We prospectively studied 30 healthy female patients undergoing intracavitory brachytherapy applicator insertion for carcinoma of the cervix under spinal anaesthesia. Patients were randomly allocated to receive either intrathecal bupivacaine 10 mg alone or bupivacaine 7.5 mg combined with preservative-free ketamine 25 mg. Spinal block onset, maximum sensory level, duration of blockade, haemodynamic variables, postoperative analgesic requirements and adverse events were recorded. Onset of sensory and motor block and duration of spinal analgesia were comparable between groups. Duration of motor blockade was shorter (p = 0.0416) and requirement for intravenous fluids in the peri-operative period was less (p = 0.0159) in the ketamine group. Significantly more patients in the ketamine group had adverse events, such as sedation, dizziness, nystagmus, 'strange feelings' and postoperative nausea and vomiting. Although the addition of ketamine to spinal bupivacaine had local anaesthetic sparing effects, it did not provide extended postoperative analgesia or decrease the postoperative analgesic requirements. Moreover, the central adverse effects of ketamine limit its spinal application.