To evaluate the efficacy of a mild anxiolytic, alprazolam, in relieving dyspnea, we conducted a randomized, placebo-controlled double-blind study on patients with chronic obstructive lung disease. Twenty-four patients had alprazolam (0.5 mg bid) or placebo administered for one week, followed by placebo for one week, then either placebo or alprazolam for the third week. Assessment tests were performed at the outset, end of the first and second weeks, and finally end of the third week. The parameters measured were: pulmonary function, exercise testing on a bicycle ergometer, and the distance covered in a 12 minute walk. Subjective sensations of dyspnea at rest and during guarded exercise, as well as subjective feelings of calmness or anxiety were also recorded. There was no difference in mechanical lung function, but the PO2 tended to decrease and PCO2 to increase after alprazolam administration. The maximum exercise level attained and the distance covered in the 12 minute walk was unchanged. The subjective perception of dyspnea was the same before and after alprazolam, at rest and during exercise. We conclude that alprazolam is not effective in relieving exercise dyspnea in patients with obstructive lung disease.