Previous in vivo studies have shown that delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the principal active ingredient in marijuana, can suppress both luteinizing hormone (LH) and growth hormone (GH) secretion after its injection into the third ventricle of conscious male rats. The present studies were designed to determine the mechanism of these effects. Various doses of THC were incubated with either stalk median eminence fragments (MEs) or mediobasal hypothalamic (MBH) fragments in vitro. Although THC (10 nM) did not alter basal release of LH-releasing hormone (LHRH) from MEs in vitro, it completely blocked the stimulatory action of dopamine or norepinephrine on LHRH release. The effective doses to block LHRH release were associated with a blockade of synthesis and release of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) from MBH in vitro. In contrast to the suppressive effect of THC on LHRH release, somatostatin release from MEs was enhanced in a dose-related manner with a minimal effective dose of 1 nM. Since PGE2 suppresses somatostatin release, this enhancement may also be related to the suppressive effect of THC on PGE2 synthesis and release. We speculate that these actions are mediated by the recently discovered THC receptors in the tissue. The results indicate that the suppressive effect of THC on LH release is mediated by a blockade of LHRH release, whereas the suppressive effect of the compound on growth hormone release is mediated, at least in part, by a stimulation of somatostatin release.