The aim of the present study was to examine the effects of the cannabinoid agonist CP 55,940 and the antagonist SR 141716A, alone and in combination, on rat exploratory and anxiety-like behaviour in the holeboard and elevated plus-maze tests. A further aim was to evaluate the effects of these treatments on hypothalamic neurotransmitters. Animals treated with CP 55,940 doses of 0.125 and 0.1 mg/kg exhibited less exploration and an increase in anxiety-like behaviour accompanied by great motor inhibition. No hypoactivity was seen at 0.075 mg/kg dosage, but anxiety and neophobic responses persisted, indicating independent and specific effects. Motor activity effects induced by CP 55,940 were reversed by pretreatment with SR 141716A (3 mg/kg). Surprisingly, when administered on its own, the antagonist also induced a reduction in exploratory parameters and an increase in anxiety-like responses. These apparently similar effects might be caused by different neural mechanisms. Finally, CP 55,940 increased hypothalamic dopamine and serotonin levels. These increases might be involved in the activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis described for cannabinoids.