No one knows why former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez killed his friend Odin Lloyd. But after watching the Netflix docuseries Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez, you could be forgiven for thinking weed had something to do with it.
The series chronicles the life of Hernandez, who died by suicide in jail in April 2017.
Hernandez, a former tight end for the New England Patriots, was found guilty of murdering Lloyd in April 2015. He was also indicted for murdering two men in Boston, Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, but was found not guilty in 2017. A few days after his acquittal for the double murder, he hanged himself.
The series’ creators try to explore what caused Hernandez to become so violent, positing several theories, at times in an irresponsible, scattered way.
The second episode homes in on Hernandez’s drug consumption, and in particular, his affinity for weed.
Described as a weed “enthusiast,” the episode shows us how Hernandez failed a drug test while playing college football for the University of Florida, and says he was “living on the edge.”
Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel narrates security footage taken the morning that Hernandez killed Lloyd.
“One of the more jarring images is of him dancing at the gas station and he seems to be impaired. Obviously there’s a lot of testimony of him smoking almost nonstop that weekend,” Wetzel says. “But here’s a guy who just minutes later will pick up a friend of his and then drive him directly to a spot where he murders him.”
In the next clip we hear about how Hernandez bought rolling papers from the gas station. Then it cuts to testimony from a police detective discussing a blunt with Hernandez’s DNA on it found near the crime scene.
The show features a clip from Hernandez’s friend and drug dealer Alexander Bradley in court talking about how Hernandez was “chain-smoking.”
Family friend Tim SanSoucie weighs in on Hernandez’s relationship with Bradley, noting, “Now that I can go to the store and buy it legally I don’t need that guy in my life anymore and if Aaron didn’t need that guy in his life who knows if any of this happens.”
Though the doc never comes out and says cannabis caused Hernandez to act violently, the implication hangs in the air—thanks to the amount of oxygen spent on detailing his cannabis consumption. Conversely, viewers never hear from any experts who explain that smoking weed—even daily—isn’t linked to murdering people.
Public health expert and University of Calgary professor Rebecca Haines-Saah said the docuseries both subtly and blatantly—via close-up shots of nugs and blunts—associates some of Hernandez’s problems with his cannabis consumption.
She said the series sensationalized Hernandez’s sexuality, drug habits, and mental illness “in a way that was sort of just painting this moral picture, and this picture that paints him as more of a deviant than a person with legitimate problems based on trauma.” (The show also focused heavily on Hernandez’s alleged sexual encounters with men, implying that being closeted could have accounted for some of his rage—another troubling narrative that's pure speculation.)
Hernandez suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of brain damage caused by multiple brain injuries, which is linked to his football career. However, Haines-Saah said there’s no evidence that people with CTE who consume cannabis will act violently.
“I have no doubt that people might use cannabis to medicate trauma and the effects of a brain injury,” she said, but it’s not fair to say frequent consumption leads to homicide.
Hernandez is heard in the show telling a friend “weed and Toradol, that's all you need.” (Toradol is a prescription painkiller commonly used by NFL players.)
Michael Verbora, a doctor with medical cannabis company Aleafia Total Health Network, said Hernandez may have felt cannabis was “helpful to calming his brain down.”
Verbora said people with a predisposition for psychosis who consume cannabis could theoretically have a psychotic episode, during which anything could happen.
But he said it’s not easy to prove that cannabis causes psychosis, and that evidence to show cannabis can make people violent is “extremely weak.”
Weed is more accessible today than ever before, he said, yet we haven’t seen an increase in schizophrenia or psychosis in the population. He said CTE, on the other hand, is linked to depression, anxiety, and mental illness.
The doc notes that Hernandez consumed K2—synthetic cannabis—the night before he died by suicide. It does not explain that K2 is a completely different substance than actual weed, with a much higher risk profile.
“These are designer drugs and they actually bind to the same receptors as THC and CBD but potentially irreversibly, or extremely, extremely strongly,” said Verbora. “It’s actually quite dangerous.”
K2 has been linked to seizures and overdoses.
But Haines-Saah said it’s popular in prison because it doesn’t cause people to fail drug tests, which is actually an argument against prohibition.
While the series doesn’t directly attribute Hernandez’s homicidal actions to weed, it arguably bolsters some of the most damaging myths around cannabis. And with the war on drugs still ruining lives, and the president of the United States stating that weed makes you “lose IQ points,” that’s not what anyone needs right now.
“At the the end of the day sensationalized stories are great for (Netflix’s) business. The problem with it is a story is just an anecdote in science,” Verbora said.
“The average person is just going to see this and immediately think that this is a widespread issue and not understand that it’s probably less than a fraction of a percent of a chance of this happening,” Verbora said.
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