Michael Hastings Toxicology Report Controversy

Readers wrote in to take issue with our assessment of Michael Hastings' toxicology report. Check out the back and forth.
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Ben Cohen
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Readers wrote in to take issue with our assessment of Michael Hastings' toxicology report. Check out the back and forth.
michael hastings autopsy

Michael Hastings' autopsy report showed possible use of methamphetamine.

In response to the piece I wrote about the toxicology report of recently deceased Michael Hastings, some readers challenged my portrayal of the findings, more specifically, my assertion that drug abuse had something to do with him crashing his car. The report stated that "Toxicology shows a small amount of amphetamine in the blood consistent with possible intake of methamphetamine...unlikely to have an intoxicative effect at the time of the accident".

In my article, I suggested that the side effects of taking methamphetamine - hallucinations, euphoria, grandiosity - would be consistent with driving his car at tremendously high speed at 5am in the morning. Anyone who knows anything about hard drug abuse knows that those side effects don't just appear when using the drug. Methamphetamine, for example, has very serious effects when used over an extended period of time. According to the National Institutes of Health, users can exhibit symptoms that can include:

  • Severe inability to sleep (insomnia)

  • Major mood swings

  • Delusional behavior

  • Extreme paranoia

I want to be clear - I'm not categorically stating that Hastings was using methamphetamine - I am suggesting that from what we know, abuse of the drug is a far more likely story than him being assassinated by the Obama administration via remote control. It is true that the toxicology report was inconclusive about his use of meth, but the Los Angeles Cor­on­er’s of­fi­ce did deem it appropriate to note that what they found was 'consistent' with the intake of methamphetamine. I'm obviously not an expert in this but it stands to reason that they didn't put it in there for fun.

One commenter wrote:

I'm indifferent to the conspiracy theory debate, but I'm a bit surprised by your lack of analysis of the actual toxicology report, for someone scolding others about journalistic responsibility. If I'm reading that tox report right (it's a bit crappily scanned), the blood amphetamine levels from the chest were measured at .05 *micrograms* per mL, or 50 ng/mL, which is absurdly small. I, who took the two 5mg amphetamine pills my doctor prescribes me for ADHD daily this morning, would test at about this level. Clinical studies have estimated 10mg of oral amphetamine such as I take to be detectable in blood analysis for as long as 9 days (4.8 on average). And as far as I know, GC-MS testing distinguishes between meth and amphetamine, so it doesn't seem likely any of the "extended meth use craziness" you're suggesting is indicated by the facts, either. Chances are he just took a prescription Adderall tablet or few in the week prior. I've ingested 10mg of amphetamine today, but spent it quietly at my desk filling out tax forms and not running pantless into Accounting with a handmade weapon or anything, so I'm pretty sure you're drawing a waaaaay over-broad conclusion here. Did he probably just speed into a tree without being conspiratorily murdered? Yeah, totally. But please don't snark at others for their bending of facts to fit a narrative without bothering to do any math or research yourself.

I replied:

Hey, appreciate your lengthy and considered response to my piece. A couple of points - firstly, I'm not a toxicologist (and I'm presuming you aren't either) so I defer to the report on the likelihood as to whether he was taking meth or not. The report says it's unclear, but that it was a possibility. Also, please re-read the toxicology report. It states very clearly that "Toxicology shows a small amount of amphetamine in the blood consistent with possible intake of methamphetamine"

What makes it far likelier that he was on hard drugs (like meth) is that members of his family were attempting to get him to rehab in the days leading up to his death. We know that his affliction was serious enough that his brother flew out from NYC to help him. Hastings had a history of very serious drug abuse and was pretty open about it. He confessed to smoking crack in the past, abused alcohol, ritalin etc etc and his family stated they wouldn't be surprised if cocaine was found in his system (it wasn't).

Taking the personalities out of this, if a young man, whose family was on the way to get him rehab, was found dead in a high powered sports car with traces of amphetamines in his system, you'd probably suspect that drug abuse had something to do with the crash rather than government remote controlling his car.

I don't really see how I'm being misleading or sloppy with the facts here. I'm not going to engage in armchair toxicology as that's a pretty fast way to get into conspiracy land and I'd suggest you don't do your own analysis and draw a conclusion either. Just stick to what we know. We know that Michael Hastings was using drugs as his family wanted to get him into rehab. We know that traces of amphetamine were found in his system and were consistent with the possible intake of methamphetamine. We know he was traveling at a very high speed to sustain the injuries he did. A sensible analysis would lead you to conclude that Hastings drug abuse was a factor in his death, regardless of whether he had adequate amounts in his system at the particular time.

I could be wrong of course - he may have just been speeding because he had a fast car, or he may have been killed by the government. I just think the physical evidence and the reports from his family point to a serious lack of judgment due to drug abuse. Either way, it's still very sad and a great loss for journalism.

As a side note, I will accept that the headline we went with ("Sorry Conspiracy Theorists, Toxicology Report Shows Michael Hastings Was on Amphetamines") could be interpreted as an explicit assertion that drug abuse was the cause of his crash. The point of my piece was to argue that the toxicology report bolsters the official account of Hastings' death, and further debunks the nonsense that the US government used a joystick to send him into a tree at 100mph.

CORRECTION: I previously cited 'Narconon.org' for the side effects of Methamphetamine - which unbeknownst to me is a Scientology funded organization. While Narconon provided a completely medically accurate depiction of the symptoms long term meth users display, we're not in the business of promoting Scientology so the article was edited to provide sourcing from a government funded organization, the National Institutes of Health.