The enteric nervous system of several species, including the mouse, rat, guinea pig and humans, contains cannabinoid CB1 receptors that depress gastrointestinal motility, mainly by inhibiting ongoing contractile transmitter release. Signs of this depressant effect are, in the whole organism, delayed gastric emptying and inhibition of the transit of non-absorbable markers through the small intestine and, in isolated strips of ileal tissue, inhibition of evoked acetylcholine release, peristalsis, and cholinergic and non-adrenergic non-cholinergic (NANC) contractions of longitudinal or circular smooth muscle. These are contractions evoked electrically or by agents that are thought to stimulate contractile transmitter release either in tissue taken from morphine pretreated animals (naloxone) or in unpretreated tissue (gamma-aminobutyric acid and 5-hydroxytryptamine). The inhibitory effects of cannabinoid receptor agonists on gastric emptying and intestinal transit are mediated to some extent by CB1 receptors in the brain as well as by enteric CB1 receptors. Gastric acid secretion is also inhibited in response to CB1 receptor activation, although the detailed underlying mechanism has yet to be elucidated. Cannabinoid receptor agonists delay gastric emptying in humans as well as in rodents and probably also inhibit human gastric acid secretion. Cannabinoid pretreatment induces tolerance to the inhibitory effects of cannabinoid receptor agonists on gastrointestinal motility. Findings that the CB1 selective antagonist/inverse agonist SR141716A produces in vivo and in vitro signs of increased motility of rodent small intestine probably reflect the presence in the enteric nervous system of a population of CB1 receptors that are precoupled to their effector mechanisms. SR141716A has been reported not to behave in this manner in the myenteric plexus-longitudinal muscle preparation (MPLM) of human ileum unless this has first been rendered cannabinoid tolerant. Nor has it been found to induce "withdrawal" contractions in cannabinoid tolerant guinea pig ileal MPLM. Further research is required to investigate the role both of endogenous cannabinoid receptor agonists and of non-CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the gastrointestinal tract. The extent to which the effects on gastrointestinal function of cannabinoid receptor agonists or antagonists/inverse agonists can be exploited therapeutically has yet to be investigated as has the extent to which these drugs can provoke unwanted effects in the gastrointestinal tract when used for other therapeutic purposes.