Gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB) may well be developed as an alternative for optional sedation during spinal anaesthesia. As in the case of propofol (PRO), GHB has good sedative properties associated with cardiovascular and respiratory stability. When used as a narcotic agent, recovery times are variable (e.g. > 30 min); in contrast, sedative dosages, as used in intensive care patients (e.g. 10–20 mg kg−1 h−1), result in adequate clinical recovery. The goal of the present study was to compare the clinical properties of GHB and PRO after continuous administration during spinal anaesthesia (SPA). Thirty patients (ASA I and II) received either GHB (n=15) or PRO (n=15) at random. Patients refusing sedation (n=15) received 0.9% saline (control). At eight defined time points, haemodynamic (BP, HR), respiratory (RR, RMV, Pao2, Spo2, Peto2, Petco2, ̇Vo2, ̇Vco2) and endocrinological parameters (plasma concentrations of noradrenaline and adrenaline) as well as the clinical side-effects were assessed simultaneously. With both sedatives, the desired level of sedation was achieved. Recovery times ranged between 1.7±0.9 min with PRO and 6.1±4.9 min with GHB. GHB provided stable haemodynamic conditions without clinically relevant respiratory depression. In contrast, PRO caused a decrease in mean arterial pressue (MAP) of 15%, whereas respiratory minute volume was decreased by 53% (with periods of apnoea, Spo2<90%). ̇Vo2 and ̇Vco2 correlated with respiratory minute volume (GHB, PRO, control). Plasma noradrenaline and adrenaline concentrations remained nearly constant in the GHB and control groups and declined during sedation with PRO. Both GHB and PRO are suitable for optional sedation during spinal anaesthesia. Control and recovery are acceptable for clinical purposes. It seems that GHB and PRO have similar haemodynamic, respiratory and endocrinological characteristics. Therefore, GHB may serve as an alternative for the established management of continuous sedation during SPA with PRO.