The pharmacokinetics of midazolam and its metabolites were studied in 17 patients on mechanical ventilation in a general intensive care unit who were receiving a continuous intravenous infusion of midazolam, adjusted according to the level of induced sedation. Three patients were studied twice. Serum midazolam and alpha-hydroxymidazolamglucuronide levels were determined during and after infusion. The sedation level was scored on a four-point scale. Half of the observed patients were still drowsy or asleep 10 hours after termination of midazolam infusion. In only one patient was midazolam serum elimination half-life less than 2 hours and in six patients the half-life was greater than 10 hours. A wide range of midazolam serum levels was associated with adequate sedation, and similarly the midazolam levels at the moment of awakening were highly variable. The serum concentration ratio of midazolam/alpha-hydroxymidazolamglucuronide at the end of the infusion varied from 0.03 to 15.6. Renal function could account for only a part of this variation.