Suppression by delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) of tumor necrosis factor (TNF) production by macrophages has not been reported previously. The present study evaluated the effect in vitro of THC on soluble TNF-alpha production by cultured murine peritoneal macrophages. THC at 5 or 10 micrograms/ml added to medium [RPMI 1640 containing 10 ng LPS/ml, mouse IFN-gamma (100 u/ml), and 0.5% bovine serum albumin (BSA)] used to induce TNF significantly decreased TNF-alpha production by BALB/c mouse macrophages. Macrophages pretreated with THC at 0.1, 0.5, or 1.0 micrograms/ml in protein-free medium for 3 h at 37 degrees C, prior to TNF induction, also showed a decreased ability to produce TNF-alpha in a dose-dependent manner. Increasing the protein concentration from 0.5 to 5% BSA in the medium which was used to induce TNF prevented the inhibitory activity of THC. Human peripheral blood adherent cells treated with THC-containing medium produced less TNF-alpha than controls that were not exposed to THC. Thus, our data provide evidence that THC can inhibit TNF production by mouse and human macrophages. The drug's activity is concentration dependent and is related to the amount of serum protein in the medium used to induce this cytokine.