Propofol dosage reported in Michael Jackson case is low, experts say

If Michael Jackson died from lethal levels of the powerful anesthetic propofol, then he must have been injected with much more of the drug than his personal physician reportedly told police he gave the pop star, medical experts said.

According to court records unsealed in Houston on Monday, Dr. Conrad Murray told police that he had been giving Jackson 50 milligrams of propofol each night for six weeks. In a three-hour interview with police two days after Jackson’s death, Murray said he had been trying to wean the singer off the anesthetic and, on the day of his death, gave him a combination of other sedatives before succumbing to Jackson’s demands for propofol.

Murray then gave Jackson 25 milligrams of propofol, according to the documents. But those amounts -- 25 and 50 milligrams -- are far below the dosage required to anesthetize someone and keep them asleep, several experts said.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Dr. John Dombrowski of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. “I cannot believe that was the number that was given. Such a small amount won’t tip anyone over in terms of respiratory depression.”


What’s more likely, Dombrowski said, is that the numbers in the documents are somehow in error. Murray might not have provided an infusion rate, such as 25 milligrams every few minutes, or police might not have understood the medical terminology, Dombrowski said.

The preliminary toxicology reports cited in the court records said that “lethal levels” of propofol were found in Jackson’s blood. Final autopsy and toxicology reports have yet to be released by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.

Murray has said through his attorney that he believes nothing he administered should have led to Jackson’s death. His attorney, Ed Chernoff, said Murray answered the detectives’ questions truthfully.

The medical experts said that if the propofol dosage were higher and combined with other medications, it could have led to an overdose.


Dr. Scott Engwall, vice chair of anesthesiology at UC Irvine’s School of Medicine, said that for an average person without a high tolerance to drugs, 50 milligrams of propofol might be enough to make him or her doze off for five or 10 minutes. Someone like Jackson, who had been using it nightly for six weeks, according to Murray’s testimony, might close his eyes briefly -- or it might not work at all, Engwall and other doctors said.

“I think . . . there is some part of this picture we still do not know,” Engwall said.


Times staff writer Harriet Ryan contributed to this report.