This study was undertaken to determine whether the cortical potential (CEP) evoked by noxious electrical stimulation of the incisor tooth pulp can be used to measure analgesia in the presence of sedation in the awake rat. Changes in the CEP produced by morphine (5, 10 and 20 mg/kg s.c.), an opioid analgesic with sedative effects, were compared with those produced by droperidol (1.25 mg/kg s.c.), a neuroleptic agent with no analgesic activity. Both drugs had similar small effects on CEP latency. However, whereas morphine produced a dose-related decrease in amplitude and area under the curve, particularly in the earliest component of the CEP, droperidol produced an increase in amplitude and area under the curve. Naloxone (0.5-2 mg/kg s.c.) reversed all effects of morphine. Similar CEPs could be evoked by electrical stimulation of the tooth pulp or surrounding gingiva in lightly anesthetized rats. However, the tooth pulp stimulation-evoked CEP was unchanged after anesthesia of the gingiva with lidocaine, and the gingiva-evoked CEP was unchanged after anesthesia of the tooth pulp. Therefore, stimulation of the rat's incisor can selectively activate intrapulpal fibers, which are sufficient to generate a CEP. This CEP is an indicator of nociception which can be used to distinguish the analgesic effects of drugs such as morphine from their sedative effects.