Histamine release and hemodynamic changes associated with four narcotics were studied in 60 adults (28 men, 32 women) scheduled for general surgery under balanced anesthesia. Under double-blind conditions, incremental eauipotent doses of meperidine, morphine, fentanyl, or sufentanil were administered IV for induction of anesthesia, prior to thiopental, succinylcholine, and intubation. Arterial blood samples were drawn before and 1, 6, and 20 min after narcotic administration. Of the 16 patients given meperidine (mean dose 4.3 ± 0.2 (SEM) mg/kg), five (31%) had clinical signs (hypotension, tachycardia, erythema) and elevations in plasma histamine levels ranging from 3.2 to 49.7 μg/ml 1 min after narcotic administration. Plasma epinephrine levels at this time were also elevated in these five patients. One of the ten patients given morphine (0.6 ± 0.02 mg/kg) developed hypotension, tachycardia, and an increase in plasma histamine level to 12.4 ng/ml. None of 34 patients given either fentanyl (7 ± 0.4 μg/kg) or sufentanil (1.3 ± 0.1 μg/kg) had clinical signs of histamine release or elevations of plasma histamine levels. In the six patients in whom histamine release occurred, there was a significant correlation between the histamine levels at 1 min and the magnitude of change in heart rate, blood pressure, and plasma epinephrine level. All six histamine releasers were young women, ranging in age from 18 to 35 yr. Histamine release occurred more frequently after meperidine than after the other narcotics, including morphine, and the degree of hemodynamic compromise was related to the increase in plasma histamine concentration.