Spontaneous inhibitory postsynaptic currents (i.p.s.cs) were recorded in voltage-clamped CA1 neurones in rat hippocampal slices. The exponential decay of i.p.s.cs was prolonged by concentrations of sodium pentobarbitone as low as 50 microM. With concentrations up to 100 microM, there was no change in the amplitude or rise time of the currents but current amplitude was depressed at 200 microM. The prolongation of currents increased with drug concentration within the range tested (50 to 200 microM). Halothane, at concentrations from 1 to 5%, also increased the time constant of decay of i.p.s.cs. The effect increased with concentration and was fully reversible. Ketamine, at a concentration of 0.5 mM, increased the time constant of decay of i.p.s.cs by 50 to 80% and the effect was reversible. Ethanol (10-200 mM), nitrous oxide (75-80%), and caffeine (10 microM-5 mM) had no detectable effect on the i.p.s.cs. It is suggested that pentobarbitone, halothane and ketamine increase the time constant of decay of the i.p.s.cs by stabilizing the open state of channels activated by gamma-aminobutyric acid.