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Acute Propofol and Benzodiazepine Intoxication: Is This What Killed Michael Jackson?

Acute Propofol and Benzodiazepine Intoxication: Is This What Killed Michael Jackson?

Known as the King of Pop, Michael Jackson was a beloved artist since his plunge into the music industry in 1964. Unfortunately, as is continuously proven, even the most significant cultural figures aren’t immune to the dangers of drugs. If you followed the trial of Michael Jackson’s physician after the star’s death, the guilty verdict wasn’t a surprise. Prosecutors built a strong case that Jackson died after Dr. Conrad Murray had given him a large dose of propofol to help him sleep in addition to the benzos that were already in the star’s system, concluding that the cause of death was acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication. But what is acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication, and is this really what killed Michael Jackson?

What Is Propofol?

Also known by brand names like Diprivan, Anesthesia S/I-40, and Anesthesia S/I-60, propofol is an anesthetic that can cause relaxation and sleepiness before and during surgery or other medical procedures. Also known as the ‘milk of anesthesia,’ propofol comes in a white, oily solution that must be refrigerated before it’s used.

Propofol solution consists of soybean oil, fats purified from egg yolks, and glycerol. While the drug became better known following Jackson’s death, it’s not the type of medication that anyone can buy at a drugstore. Aside from abuse cases, propofol is used exclusively by anesthesiologists, and in anaesthesiology circles, propofol is a hot item.

Propofol is used as an induction agent, meaning it causes loss of consciousness, as a general anesthetic in major surgery. It’s also used in lower doses for conscious sedation of patients undergoing procedures on an outpatient basis at surgery centers.

For general anesthesia, anesthesiologists may use between 100 and 200 milligrams of propofol to put patients under and then implement a continuous fusion of smaller amounts to keep patients under. Doses of these smaller administrations are measured by the minute and according to the patient’s weight.

Because there’s also some pain as the medication goes into the vein, doctors may often inject a local anesthetic like lidocaine. As with other sedating anesthetics, propofol lowers blood pressure and suppresses breathing, which is why patients should be constantly monitored following its administration.

This is where Dr. Conrad Murray failed.

What Drugs Did Michael Jackson Die From?

Although propofol was the main culprit in his death, Michael Jackson ultimately died of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication, according to autopsy reports. That said, the administration of these drugs was illegally done.

Propofol is designed to be used in a medical setting by anesthesiologists. Doses are administered according to various factors, including the patient’s weight. Jackson’s doctor, Dr. Murray, administered propofol in a non-hospital setting without any appropriate medical indication in an attempt to help the pop star sleep.

The problems started when the star was up late rehearsing for his final This Is It comeback tour. When he arrived home, he struggled with fatigue and insomnia. On the morning of June 25th, 2009, Jackson’s physician, Dr. Murray, administered a series of drugs over the course of several hours to help him sleep. These drugs included propofol and benzodiazepines like lorazepam, midazolam, diazepam, as well as lidocaine and ephedrine (an appetite suppressant and stimulant.)

Concerns were eventually raised when Jackson failed to leave his room. That afternoon, Murray found the star unresponsive and no longer breathing, although he claimed that Jackson still had a weak pulse. Murray’s attempts to revive Jackson were questioned, including performing CPR on the star on a soft surface versus a firm one, which virtually made the tactic ineffective.

There was no landline in the residence, and Murray claimed that he didn’t know the address well enough to call paramedics. As a result, 30 minutes passed before security at the star’s home eventually made the call to paramedics.

After an hour of attempted resuscitation by emergency services, the King of Pop was pronounced dead. Michael Jackson died at 2:26 p.m. on the afternoon of June 25th, 2009.

Acute Propofol And Benzodiazepine Intoxication Meaning

The combination of medicine Michael Jackson died from included benzos like lorazepam, midazolam, and diazepam, as well as the anesthetic propofol. Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs that are prescribed to treat people with conditions like anxiety, insomnia, and seizures.

Considering that Jackson’s main complaint was trouble sleeping, Dr. Murray had given the star various kinds of benzodiazepines until the latter asked for propofol.

As a result, Jackson experienced benzodiazepine and propofol intoxication, or a propofol and benzodiazepine overdose. Possible side effects of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication that Jackson likely experienced include:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Sedation
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Slurred speech
  • Ataxia or poor muscle control
  • Respiratory depression or slowed breathing
  • Unconsciousness
  • Shock

It’s common for individuals who overdose on sedatives like benzos or propofol to experience slowed breathing, which is why patients who are given these medications are always closely monitored. Due to the careless form in which Dr. Murray administered propofol and benzodiazepines to Michael Jackson, the now-former doctor was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served less than two years of a four-year sentence.

Help for Substance Abuse

While the main drug that killed MJ, King of Pop, is usually administered in medical settings, many people can get their hands on propofol. As with other medications, sedatives like propofol as well as benzodiazepines are abused for their pleasurable and relaxing effects.

These medications, however, come with a price. Individuals who abuse sedatives long-term usually end up with a substance use disorder. For those who are struggling to quit drugs or alcohol, our Banyan drug rehabs are here for you.

We have various facilities located nationwide to help as many communities as possible. Our addiction treatment services include medically supervised detox, inpatient care, PHP, and more.

We also offer substance-specific programs, such as prescription drug addiction treatment, to help individuals who are addicted to their medications get sober. Michael Jackson's drug death story is only one of many, but death by drug use can be prevented.


No matter how long you’ve battled addiction, we’re here to help. Call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 to learn more about our levels of addiction treatment.



Document Cloud -  Michael Jackson’s Autopsy


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Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa, Director of Digital Marketing
Alyssa is the National Director of Digital Marketing and is responsible for a multitude of integrated campaigns and events in the behavioral health and addictions field. All articles have been written by Alyssa and medically reviewed by our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Darrin Mangiacarne.
Acute Propofol and Benzodiazepine Intoxication: Is This What Killed Michael Jackson?
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