Cannabinoid receptor mRNA was localized in adult rat brain by 35S-tailed oligonucleotide probes and in situ hybridization histochemistry. Labelling is described as uniform or non-uniform depending on the relative intensities of individual cells expressing cannabinoid receptor mRNA within a given region or nucleus. Uniform labelling was found in the hypothalamus, thalamus, basal ganglia, cerebellum and brainstem. Non-uniform labelling that resulted from the presence of cells displaying two easily distinguishable intensities of hybridization signals was observed in several regions and nuclei in the forebrain (cerebral cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, certain olfactory structures). Olfactory-associated structures, basal ganglia, hippocampus, and cerebellar cortex displayed the heaviest amounts of labelling. Many regions that displayed cannabinoid receptor mRNA could reasonably be identified as sources for cannabinoid receptors on the basis of well documented hodologic data. Other sites that were also clearly labelled could not be assigned as logical sources of cannabinoid receptors. The localization of cannabinoid receptor mRNA indicates that sensory, motor, cognitive, limbic, and autonomic systems should all be influenced by the activation of this receptor by either exogenous cannabimimetics, including marijuana, or the yet unknown endogenous "cannabinoid" ligand.