Animal studies have shown that large volumes of IV lactated Ringer's solution (LR) decrease serum osmolality, thereby increasing cerebral water. These studies have led to recommendations to limit LR to avoid cerebral edema in neurosurgical patients. Eighteen healthy human volunteers aged 20-48 yr received 50 mL/kg LR over 1 h on one occasion and 0.9% sodium chloride (NS) on another. Venous samples were taken at baseline (T1), at infusion end (T2), and 1 h after T2 (T3). Time until first urination was noted. With LR, serum osmolality decreased by 4+/-3 mOsm/kg from T1 to T2 and increased insignificantly with NS. At T3, osmolality returned almost to baseline in the LR group. Blood pH increased from T1 to T2 with LR by 0.04+/-0.04 and decreased with NS by 0.04+/-0.04. These pH changes persisted at T3. Subjective mental changes occurred only with NS. Abdominal discomfort was more common with NS. Time until first urination was longer with NS (106+/-11 min) than with LR (75+/-10 min) (P < 0.001). In healthy humans, an infusion of large volumes of LR, but not NS, transiently decreased serum osmolality, whereas acidosis associated with NS persisted and urinary output was slower with NS. Large volumes of lactated Ringer's solution administered to healthy humans produced small transient changes in serum osmolality. Large volumes of sodium chloride did not change osmolality but resulted in lower pH.