The selective kappa opioid receptor antagonist nor-binaltorphimine (nor-BNI) has been shown to modulate cannabinoid-induced antinociception by delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta 9-THC). However, it is not known whether nor-BNI blocks other pharmacological effects of delta 9-THC or if this is a specific action of nor-BNI. Studies were conducted in which pretreatment with nor-BNI (2, 10 and 20 micrograms i.t.) selectively blocked delta 9-THC-induced antinociception while not significantly affecting other commonly observed cannabinoid actions, which included hypothermia, hypoactivity and catalepsy. Chronic administration studies were performed to determine if cross tolerance could be established between delta 9-THC and the highly specific kappa opioid receptor agonists, U-50,488H and CI-977. The chronic delta 9-THC-treated groups were significantly tolerant, not only to i.t. delta 9-THC-induced antinociception in the tail-flick test, but also to i.t. U-50,488 and CI-977 compared with those treated chronically with vehicle. They were not cross tolerant to either DAMGO or DPDPE. Dose-response curves were generated for both delta 9-THC (i.t.) and CI-977 (i.t.) in mice tolerant to delta 9-THC and CI-977. Parallel shifts to the right of the delta 9-THC dose-response curves were observed in animals tolerant to delta 9-THC and also in animals tolerant to CI-977. Animals tolerant to CI-977 also demonstrated parallel shifts of the dose-response curves of both delta 9-THC and CI-977. This study demonstrated that cannabinoid actions can be distinguished from each other. The pharmacological separation of antinociception from the other cannabinoid-induced actions implies that it may have a mechanism distinct from other effects. In addition, this study indicates that delta 9-THC and the kappa opioid agonists may share a common mechanism of action in the production of antinociception and that a possible interaction exists between i.t. administered cannabinoid compounds and the kappa opioid receptor.