Cannabinoids protect neurons from excitotoxic injury. We investigated the mechanisms involved by studying N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) toxicity in cultured murine cerebrocortical neurons in vitro and mouse cerebral cortex in vivo. The cannabinoid agonist R(+)-[2,3-dihydro-5-methyl-3-[(morpholinyl)-methyl] pyrrolo[1,2,3-de]-1,4-benzoxazin-yl]-(1-naphthalenyl)-methanone mesylate [R(+)-Win 55212] reduced neuronal death in murine cortical cultures treated with 20 μM NMDA, and its protective effect was attenuated by the CB1 cannabinoid receptor (CB1R) antagonist N-(piperidin-1-yl)-5-(4-chlorophenyl)-1-(2,4- cichlorophenyl)-4-methyl-1H-pyrazole-3-carboxamide hydrochloride (SR141716A). Cultures from CB1R-knockout mice were more sensitive to NMDA toxicity than were cultures from wild-type mice. The in vitro protective effect of R(+)-Win 55212 was reduced by pertussis toxin, consistent with signaling through CB1R-coupled G-proteins. The nitric-oxide synthase (NOS) inhibitors 7-nitroindazole (7-NI) and N-ω-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester also reduced NMDA toxicity. In addition, CB1R and neuronal NOS were coexpressed in cultured cortical neurons, suggesting that cannabinoids might reduce NMDA toxicity by interfering with the generation of NO. NOS activity in cerebral cortex was higher in CB1R-knockouts than in wildtype mice, and 7-NI reduced NMDA lesion size. R(+)-Win 55212 inhibited NO production after NMDA treatment of wildtype cortical neuron cultures, measured with 4-amino-5-methylamino-2′,7′- difluorofluorescein diacetate, and this effect was reversed by SR141716A. In contrast, R(+)-Win 55212 failed to inhibit NO production in cultures from CB1R knockouts. Dibutyryl-cAMP blocked the protective effect of R(+)-Win 55212, and this was reversed by the protein kinase A (PKA) inhibitor N-[2-((p- bromocinnamyl)amino)ethyl]-5-isoquinoline-sulfonamide (H89). Cannabinoids seem to protect neurons against NMDA toxicity at least in part by activation of CB1R and downstream inhibition of PKA signaling and NO generation.