Eleven healthy subjects received single oral doses of placebo, 2 mg diazepam, 5 mg diazepam, and 10 mg diazepam in a randomized four-way crossover study. Plasma diazepam levels, the Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST), and fraction of total electroencephalographic (EEG) amplitude falling in the sigma plus beta (13 to 31 Hz) frequency range were determined during the 12 hours after drug administration. Peak plasma diazepam concentration and area under the 12-hour curve were proportional to dose; time of peak was independent of dose. Baseline percentage of EEG amplitude falling in the 13 to 31 Hz range averaged 15.7% and did not differ among the four trials. The percentage of EEG amplitude falling in the 13 to 31 Hz range did not change over baseline with placebo or 2 mg diazepam but was increased 1/4 to 2 1/2 hours after 5 mg diazepam, (maximum, +7.3%) and 3/4 to 12 hours after 10 mg diazepam (maximum, +15.2%). The increase in the percentage of EEG amplitude falling in the 13 to 31 Hz range was highly correlated with plasma diazepam concentration. DSST scores for placebo and 2 mg diazepam were nearly identical. DSST decrements with 5 and 10 mg diazepam paralleled and were correlated with the changes in the percentage of EEG amplitude falling in the 13 to 31 Hz range and with plasma diazepam levels. Thus the EEG analysis provides objective quantitation of benzodiazepine central nervous system effects, in turn reflecting plasma levels and other clinical measures.