The effect of the plant-derived nonpsychotropic cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), on the function of hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)3A receptors expressed in Xenopus laevis oocytes was investigated using two-electrode voltage-clamp techniques. CBD reversibly inhibited 5-HT (1 microM)-evoked currents in a concentration-dependent manner (IC50 = 0.6 microM). CBD (1 microM) did not alter specific binding of the 5-HT3A antagonist [3H]3-(5-methyl-1H-imidazol-4-yl)-1-(1-methylindol-3-yl)propan-1-one (GR65630), in oocytes expressing 5-HT3A receptors. In the presence of 1 microM CBD, the maximal 5-HT-induced currents were also inhibited. The EC50 values were 1.2 and 1.4 microM, in the absence and presence of CBD, indicating that CBD acts as a noncompetitive antagonist of 5-HT3 receptors. Neither intracellular BAPTA injection nor pertussis toxin pretreatment (5 microg/ml) altered the CBD-evoked inhibition of 5-HT-induced currents. CBD inhibition was inversely correlated with 5-HT3A expression levels and mean 5-HT3 receptor current density. Pretreatment with actinomycin D, which inhibits protein transcription, decreased the mean 5-HT3 receptor current density and increased the magnitude of CBD inhibition. These data demonstrate that CBD is an allosteric inhibitor of 5-HT3 receptors expressed in X. laevis oocytes. They further suggest that allosteric inhibition of 5-HT3 receptors by CBD may contribute to its physiological roles in the modulation of nociception and emesis.