The aim of this investigation was to examine the effect of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) administration on arginine vasopressin (AVP) release. (R,S)-MDMA (40 mg) was administered to eight normally hydrated healthy male volunteers (22-32 years) and blood samples were collected up to 24 h. Plasma was assayed for AVP and cortisol by radioimmunoassays, and for MDMA and the N-demethylated metabolite, MDA, by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Sodium concentrations and osmolality were also determined. Plasma AVP increased in all subjects after MDMA administration and a significant negative correlation was observed between concentrations of AVP and both single and total enantiomer MDMA at 1 h (r < -0.91, P < 0.01). This had disappeared by 2 h (P > 0.7). Compared with basal values, no significant change was observed for osmolality or cortisol at 1 h after drug administration. In conclusion, plasma AVP concentrations increase after MDMA administration, but the increase is not part of a generalized stress response since cortisol did not increase concurrently. A significant negative correlation between plasma MDMA and AVP was observed soon after administration. The possibility that a pharmacological effect of MDMA is primarily mediated via one or more metabolites, rather than by the parent drug, should be considered.