Actor Yoo Ah In was recently caught using a shocking amount of propofol, bringing attention to this mysterious drug.
Propofol is a familiar word in the news as many celebrities were caught using it—but what exactly is it, and why do celebrities keep taking it?
Propofol, nicknamed the “milk shot” or the “milk of amnesia” because of its white and milky appearance, is a medication that is injected into the body to decrease levels of consciousness and increase a lack of memory, making it a commonly used drug for general anesthesia and sedation. It induces feelings of being drunk, dizzy, or high, and losing control of one’s body.
When propofol is injected, the GABA receptor, or a neurotransmitter in the brain, reacts by preventing excitable signals and suppressing the central nervous system. This causes the body to feel less pain and induces more sleep. It also increases dopamine in the brain, activating the body’s compensation system and giving propofol users a great sense of pleasure.
Using the standard amount causes immediate sleep, but using just enough to stay awake causes euphoria, which makes it mentally addictive for users who want to feel euphoria.
Propofol works very quickly; it only takes about 30 seconds for it to take effect once it is injected into the vein, and the recovery time is fast. Using even a little bit gives the feeling of having slept a very good and deep sleep.
Korean celebrities have been misusing this drug since 2011, some including actress Park Si Yeon, singer Gain, and even singer Wheesung who was found unconscious after taking the drug. Celebrities tend to gravitate toward propofol because they often have insomnia due to irregular sleep schedules from the nature of their jobs. Because propofol is allegedly more effective than sleeping pills, restless celebrities who have trouble sleeping may depend on the drug.
Propofol, however, is not a sleeping drug and does not induce deep sleep; it is more like losing consciousness for a moment which users deceive to be sleep. Lee Hyung Mook, a professor of anesthesiology and pain medicine at St. Mary’s Hospital in Seoul, stated that this deception could lead to problems.
The propofol drug itself is not addictive. However, the feeling of waking up from a ‘good sleep’ after taking propofol can cause people to mentally depend on it as a drug, which can become a problem in society.
— Professor Lee Hyung Mook
According to an article in the National Library of Medicine, there has been increasing evidence that propofol mimics the actions of other addictive substances such as alcohol and nicotine, and this poses a risk for addiction and even death.
However, the seriousness of these risks does not stop propofol from being easily available to healthcare workers.
With growing evidence that propofol poses an increased risk of addiction and abuse, hospitals and regulation agencies should consider certifying propofol as a controlled substance to minimize incidences of morbidity and mortality from its abuse.
— Ming Xiong, Nimisha Shiwalkar, Kavya Reddy, Peter Shin, and Alex Bekker in “Neurobiology of Propofol Addiction and Supportive Evidence: What Is the New Development?” in National Library of Medicine
Experts say that many people in Korea tend to use narcotic painkillers such as propofol and fentanyl rather than illegal drugs such as cannabis and cocaine. They also expressed concern about the lack of awareness and education about the dangers of misusing painkillers and drugs like propofol.
Propofol abuse is not only a problem in Korea but has been misused in other parts of the world since 1992. Michael Jackson’s death in 2009 was caused by propofol intoxication, bringing more attention to propofol addiction.