Ethanol disrupts signal transduction mediated by a variety of G-protein coupled receptors. We examined the effects of ethanol on arachidonic acid release mediated by muscarinic acetylcholine receptors. Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells transfected with the different subtypes of human muscarinic receptors (M1 to M5) were incubated with [H]arachidonic acid ([H]AA) for 18 hr, washed, and exposed to the cholinergic agonist carbamylcholine for 15 min. Carbamylcholine induced [H]AA release from CHO cells expressing M1, M3, or M5, but not M2 or M4, muscarinic receptors. Dose response curves revealed that carbamylcholine stimulated [H]AA release by up to 12-fold with an EC50 of ∼∼0.4 μM; maximal responses were obtained with 10 μM carbamylcholine. Exposure of M1-, M3-, or M5-expressing cells to ethanol for 5 min before stimulating with carbamylcholine reduced [H]AA release by 40 to 65%; 50% of the maximal inhibition was obtained with an ethanol concentration of 30 to 50 mM. Ethanol did not affect basal [H]AA release measured in the absence of carbamylcholine. Dose response curves suggest that ethanol acts as a noncompetitive inhibitor of muscarinic receptor-induced [H]AA release insofar as maximal [H]AA release was depressed in the presence of ethanol with no apparent change in the EC50 for stimulation by carbamylcholine. Exposure of CHO cells to 38 mM ethanol for 48 hr increased [H]AA release induced by carbamylcholine without affecting basal [H]AA release or altering the EC50 for carbamylcholine. These results indicate that ethanol acutely inhibits muscarinic receptor signaling through the arachidonic acid pathway in a noncompetitive manner, but chronically enhances muscarinic signaling through the same pathway.