Note, December 2, 2008: When I originally wrote this in 2003, the drug zolpidem was under patent to Sanofi-Aventis in the United States, where it was marketed under the name "Ambien". The patent rights expired in April 2007, allowing zolpidem to be sold as a generic drug. So if you're confused as to what the hell I'm talking about here, just substitute all instances of the word "Ambien" in this writeup for the word "zolpidem". Are we clear? Any questions? No? Good.
Ambien stupor, if allowed to run its full course, lasts for approximately three hours if the dose does not exceed 20mg. Larger doses lend small increases to the duration, though after a certain point in the dosage it won't matter how much more you take. Anything more than 30mg, and you'll be in such a stuporific state that you won't be able to keep track of time one way or the other.
Here's a laundry list of common side-effects:
- Euphoria or dysphoria.
- The feeling that your eyeballs are somehow swollen, making them increasingly sensitive (probably just pupil dilation).
- Delusions (inability to discern what is and is not real).
- Occasional, slight aural and visual hallucinations; if you dose and then sit in front of your computer for a while, quite often it becomes increasingly difficult to discern letters and numbers on the screen, as they all kind of run together or apart before your eyes.
- Altered sense of taste and smell, and of the texture of food (yes, that's right—taste and tactile hallucinations).
- Increased appetite.
- Increased libido, usually with anorgasmia.
- Mild compression of the eardrum, causing an inability to hear music as it is played; it sounds flat and barren after the drug starts to take hold.
- Extremely poor judgement, seems to be worse than the average drunk driver; the user's right/wrong facilities more or less stop working completely.
- Warped sense of spacial relations.
- Slightly altered sense of depth perception.
- Inability to drive or operate machinery properly (not that you won't want to try anyway—hide your car keys before dosing!).
- A feeling of top-heaviness.
- Uninhibited extroversion.
Which is why it's safest to take Ambien when you're by yourself. HAVE SOMEONE AROUND. I can't stress this enough. If you get into an Ambien stupor, chances are you'll want to go somewhere by car. Having someone around to prevent you from doing this could potentially save lives. It's also possible (even probable) that you could die from an overdose, especially if you've been drinking or are drunk when you take it. Other people could help prevent this.
- Extreme impulsivity, so much so that drunk dialing pales in comparison.
- Memory loss (noticeable when you wake up).
- No shame whatsoever.
- And most importantly: if you don't go to bed immediately after taking a dose, chances are you'll think taking MORE is the best idea in the history of best ideas, and the more you take, the more likely you are to heavily embarrass and/or injure yourself or others. The more you take, the more amplified the above effects will be and the less memory you'll retain about whatever you did while high.
I have found that Ambien stupor is, at least for me, what causes addiction to Ambien. While it does often provide assistance with staying asleep and sleeping deeply, it doesn't really give any indication of its presence while you're asleep, unless you count extremely strange dreams. Taking Ambien and then staying awake until the chemical effects slacken or stop happening completely on a regular basis causes the user to crave those effects after a few regular doses at the same time each day. Craving the effects and not getting them (due to lack of Ambien) causes further insomnia that Ambien was meant to supplant in the first place. This occurs even at regular sleep-aid doses (5-10mg) and gets progressively worse at doses higher than that.
Some have said that Ambien makes a great party drug, possibly because of the mild psychedelic effects it brings, although I would recommend against the use of Ambien in a public place where you could possibly get into an uncomfortable situation and you, very confused, will not be able to determine what you should do, because nothing will really be making any kind of sense to you. I've read about it being used as a date rape drug, too, since it's much easier to procure than roofies or GHB. Therefore, the best place to take Ambien is alone, at home, or with a small group of people you like/love and trust. Make sure everybody knows what everybody else is on at the time, just to keep things in order and to keep people calm.
Some people I've known insist on crushing and insufflating Ambien tablets. They insist that if Ambien is consumed in such a way, the stupor hits much harder and is markedly more enjoyable. I've tried it myself, and I didn't notice any discernable difference caused by taking it this way. Also, the pills have a plasticy sort of coating that's rather difficult to remove, probably put in place by Sanofi-Aventis (the drug's manufacturer) specifically to prevent people from crushing and snorting the pills. (Update 2008: Now that Ambien is off patent and produced by a variety of manufacturers (the stuff I get is made by the Israeli pharmacutical company Teva), this plastic coating is not present on generic pills.)
The continuous-release formulation of the drug, Ambien CR, causes some of these effects, though they aren't anywhere near as strong as they are with non-continuous formulation.
Finally, I should probably point out that if you're a long-time user of Ambien (as I was), then you most likely have a pretty high tolerance for it. I have to take six or seven to get even the barest hints of the effects listed above, and that's almost certainly bad for your liver and brain, and you may end up in a situation where you look very silly or very dead, or both.
Then there's the Ambien Walrus...