Loss of memory and cholinergic transmission are associated with both Alzheimer's disease (AD) and marijuana use. The human brain muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (mAChR), which is involved in memory function and is inhibited by arachidonic acid, is also inhibited by anandamides. Two agonists of the cannabinoid receptor derived from arachidonic acid, anandamide (AEA) and R-methanandamide, inhibit ligand binding to the mAChR. Binding of the mAChR antagonist [3H]quinuclidinyl benzilate ([3H]QNB) is inhibited up to 89% by AEA (half-maximal inhibition at 50 microM). Binding of the more polar antagonist [N-methyl-3H]scopolamine ([3H]NMS) is inhibited by AEA up to 76% (half-maximal inhibition at 44 microM). R-methanandamide inhibits more than 90% of both [3H]QNB binding (I50 = 34 microM) and [3H]NMS binding (I50 = 15 microM) to the mAChR. Both AEA and R-methanandamide stimulate mAChR binding of the agonist [3H]oxotremorine-M at low concentrations (25-75 microM), but significantly inhibit agonist binding at higher concentrations (I50 = 150 microM). The cannabinoid antagonist SR141716A did not alter AEA or R-methanandamide inhibition of [3H]NMS binding to the mAChR, even at concentrations as high as 1 microM. Further, the cannabinoid agonist WIN 55212-2 does not alter antagonist binding to the mAChR. This demonstrates that mAChR inhibition by the anandamides is not mediated by the cannabinoid receptor. Since AEA and R-methanandamide are structurally similar to arachidonic acid, they may interact with the mAChR in a similar manner to inhibit receptor function.