BACKGROUND: Interest in combining local and general anaesthesia has lead to studies investigating possible interactions. In a prospective, randomized, double-blind study, we tested whether local anaesthetics administered i.m. potentiate the hypnotic effect of propofol. METHODS: Sixty patients (three groups, n=20) undergoing lower abdominal surgery with total i.v. propofol anaesthesia were investigated. Patients in Group B received i.m. bupivacaine (5 mg ml(-1)) 1 mg kg(-1), patients in Group L received i.m. lidocaine (100 mg ml(-1)) 2 mg kg(-1) and patients in Group C received i.m. saline 5 ml before operation. Hypnosis was measured with bispectral index (BIS). RESULTS: The induction (BIS <45), and the maintenance doses of propofol (BIS between 40 and 50) were significantly less in Group B and Group L compared with the control group. Induction doses were 1.58 (SD 0.39), 1.56 (0.24) and 2.03 (0.33) mg kg(-1) respectively; P<0.0001. Maintenance doses were 6.33 (2.06), 7.08 (1.23) and 9.95 (2.02) mg kg(-1) respectively in the first hour; P<0.0001. Groups B and L were associated with an attenuated haemodynamic response to both induction and intubation. CONCLUSION: I.M. administered local anaesthetics are associated with a decrease in both the induction and maintenance doses of propofol during total i.v. anaesthesia and a reduction in haemodynamic responses.