Opioid receptors appear to modulate a variety of physiological and metabolic homeostatic responses to stressors such as exercise and thermally extreme environments. To more accurately determine the role of the naloxone (NAL) sensitive opioid receptor system during rest and exercise, subjects were subjected to concomitant environmental thermal stress. Fifteen untrained men rested or performed low intensity (60% VO2peak) or high intensity (80% VO2peak) exercise on a cycle ergometer for 60 min in an environmental chamber during cold (0 degrees C) hot (35 degrees C) air exposure while receiving an infusion of normal saline (SAL) or NAL (0.1 mg kg(-1)). Plasma adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH), immunoreactive beta-endorphin (IBE), cortisol and growth hormone were measured at baseline and every 15 min while in the chamber. Time to exhaustion was significantly reduced during high intensity exercise in the heat (P<0.0001). NAL significantly (P=0.0004) reduced the time to exhaustion (38.3+/-2.1 min) during high intensity exercise in the heat compared to SAL (49.4+/-2.1 min). ACTH and IBE increased during hot conditions and cold attenuated this response. Plasma concentrations of IBE, ACTH, and growth hormone increased significantly with NAL during high intensity exercise in the heat compared to SAL. Cold attenuated the response of ACTH, IBE and cortisol to NAL. NAL administration exaggerates plasma hormone concentration during high intensity exercise in the heat, but not cold. These results support a regulatory effect of the opioid receptor system on physiological responses during exercise in thermally stressful environments. Future research should be directed to more clearly defining the effect of environmental temperature on the mechanism of hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal hormonal release during exercise and hot environmental temperatures.