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Propofol: The Drug That Killed Michael Jackson

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The death of Michael Jackson shocked the world and raised many questions about his medical treatment. Reports later revealed that Propofol, an anesthetic used for sedation in medical procedures, was the drug responsible for his untimely death. This revelation brought significant attention to Propofol and its risks.

Propofol, a clear, white liquid administered via injection, has been used for decades as a sedative or anesthetic for medical procedures. It is most commonly used in intensive care units to sedate patients on a ventilator. It is also used during diagnostic procedures, such as endoscopies or colonoscopies. Due to its potency, quick onset and clearance, Propofol is a preferred choice for anesthesia in medical settings. However, in recent years, it has gained notoriety in the recreational drug market, being dubbed 'milk of amnesia' for its strong sedative effects.

The controversy surrounding Michael Jackson's death highlighted the risks involved with the use of Propofol outside of a hospital setting. While it is a valuable tool in medical settings, it is also a potential hazard when used without proper monitoring and administration.

The death of Michael Jackson has brought significant attention to the use of Propofol and its potentially fatal consequences. It is imperative that the medical community continues to investigate the risks associated with this drug to ensure its safe use in medical settings.

What is Propofol?

Propofol, also known by its brand name Diprivan, is a fast-acting sedative and anesthetic drug that is commonly used in medical procedures. It is administered intravenously, and its effects are felt almost instantly - within just a few seconds. As such, Propofol is a preferred choice for anesthetic induction and maintenance in a range of medical settings.

What is Propofol used for?

Propofol is used for several medical purposes, including:

  • As a sedative for patients undergoing minor surgical and diagnostic procedures, such as endoscopies, colonoscopies, and bronchoscopies.
  • As an anesthetic for patients undergoing major surgical procedures that require general anesthesia.
  • As a sedative for patients being ventilated in the intensive care unit (ICU) to help keep them comfortable and pain-free while on ventilation.
  • As a sedative for patients receiving treatment for seizures.

How does Propofol work?

Propofol works by increasing the activity of GABA, a neurotransmitter that inhibits brain activity and causes sedation. Propofol also acts as a muscle relaxant, making it easier for physicians to perform procedures on patients.

What are the side effects of Propofol?

While Propofol is a common and safe drug when used under medical supervision, there are several side effects that patients may experience, including:

  • Mild to moderate pain or discomfort at the site where the drug is injected.
  • Dizziness, drowsiness, and mild confusion after waking up from anesthesia.
  • Headache and nausea or vomiting.
  • Occasional feelings of excitement or euphoria, especially when used as a recreational drug outside of medical supervision.
  • Rare but potentially severe respiratory depression, which can be life-threatening without prompt medical attention.
  • In very rare cases, allergic reactions to the drug may occur.

It is important to note that the risks associated with using Propofol increase exponentially when the drug is used outside of a hospital setting or without proper medical supervision. When used appropriately, Propofol can be an effective and safe drug used in medical settings.

Michael Jackson's Death

Michael Jackson's sudden death on June 25, 2009, left the world shocked and grieving. It was later revealed that Propofol, the drug he had been taking as a sleep aid, was the cause of his death. The following are key details surrounding Michael Jackson's death:

How was Propofol related to Michael Jackson's death?

Propofol was found to be the primary cause of Michael Jackson's death. The toxicology report revealed that Propofol caused a respiratory arrest leading to his untimely death. It was revealed in the trial that Dr. Conrad Murray administered the drug to help Michael Jackson sleep and was the cause of his death.

Who administered Propofol to Michael Jackson?

Dr. Conrad Murray, a cardiologist, was hired by Michael Jackson to be his personal physician during his "This Is It" tour rehearsal period. Dr. Murray prescribed several sedative medications, including Propofol, to help the pop icon sleep despite being well aware of the extreme potential danger of combining the drugs.

Dr. Murray was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison. His medical licence was also revoked.

What were the contributing factors to Michael Jackson's death?

The use of Propofol, in combination with several other sedatives, such as benzodiazepines, ultimately led to Michael Jackson's cardiac arrest and death.

Additionally, Michael Jackson had a history of prescription drug abuse. This, coupled with Dr. Murray's administration of multiple drugs, made for an extremely dangerous combination.

The Aftermath of Michael Jackson's Death

The unexpected death of Michael Jackson sent shockwaves around the world. In the immediate aftermath, there were legal implications, increased regulations on the use of Propofol, and heightened public awareness of its risks.

