We have studied the effects of bolus doses of midazolam 0.15 mg kg-1 i.v. on intracranial pressure (ICP), mean arterial pressure (MAP) and cerebral perfusion pressure (CPP) in 12 patients with severe head injury (Glasgow Coma Scale score < or = 6). The study was performed in patients aged 17-44 yr who were sedated (phenoperidine 20 micrograms kg-1 h-1) and paralysed (vecuronium 2 mg h-1). Midazolam reduced MAP from 89.0 mmHg to 75.0 mmHg (P < 0.0001), while CPP decreased from 71.0 mmHg to 55.8 mmHg (P < 0.0001). During the study, CPP decreased to less than 50 mmHg in four patients. Midazolam induced small, non-significant changes in ICP. However, when control ICP was less than 18 mmHg (n = 7 patients), an increase in ICP was observed. The remaining five patients (control ICP > or = 18 mmHg) exhibited a slight decrease in ICP. These findings suggest that bolus administration of midazolam should be performed with great caution in patients with severe head injury, especially when ICP is less than 18 mmHg.