Cannabinoids are known to modulate GABAergic and glutamatergic transmission in cortical areas, the former via CB1 and the latter via a novel receptor. Pharmacological data demonstrate that several widely used cannabinoid ligands bind to both receptors, which may explain the inconsistencies in their behavioural effects. Earlier we showed that the cannabinoid antagonist SR-141716A affected behaviour in both CB1 knockout and wild-type animals, and its effect (anxiolysis) was different from that of CB1 gene disruption (anxiogenesis). In the present experiments, we studied the effects of the CB1 antagonist AM-251, and the cannabinoid agonist WIN-55,212-2 in wild-type as well as in CB1 knockout mice. CB1 knockout mice showed higher scores of anxiety-like behaviour than the wild-type animals in the elevated plus-maze. Selective blockade of CB1 receptors by AM-251 (0.3, 1 and 3 mg/kg) increased anxiety-like behaviour dose-dependently in the wild-type mice but had no effect in the knockouts. In wild types, the cannabinoid agonist WIN-55,212-2 (1 and 3 mg/kg) caused a decrease in anxiety-like behaviour, which was abolished by the CB1-selective antagonist AM-251 (3 mg/kg). The same agonist did not change plus-maze behaviour in CB1 knockout animals. These data demonstrate at the behavioural level that AM-251 and, at low concentrations, WIN-55,212-2, are selective ligands of the CB1 cannabinoid receptor in mice. Our studies on the behavioural effects of the cannabinoid antagonist SR-141716A and the CB1 antagonist AM-251 show that the CB1 and the novel cannabinoid receptor mediate anxiolytic and anxiogenic effects, respectively. This suggests that agonists of the former, or antagonists of the latter, are promising new compounds in the pharmacotherapy of anxiety.