Immunohistochemical distribution of cannabinoid receptors in the adult rat brain was studied using specific purified antibodies against the amino-terminus of the CB1 receptor. Our results generally agree well with the previous studies using CB1 receptor autoradiography and messenger RNA in situ hybridization. However, because of its greater resolution, immunohistochemistry allowed identification of particular neuronal cells and fibers that possess cannabinoid receptors. CB1-like immunoreactivity was found in axons, cell bodies and dendrites, where it appeared as puncta in somata and processes. Both intensely and moderately or lightly stained neurons were observed. The intensely stained neurons were dispersed and only occur in cortical structures including hippocampal formation and olfactory bulb. Moderately or lightly stained neurons were found in caudate-putamen and amygdala. In the hippocampal formation only intensely stained neurons were observed. The cell bodies of pyramidal neurons in CA1 and CA3 fields appeared to be unstained but surrounded by a dense plexus of immunoreactive fibers. The granule cells in the dentate area were also immunonegative. Many intensely stained neurons were located at the base of the granule cell layer. CB1-like immunoreactive neurons and fibers were also found in the somatosensory, cingulate, perirhinal, entorhinal and piriform cortices, in claustrum, amygdaloid nuclei, nucleus accumbens and septum. Beaded immunoreactive fibers were detected in periaqueductal gray, nucleus tractus solitarius, spinal trigeminal tract and nucleus, dorsal horn and lamina X of the spinal cord. A triangular cap-like mass of immunoreactivity was found to surround the basal part of the Purkinje cell body in the cerebellum. Only small, lightly stained cells were found in the molecular layer in the cerebellum close to the Purkinje cell layer. The CB1 receptor is widely distributed in the forebrain and has a more restricted distribution in the hindbrain and the spinal cord. It appears to be expressed on cell bodies, dendrites and axons. According to the location and morphology, many, but not all, CB1-like immunoreactive neurons appear to be GABAergic. Therefore, cannabinoids and cannabinoid receptors may play a role in modulating GABAergic neurons.