The pharmacokinetics of tizanidine, a new centrally acting muscle relaxant, have been studied in 18 normal male volunteers who received orally a single 5 mg dose, a single 20 mg dose, or repeated administration of 4 mg every 8 hr for 13 doses of [14C]tizanidine. Serial blood and breath samples and complete urine and feces were collected and analyzed for total radioactivity as well as intact tizanidine. Tizanidine was rapidly and almost completely absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract, although the estimated bioavailability was only 21% due to extensive first-pass metabolism. The pharmacokinetics of tizanidine appeared to be linear in the 0-20 mg dose range, as indicated by the dose-proportional blood levels of total radioactivity as well as of parent drug. Absorbed tizanidine was almost completely metabolized before excretion, the major excretory route being via the kidneys. The terminal half-lives of tizanidine and radioactivity were ca 3 hr and 61 hr, respectively, and 76%-77% of the administered radioactivity was recovered within 120 hr. Repeated administration of [14C]tizanidine resulted in no apparent change in pharmacokinetic characteristics. During the 4 mg q 8 hr regimen, blood levels of tizanidine reached steady state after only 2 or 3 doses, whereas those of total radioactivity approached steady state after approximately 4 days. The degree of accumulation of radioactivity, unlike that of parent drug, was inconsistent with the terminal half-life, but instead implied a shorter effective half-life of ca. 16 hr. It appears that the terminal phase of the blood radioactivity profile represents a metabolite that is reversibly bound to and slowly released from a specific tissue depot, and that this binding involves a finite amount of drug regardless of the dose. The oral administration of [14C]tizanidine prescribed in the present study was safe and well tolerated.