Both morphine and anandamide significantly stimulated cultured endothelial intracellular calcium level increases in a concentration-dependent manner in cells pre-loaded with fura 2/AM. Morphine is more potent than anandamide (approximately 275 vs. 135 nM [Ca]i), and the [Ca]i for both ligands was blocked by prior exposure of the cells to their respective receptor antagonist, i.e., naloxone and SR 171416A. Various opioid peptides did not exhibit this ability, indicating a morphine-mu3-mediated process. In comparing the sequence of events concerning morphine's and anandamide's action in stimulating both [Ca]i and nitric oxide production in endothelial cells, we found that the first event precedes the second by 40+/-8 sec. The opiate and cannabinoid stimulation of [Ca]i was attenuated in cells leeched of calcium, strongly suggesting that intracellular calcium levels regulate cNOS activity.