Assessing the behavioral effects and abuse potential of propofol bolus injections in healthy volunteers

James P. Zacny*, J. Lance Lichtor, June G. Zaragoza, Dennis W. Coalson, Anna M. Uitvlugt, David C. Flemming, Wendy B. Binstock, Thomas Cutter, Jeffrey L. Apfelbaum

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Propofol is a recently introduced intravenous anesthetic agent, commonly administered to surgical patients because it induces anesthesia smoothly (i.e., provides loss of consciousness rapidly and usually with no complications) and is associated with rapid recovery. Propofol has psychoactive effects that could be construed as pleasant, although little abuse liability testing has been done on this agent in humans. Accordingly, we examined various effects of this agent at different subanesthetic doses (0.2-0.6 mg/kg) in order to characterize this drug's abuse potential (for recreational use or potential for diversion). Using a double-blind, randomized, crossover design, healthy normal volunteers (N = 10) were injected intravenously with the drug or with placebo. Before the injection and for up to 1 h afterwards, mood (including drug liking), memory and psychomotor performance were assessed. Propofol impaired memory and psychomotor performance and produced changes in 10 of 20 VAS mood ratings. Although there was variability in self-reported drug liking, some subjects clearly liked the effects of propofol, especially at the two higher doses. At the debriefing interview held after completion of the study, five subjects said if they had to participate in one more session in which they were given a choice between being injected with the highest dose (0.6 mg/kg) or a placebo, they would choose propofol. These preliminary results suggest that this agent may have some potential for abuse/diversion and perhaps stricter accountability procedures should be established for this drug in settings where general anesthesia or conscious sedation procedures are done.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)45-57
Number of pages13
JournalDrug and Alcohol Dependence
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1993


  • abuse liability
  • general anesthetic
  • memory
  • mood
  • propofol
  • psychomotor performance
  • subjective effects

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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