Michael Brown Shooting

Did Marijuana Kill Michael Brown?

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Ferguson High School

In a radio interview on August 18, a self-identified friend of Darren Wilson's reported that the police officer suspected Michael Brown was under the influence of drugs the day Wilson shot him to death in Ferguson, Missouri. "He really thinks he was on something," the friend said, "because he just kept coming." Wilson made no mention of that theory during his grand jury testimony on September 16, although he did liken Brown to a "demon" and Hulk Hogan, descriptions reminiscent of the evil and strength sometimes attributed to illegal drugs.

One challenge for anyone pushing a pharmacological explanation of Brown's alleged behavior: Despite speculation that he was on PCP, marijuana is the only drug that was detected in his blood. Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley, the assistant county prosecutors who presented evidence to the grand jury, did what they could with pot, raising the possibility that Brown had smoked enough to experience "paranoia," "hallucinations," and maybe even a "psychotic episode." They planted that idea in jurors' heads mainly by presenting a toxicologist's misleading testimony about the amount of THC in Brown's blood and the possible effects of large doses.        

The toxicologist testified that Brown's blood contained 12 nanograms of active THC per milliliter, a level that he said indicated Brown had consumed cannabis in the previous two or three hours. That contradicted testimony by Dorian Johnson, the friend who was with Brown when Wilson shot him. Johnson, who said he was with Brown all day, testified that they had planned to get high (hence the cigarillos that Brown stole from a convenience store) but never got around to it. Despite the blood test results, Johnson could be telling the truth. Daily marijuana users have been known to register 12 nanograms or more when they get up in the morning, and they may even perform competently on driving tests at that level.

In a 2013 experiment sponsored by KIRO, the CBS station in Seattle, one volunteer, a medical marijuana user, tested at 16 nanograms when she arrived but nevertheless completed a driving course satisfactorily and continued to do so until she hit 58.8 nanograms. A subject in another 2013 experiment, this one sponsored by KDVR, the Fox affiliate in Denver, was already at 21 nanograms when he arrived, even though he had not consumed any marijuana that day, and reached 47 after he smoked some pot. He performed fine on a driving simulator at both levels.

Alizadeh noted that Colorado and Washington both have set five nanograms as the cutoff for drugged driving. But as the experiments by KIRO and KDVR indicate, that standard is highly problematic, treating many regular users as impaired even when they're not. The fact that Brown's THC level was "over twice" this arbitrary number, as Alizadeh emphasized, does not necessarily indicate he was too stoned to drive, let alone that he had consumed enough marijuana to precipitate a psychotic break.

To give you a sense of how misleading the discussion of marijuana-induced psychosis was, consider this exchange between Alizadeh and the toxicologist:

Prosecutor: Could you experience the hallucination and/or the psychosis if you had a high enough dose of THC?

Witness: If you got a high enough dose, you could have a psychotic episode into hallucinations, yes.

Prosecutor: Now, in this particular case, when you tested the blood and you got 12 nanograms per milliliter for the delta-9-THC, do you consider that a high dose?

Witness: OK—

Prosecutor: What conclusions did you make from that?

Witness: Well, you have to put things in perspective. This was a very large individual. I think he was about 300 pounds. So for concentration of 12 nanograms in a large person, that shows it was a large dose. In a small person, say like 100 pounds, to get to 12 nanograms wouldn't take a lot. A single joint could easily do that. But when you talk about a larger body mass, just like drinking alcohol, larger persons can drink more alcohol because they have the receptacle to hold it.

By conflating dose with blood concentration, this exchange implies that 12 nanograms of THC per milliliter will make a large person crazier than a small person, which makes no sense. If smoking a single joint can raise a 100-pound person's THC concentration that high, and if 100-pound people who smoke a joint do not commonly behave the way Wilson claims Brown did, why should we believe marijuana helps explain why Brown is dead? 

The prosecutors spent considerable time insinuating that Brown had consumed cannabis in the form of the concentrate known as "wax," even though there does not seem to be any evidence that he did and even though it would not matter if he had. If the issue is Brown's level of intoxication, the amount of material he burned to achieve it is irrelevant. The testimony about wax looks like an attempt to exoticize a familiar drug that people do not usually associate with demonic rage or Hulk-like strength.

Then again, marijuana may be exotic enough as far as the prosecutors are concerned. "You explained that the Delta-9-THC has a psychoanalytic effect?" Alizadeh said at one point. "Psychoactive," the toxicologist corrected her. Later Whirley asked, "Could this amount of THC that was found in the blood be—is it possible that someone [could be] ingesting that amount on a regular basis and not be dead?" The toxicologist explained that "marijuana really isn't lethal." Unless you smoke it before getting stopped by a cop, I guess.

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  1. Every criminal is on drugs. You can tell because earnest attempts to deescalate situations fail. Things escalate. There is just no reasoning with them when they are on drugs. Don’t blame the cop.

