1. The actions of a number of cannabinoid receptor ligands were investigated using the myograph-mounted rat isolated mesenteric artery. Anandamide, CP 55,940, HU-210, palmitoylethanolamide and WIN 55,212-2 all caused concentration-dependent relaxations of methoxamine-precontracted vessels which were not affected by removal of the endothelium. 2. Precontracting vessels with 60 mM KCl instead of methoxamine greatly reduced the vasorelaxant effects of anandamide and palmitoylethanolamide. High K+ solution caused a modest decrease in the relaxant potency of CP 55,940 and HU-210, and had no effect on relaxations induced by WIN 55,212-2. 3. Relaxations of methoxamine-induced tone by anandamide, CP 55,940 and HU-210, but not palmitoylethanolamide and WIN 55,212-2, were attenuated by the cannabinoid receptor antagonist, SR 141716A. Relaxation of vessels contracted with 60 mM KCl by CP 55,940 was also sensitive to SR 141716A. 4. Anandamide and CP 55,940 caused small but concentration-dependent contractions in resting vessels in the absence of extracellular calcium. These were not sensitive to SR 141716A. Palmitoylethanolamide and WIN 55,212-2 produced smaller contractions only at higher concentrations. 5. Anandamide and CP 55,940, but not palmitoylethanolamide and WIN 55,212-2, caused concentration-dependent inhibition of the phasic contractions induced by methoxamine in calcium-free conditions, but only anandamide caused inhibition of contractions to caffeine under such conditions. These inhibitory effects were not antagonised by SR 141716A. 6. The present study provides the first detailed investigation of the actions of cannabinoid agonists on vascular smooth muscle. Our results show that these compounds exert both receptor-dependent and -independent effects on agonist-induced calcium mobilization in the rat isolated mesenteric artery.