuesday that the network decided to cancel the "Roseanne" reboot following Barr's tweet comparing Jarrett to an ape.

Barr's tweet about Jarrett said, "muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj."  Dungey called that comment "abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values."

Robert Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, which owns ABC, backed up Dungey's decision to cancel the top-rated show, saying "There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing."

After initially pushing back against criticism of the comment about Jarrett, Barr admitted her "joke" was in "bad taste," and she apologized to Jarrett. 

At a town hall event on MSNBC Tuesday night, Jarrett said she's doing fine and hopes people will learn from the whole incident.

"I think we have to turn it into a teaching moment," Jarrett said.

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    Ashley Welch covers health and wellness for CBSNews.com