Cite this article

NIDA. (2012, January 26). Real Teens Ask: Is Propofol a Drug?. Retrieved from

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Sara Bellum
January 26 2012
Close up of a hypodermic needle

Since the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, “propofol” has been mentioned often in the news. The substance was found to be the cause of his death and was the center of the highly publicized trial of his doctor.

So, it’s no surprise there is a lot of curiosity about propofol. NIDA received questions about it during last year’s Drug Facts Chat Day.

During Chat Day, Cam from California asked about the basics—

Is propofol a drug?

Yes. Propofol is a common type of anesthetic—a drug that doctors use to “put people to sleep” for surgery. It is given to patients through an “intravenous drip,” (called an “IV” for short) that goes through a special needle into a patient’s vein, so the medicine goes directly into the bloodstream.

Doctors who give patients propofol are generally known as “anesthesiologists” and have special training. These experts set up the IV, make sure the patient is “sleeping” comfortably, and then carefully monitor vital signs (like heart rate, breathing, etc.) while the patient has surgery.

Doctors like using propofol because it leaves the body very quickly, which allows the patient to wake up after surgery more rapidly, without bad side effects. Propofol can be a useful drug when it’s given by people who are properly trained. But like many prescription drugs, it can be very harmful if used inappropriately. Propofol should be given only in a hospital setting where the patient can be closely monitored.

A Lost Legend

Michael Jackson died of acute propofol intoxication. Additional drugs found in Michael’s system were the depressants midazolam and diazepam, the painkiller Lidocaine, and the stimulant ephedrine. His doctor, Conrad Murray, was convicted of causing the singer’s death by giving Michael the propofol that caused him to stop breathing. By helping Michael abuse drugs—even if it was to “help him sleep”—he contributed to the loss of a legend. Michael’s untimely death was mourned by millions of people.