The function of the inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), has been implicated in the mode of action of many drugs which excite or depress the central nervous system. Many convulsant agents appear to block GABA action whereas anticonvulsants enhance GABA action. Some of these drug effects involve altered GABA-mediated synaptic transmission at the level of GABA biosynthesis, release from nerve endings, uptake into cells, and metabolic degradation. A greater number of agents of diverse classes appear to affect GABA action at the postsynaptic membrane, as determined from both electrophysiological and biochemical studies. The recently developed in vitro radioactive receptor binding assays have led to a wealth of new information about GABA action and its alteration by drugs. GABA inhibitory transmission involves the regulation, by GABA binding to its receptor site, of chloride ion channels. In this GABA receptor-ionophore system, other drug receptor sites, one for benzodiazepines and one for barbiturates/picrotoxinin (and related agents) appear to form a multicomponent complex. In this complex, the drugs binding to any of the three receptor categories are visualized to have an effect on GABA-associated chloride channel regulation. Available evidence suggests that the complex mediates many of the actions of numerous excitatory and depressant drugs showing a variety of pharmacological effects.