Significant variability in the effects of cannabinoid CB1 receptor ligands on emotional reactivity in animals and humans suggests that the endocannabinoid system may selectively modulate certain types of anxiety. In view of substantial evidence for qualitative differences in the nature of anxiety elicited on initial and subsequent exposures to the elevated plus-maze, the present studies contrasted the behavioural effects of the selective CB1 receptor antagonist SR141716A (0.1–10.0 mg/kg) and the reference benzodiazepine chlordiazepoxide (CDP, 15 mg/kg) both in maze-naive mice (trial 1) and in mice that had been given a single undrugged exposure to the maze 24 h prior to testing (trial 2). Results confirmed the anxioselective effect of CDP on trial 1 but a complete absence of such activity on trial 2 (i.e. one trial tolerance). In marked contrast, SR141716A had no behavioural effects in maze-naive mice but, at doses of 1.0–3.0 mg/kg (effect maximal at 1.0 mg/kg), significantly reduced anxiety-like responses in maze-experienced animals. Like the effect of CDP on trial 1, the antianxiety profile of SR141716A on plus-maze trial 2 was observed in the absence of any change in general activity levels. The apparent experientially induced ‘sensitization’ to the anxiolytic-like effects of SR141716A in the plus-maze contrasts markedly with the widely reported loss of benzodiazepine efficacy in test-experienced animals. Data are discussed in relation to the recently described phenotypes of CB1 receptor knockout mice and, in particular, to mounting evidence for the existence of a novel SR141716A-sensitive neuronal cannabinoid receptor.