To determine if a scintigraphic method could detect pharmacologic changes in small intestinal transit time (SITT), 10 male volunteers were studied at baseline and after intravenously administered metoclopramide (10 mg) and morphine (8 mg). Five of these volunteers were studied with the hydrogen breath test method for comparison. For each of the scintigraphic studies, the volunteers were positioned supine under a large-field-of-view gamma camera after ingesting an isosmotic lactulose solution containing 99mtechnetium-diethylenetriaminepentaacetic acid (DTPA). Data were collected and stored in a computer. Both gastric emptying and SITT were determined. SITT was 81 +/- 11 min (mean +/- S.E.M.; N = 10) during baseline studies, was decreased significantly to 50 +/- 6 min (N = 10; P less than 0.01) after metoclopramide, and was increased significantly to 161 +/- 15 min (N = 8; P less than 0.01) after morphine. Baseline mean values were 86.3 +/- 15 min (N = 15) for the hydrogen breath tests, 47 +/- 8 min (N = 5) for metoclopramide, and 183 +/- 16 min (N = 5) for morphine. For gastric emptying, there was no significant difference in percentage emptying at 1 hr for baseline and metochopramide (82 +/- 5% vs. 88 +/- 4%). Morphine prolonged gastric emptying at 1 hr to 63 +/- 8%. We conclude that the scintigraphic method for measuring SITT permits accurate investigation of the pharmacologic effects on intestinal motility and, in addition, may be a useful research and clinical method for SITT determination.