Legal implications and trial

Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson's personal physician, was charged with involuntary manslaughter and tried for his role in the pop icon's death. During the trial, it was revealed that Dr. Murray had administered Propofol to Michael Jackson regularly, despite being aware of the dangers of this medication. In November 2011, Dr. Murray was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison.

Increased regulations on the use of Propofol

In the wake of Michael Jackson's death, various organizations and regulatory bodies around the world increased their scrutiny of Propofol. For example, the FDA in the United States imposed stricter labeling requirements, warning of the dangers of Propofol and requiring that it only be used by trained anesthesiologists or healthcare providers in a controlled medical setting.

Additionally, several countries around the world have banned the use of Propofol for lethal injection purposes, due to the severe risks and potential for misuse.

Public awareness of the risks associated with Propofol

Michael Jackson's death shone a light on the dangers of Propofol, particularly when used outside of a medical setting. His story serves as a stark reminder that improperly using medications can have deadly consequences, and increased public awareness about the risks of Propofol has led to more informed decision-making about the medication.

As a result of the increased awareness, patients are now more likely to ask questions about their medications and to seek out qualified healthcare providers when considering medications like Propofol. The knowledge of the risks associated with Propofol has helped reduce the number of cases of fatal cardiac arrests due to the misuse of the medication.

The Future of Propofol

Propofol remains an important medication in modern medicine, particularly in anesthesia and sedation. Even with the controversy surrounding Michael Jackson's death, Propofol continues to be used in medical settings under strict regulation.

Continued use in medical settings

Propofol is a potent medication that, when used appropriately, can provide rapid and effective anesthesia and sedation. Despite the risks associated with its misuse, Propofol remains an essential component of many medical procedures.

For example, Propofol is used in surgical and medical procedures like colonoscopies, endoscopies, and bronchoscopies. Its fast onset and short duration of action make it a useful tool in these situations.

In addition, hospitals and clinics may use Propofol for patients who have difficulty sleeping or who have severe anxiety. The medication's ability to quickly induce a deep sleep makes it an attractive option for those who require sedation.

Possible developments and improvements of Propofol

Propofol has been in use for many years, and research into the medication continues to this day. There are several areas where Propofol may see future developments or improvements:

  • Continued research on Propofol's mechanism of action may reveal new ways to use the medication in other medical contexts.
  • Improved formulations of Propofol with fewer side effects or better tolerated could be developed in the future.
  • Smaller doses of Propofol that provide a similar level of sedation could be developed, making the medication safer and easier to use in lower-risk procedures.

Limitations and risks associated with the use of Propofol

Despite its beneficial effects, there are limitations and risks associated with the use of Propofol:

  • Propofol can cause respiratory depression and apnea, particularly at higher doses or when used outside of a medical setting.
  • The medication is not suitable for all patients, including those with certain medical conditions and children under three years of age.
  • Propofol can only be administered by trained medical personnel in a controlled medical setting. Misuse can have severe and even fatal consequences.


Propofol, the medication responsible for the death of Michael Jackson, is a potent medication widely used in modern medicine. In this article, we delved into the details of Propofol, its mechanism of action, uses, limitations, and risks associated with its use.

We learned that Propofol is a medication that acts quickly to induce deep sedation or anesthesia, making it a desirable choice for several medical procedures. We also explored the risks associated with its use, including the possibility of respiratory depression and apnea, as well as the need for strict regulation and trained medical personnel when administering the drug.

Michael Jackson's unexpected death brought attention to the potential for misuse of Propofol, highlighting the importance of appropriate training, supervision, and monitoring when administering such potent medications.

Although Propofol will remain an essential medication in medical settings, it is crucial to establish effective strategies for its safe use. The following recommendations can improve Propofol safety:

  • Strict regulation of Propofol use and administration, with rigorous training and supervision for healthcare personnel.
  • Limiting Propofol dosage to the smallest amount necessary for the intended purpose.
  • Monitor patients carefully for respiratory depression and apnea symptoms during and after the use of Propofol.
  • Identification and addressing of risk factors and contraindications for patients receiving Propofol.

In conclusion, although the controversy surrounding Michael Jackson's death has shone a negative light on Propofol use, the medication remains an essential tool for many medical interventions when used appropriately. Adhering to safer administration protocols and monitoring of patients receiving Propofol can help to reduce potential risks and prevent adverse events.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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