In a five-center study, 73 patients with severe head injury and elevated intracranial pressure (ICP) were randomly assigned to receive either a regimen that included high-dose pentobarbital or one that was otherwise similar but did not include pentobarbital. The results indicated a 2:1 benefit for those treated with the drug with regard to ICP control. When patients were stratified by prerandomization cardiac complications, the advantage increased to 4:1. A multiple logistic model considering treatment and selected baseline variables indicated a significant positive treatment effect of barbiturates, a significant effect of time from injury to randomization, and an interaction of treatment with cardiovascular complications. However, of 925 patients potentially eligible for randomization, only 12% met ICP randomization criteria. The results support the hypothesis that high-dose pentobarbital is an effective adjunctive therapy, but that it is indicated in only a small subset of patients with severe head injury.