BACKGROUND: Tracheobronchial clearance of mucus from the lungs is reduced during sleep and, usually, by the administration of opiates. It seemed possible therefore that temazepam, a widely used potent benzodiazepine, retarded clearance. METHODS: The effect of 10 mg temazepam on mucociliary clearance was studied in eight healthy volunteers, aged 18-50 (mean 30) years, in a randomised, placebo controlled, double blind, cross-over study. Six subjects were female and two male. Six were non-smokers and two were light current smokers. Clearance was assessed from the change in radio-activity in the lungs after inhalation of 5 microns diameter polystyrene particles, labelled with technetium-99m, under controlled conditions. RESULTS: Tracheobronchial clearance was reduced by 22% after temazepam by comparison with placebo during the first three hours after drug ingestion; this is the period when circulating drug concentrations are highest. CONCLUSION: Temazepam should be prescribed with caution in patients with impaired lung mucociliary transport.