In most acupuncture studies it is difficult or even impossible to conduct a truly double-blind trial. However, this is possible when treatments are carried out on anaesthetised patients. Because acupuncture provides analgesia, we tested the hypothesis that needle stimulation of a combination of four ear acupoints would significantly reduce anaesthetic requirement. Ten healthy volunteers were anaesthetised with desflurane and randomly assigned to no treatment or acupuncture; the alternative treatment was given on a subsequent study day. Auricular acupuncture was performed with needles placed at the Shen Men, Thalamus, Tranquiliser and Master Cerebral Points on the right ear. Anaesthetic requirement, determined by the Dixon up-and-down method, was defined by the average desflurane concentration that prevented purposeful movement of the extremities in response to noxious electrical stimulation. Volunteers required a greater desflurane concentration to prevent movement on the control than on the acupuncture day: 4.9 (0.7; SD) vs. 4.4 (0.8) vol. %, p = 0.003. Acupuncture thus reduced anaesthetic requirement by 8.5 (7)%.