Using in situ hybridization we found that chronic treatment with CP-55,940 (0.4 mg kg-1, i.p. daily for 11 days), a synthetic cannabinoid receptor ligand, changed cannabinoid receptor mRNA levels in rat brain. CP-55,940 produced the expected tolerance: the decrease in locomotor activity (75%) caused by an acute dose was diminished to 25% after the 11 days of treatment. Thirty minutes after the last injection the animals were killed and in situ hybridization indicated that the levels of cannabinoid receptor mRNA in the caudate-putamen were reduced by 33%, with no alteration in the other brain areas. We suggest that the altered cannabinoid receptor expression is part of the adaptive changes underlying cannabinoid tolerance.