    1. *eyes Suthen….starts slowly clapping….*

    2. Your are wrong. Most criminals aren’t even caught.

    3. Lmao that is not just an ignorant statement but the proof of a completely ignorant person! The completely freakin’ stupid award is a tie for 2014! The two winners are Suthenboy for this oh so stupid comment and please don’t forget mr. Jacob Sullum for this extremely stupid post where some of the most important facts from the grand jury trial were completely reversed lol reread your work before you hit the post button! LMAO

      1. I’m hoping you have enough self awareness to regret that Reason doesn’t have an edit feature on their comments.

    4. And I can about 99% sure guess Suthenboy is a dirty @$$ pig or a fat@$$ that couldn’t make it as one the way he talks! LMAO Watch a lot of cops big boy or just spend all your time in front of your local donut shop? Either way cops should have the same rule as military and have to follow the rules of the Geneva convention and have to use force for force, not 12 shots for a balled up fist that was more then likely balled up in pain from being shot multiple times! If I did that in Iraq they would have thrown me right into prison not be allowed to run away for weeks while they were deciding my fate in a murder. Get a real job loser, HOOAH

      1. Im pretty sure the sarcasm was lost on you.
        reading comprehension fail, but thats okay a navy man like myself can understand grunts have trouble with reading 😉

        1. Squids can read?

          1. And operate Nuclear Reactors.

  2. Wait a sec — isn’t a grand jury for prosecutors only, not defense, and its only purpose to decide if there is enough evidence for a trial to decide the facts?

    Why was the prosecutor presenting evidence trying to prove the shoot justifiable?

    (It’s a rhetorical question, duh.)

    1. Well the correct answer is that the prosecutor is used to proving that the cops are heroes and that young black males must be locked away for the smallest of crimes. He just couldn’t break mold. The cop initiated a confrontation with two suspects without backup over stolen cigarillos? Seriously? Cops don’t seem to care at all about property crimes until their is a young black male that can be provoked into a confrontation. Our system is seriously broken and until we admit that there will be no solution.

    2. I hope do lol and which shot are yo talking about the 1,2,3,or the 6th shot that hit him, or possibly up to the 12th shot that he fired! lol

  3. Dynamics of the prosecution aside, drugs do impact behavior. This fact should not abrogate once right to use a drug, but I see no reason why it shouldn’t factor into a discussion of whether a man is acting in self-defense. If the cop had marijuana in his system, that would be entirely relevant as well.

    1. I see no reason why it shouldn’t factor into a discussion of whether a man is acting in self-defense.

      Ah, but where does one draw the line with this kind of stuff?

      “The defendant, a nicotine addict, had not smoked for at least four hours.”

      “The officer, because of all the activity, had missed his morning donut break.”

      1. “The officer was high on a sugar rush from having just eaten a donut.”

  4. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ?????? http://www.jobsfish.com

  5. This is just idiotic. If anything marijuana would make Brown inclined to want to grab Wilson’s stash of Doritos and Ben & Jerry’s.

    Has anyone considered the possibility that, sometimes 18-year-old boys do dumb things?

  6. Marijuana would more likely make a person docile, not aggressive. These speculations about becoming psychotic are way out of the area of normal effects, and are the kind of deceptive propaganda that was used to outlaw marijuana in the first place.

  7. Yeah, aggressive/paranoid behavior isn’t something we normally associate from marijuana use, but it can sometimes have paradoxical effects. I do think the fact that it is psychoactive means it should be considered as one factor affecting Brown’s behavior & decision making. And though no other drugs were detected, that just means they didn’t test for them. The cathinones (bath salts) and synthetic cannabinoids were not tested for. Those have not been widely studies but there are plenty of reports of people having very bad experiences on them.

  8. Drugs are not a likely cause of psychotic behavior. For some reason no one is wondering about the most likely cause of psychosis, which is mental illness.Prior to his fatal encounter he displayed a preoccupation with religion, probable hallucinations, and grandiosity, all common symptoms of psychosis, particularly bipolar disorder, manic state. It would require a lot more information to make a diagnosis; maybe it will be pursued in the civil case.

  9. Im so glad that no one believes the bullshit spewed forth from the powers that be anymore or we could be on the brink of more reefer madness
    that said i wonder what they will say the 12yo cleaveland boy was on, high off his ass on pixie stix no doubt

  10. Tom Sawyer couldn’t have done a better whitewash than this DA, who is supposed to represent people of the community.

    There seems to be a trend to excuse killing people who have consumed marijuana, but this Pot Crazed Fiend theory just doesn’t pass the laugh text.

    I would suggest the chance that a joint-crazed fiend caused this incident is about 1/1000th as likely as Offier Wilson yelling “Boy, ya better get off my street unless you want to meet my friend Billy, and do the Funky Chicken.”

    Either way, it looks like a legal shoot, but it shouldn’t be justified because the victim smoked a joint last weekend.

  11. Great article.

  12. “Look, we understood we couldn’t make it illegal to be young or poor or black in the United States, but we could criminalize their common pleasure. We understood that drugs were not the health problem we were making them out to be, but it was such a perfect issue…that we couldn’t resist it.” – John Ehrlichman, White House counsel to President Nixon on the rationale of the War on Drugs.

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