Spinal anaesthesia is the primary anaesthetic technique for many types of surgery. Adjuncts to the local anaesthetics (LA) used in spinal anaesthesia can exhibit undesirable side-effects, limiting their use, but magnesium may have advantages in this respect. We sought randomized control trials (RCTs) in patients undergoing all types of surgery and in women in labour to compare the effect of intrathecal magnesium sulphate ± LA ± lipophilic opioid (experimental group) with the use of either intrathecal lipophilic opioids ± LA or LA only (control group). The primary outcome was the duration of spinal anaesthesia. Secondary outcomes were: onset and time to maximal sensory blockade, onset of motor block, and duration of sensory and motor blockade. We found 15 RCTs comprising 980 patients. The duration of spinal anaesthesia was significantly increased in the experimental group [standardized mean difference (SMD) -1.05 (-1.70, -0.41) (P = 0.001)], compared with the control group. This increased duration of spinal anaesthesia was seen in non-obstetric studies, SMD -1.38 (-2.11, -0.66) (P = 0.0002), but not in obstetric studies, SMD -0.55 (-1.87, 0.77) (P = 0.41). There was no delay in the onset of sensory or motor blockade. The incidence of hypotension and pruritus was similar in both groups. Heterogeneity was high in all outcome measures. The duration of spinal anaesthesia may be increased by the addition of magnesium to lipophilic opioids ± LA.