1. The aim of the present study was to analyse the cardiovascular actions of the synthetic CB1/CB2 cannabinoid receptor agonist WIN55212-2, and specifically to determine its sites of action on sympathetic cardiovascular regulation. 2. Pithed rabbits in which the sympathetic outflow was continuously stimulated electrically or which received a pressor infusion of noradrenaline were used to study peripheral prejunctional and direct vascular effects, respectively. For studying effects on brain stem cardiovascular regulatory centres, drugs were administered into the cisterna cerebellomedullaris in conscious rabbits. Overall cardiovascular effects of the cannabinoid were studied in conscious rabbits with intravenous drug administration. 3. In pithed rabbits in which the sympathetic outflow was continuously electrically stimulated, intravenous injection of WIN55212-2 (5, 50 and 500 microg kg(-1)) markedly reduced blood pressure, the spillover of noradrenaline into plasma and the plasma noradrenaline concentration, and these effects were antagonized by the CB1 cannabinoid receptor-selective antagonist SR141716A. The hypotensive and the sympathoinhibitory effect of WIN55212-2 was shared by CP55940, another mixed CB1/CB2 cannabinoid receptor agonist, but not by WIN55212-3, the enantiomer of WIN55212-2, which lacks affinity for cannabinoid binding sites. WIN55212-2 had no effect on vascular tone established by infusion of noradrenaline in pithed rabbits. 4. Intracisternal application of WIN55212-2 (0.1, 1 and 10 microg kg(-1)) in conscious rabbits increased blood pressure and the plasma noradrenaline concentration and elicited bradycardia; this latter effect was antagonized by atropine. 5. In conscious animals, intravenous injection of WIN55212-2 (5 and 50 microg kg(-1)) caused bradycardia, slight hypotension, no change in the plasma noradrenaline concentration, and an increase in renal sympathetic nerve firing. The highest dose of WIN55212-2 (500 microg kg(-1)) elicited hypotension and tachycardia, and sympathetic nerve activity and the plasma noradrenaline concentration declined. 6. The results obtained in pithed rabbits indicate that activation of CB1 cannabinoid receptors leads to marked peripheral prejunctional inhibition of noradrenaline release from postganglionic sympathetic axons. Intracisternal application of WIN55212-2 uncovered two effects on brain stem cardiovascular centres: sympathoexcitation and activation of cardiac vagal fibres. The highest dose of systemically administered WIN55212-2 produced central sympathoinhibition; the primary site of this action is not known.