Abstract Alzheimer's disease is widely held to be associated with oxidative stress due, in part, to the membrane action of beta-amyloid peptide aggregates. Here, we studied the effect of cannabidiol, a major non-psychoactive component of the marijuana plant (Cannabis sativa) on beta-amyloid peptide-induced toxicity in cultured rat pheocromocytoma PC12 cells. Following exposure of cells to beta-amyloid peptide (1 micro g/mL), a marked reduction in cell survival was observed. This effect was associated with increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) production and lipid peroxidation, as well as caspase 3 (a key enzyme in the apoptosis cell-signalling cascade) appearance, DNA fragmentation and increased intracellular calcium. Treatment of the cells with cannabidiol (10(-7)-10(-4)m) prior to beta-amyloid peptide exposure significantly elevated cell survival while it decreased ROS production, lipid peroxidation, caspase 3 levels, DNA fragmentation and intracellular calcium. Our results indicate that cannabidiol exerts a combination of neuroprotective, anti-oxidative and anti-apoptotic effects against beta-amyloid peptide toxicity, and that inhibition of caspase 3 appearance from its inactive precursor, pro-caspase 3, by cannabidiol is involved in the signalling pathway for this neuroprotection.