Previously, we reported that the cannabinoid delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) increased the expression of interleukin-2 (IL-2) receptor (R) alpha and beta proteins and mRNAs in NKB61A2 cells, but decreased the level of the gamma-chain message. The drug increased beta-chain message stability rather than increased transcription. In the present study, we examined the mechanism responsible for the drug-induced increase in alpha-chain message in NKB61A2 cells. Nuclear run-on and mRNA stability studies showed THC increased the level of alpha gene transcription but had no effect on mRNA stability. Because expression of this gene is regulated by nuclear factor (NF)-kappaB, we next tested the drug effect on the nuclear level of this protein using the electromobility shift assay. These studies showed a drug-induced increase in NF-kappaB activity. To link the increased nuclear factor activity with the THC-induced increase in IL-2R alpha message, antisense oligodeoxynucleotides were used to inhibit expression of the RelA component of NF-kappaB. These results showed anti-RelA antisense eliminated the cannabinoid-induced upregulation of both alpha mRNA and RelA protein. Furthermore, inhibition of the cannabinoid receptor type 1 with antisense oligomers also eliminated the drug effect on the alpha message. These results suggest that THC treatment of NKB61A2 cells increases IL-2R alpha gene transcription by increasing the nuclear level of NF-kappaB through a mechanism involving cannabinoid receptor type 1 expression.