In a randomized, double-blind study, we have examined the stereoselective disposition and pharmacodynamic characteristics of ketamine in surgical patients after i.v. administration of S(+)-ketamine 1 mg/kg body weight (25 patients) or racemic ketamine 2 mg/kg body weight (25 patients). S(+)-Ketamine was not inverted to R(-)-ketamine. After racemate administration we observed statistically significant (P < 0.01) smaller clearance and volume of distribution for R(-)-ketamine compared with S(+)-ketamine. In contrast, the pharmacokinetic variables of S(+)-ketamine were not significantly different between treatment groups. Systolic and diastolic arterial pressure and heart rate increased significantly (P < 0.005) in both groups. At 1, 3 and 15 min after S(+)-ketamine administration, significantly greater increase in systolic and diastolic pressures were observed compared with the racemate group. There was no correlation between the changes in haemodynamic variables and plasma catecholamine concentrations, which remained unaffected after administration of the medications.