Anandamide [arachidonylethanolamide (AEA)] appears to be an endogenous agonist of brain cannabinoid receptors (CB(1)), yet some of the neurobehavioral effects of this compound in mice are unaffected by a selective CB(1) antagonist. We studied the levels, pharmacological actions, and degradation of AEA in transgenic mice lacking the CB(1) gene. We quantified AEA and the other endocannabinoid, 2-arachidonoyl glycerol, in six brain regions and the spinal cord by isotope-dilution liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. The distribution of endocannabinoids and their inactivating enzyme, fatty acid amide hydrolase, were found to overlap with CB(1) distribution only in part. In CB(1) knockout homozygotes (CB(1)-/-), the hippocampus and, to a lesser extent, the striatum exhibited lower AEA levels as compared with wild-type (CB(1)+/+) controls. These data suggest a ligand/receptor relationship between AEA and CB(1) in these two brain regions, where tonic activation of the receptor may tightly regulate the biosynthesis of its endogenous ligand. 2-Arachidonoyl glycerol levels and fatty acid amide hydrolase activity were unchanged in CB(1)-/- with respect to CB(1)+/+ mice in all regions. AEA and Delta(9)-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) were tested in CB(1)-/- mice for their capability of inducing analgesia and catalepsy and decreasing spontaneous activity. The effects of AEA, unlike THC, were not decreased in CB(1)-/- mice. AEA, but not THC, stimulated GTPgammaS binding in brain membranes from CB(1)-/- mice, and this stimulation was insensitive to CB(1) and CB(2) antagonists. We suggest that non-CB(1), non-CB(2) G protein-coupled receptors might mediate in mice some of the neuro-behavioral actions of AEA.