Physicochemical factors influencing the release of phenytoin sodium from slow-release dosage forms were studied. Some of these factors were solubility and intrinsic dissolution rate as functions of pH, type of dosage form, pH of dissolution medium used, and conversion of the sodium salt to free acid (phenytoin). The innovator's product, Extended Phenytoin Sodium Capsule (Dilantin Kapseal, 100 mg, Parke-Davis), and two experimental formulations (one nondisintegrating tablet containing polymeric materials and the other a solid dispersion in an erodible matrix) served as the slow-release dosage forms. The sodium salt converts to practically insoluble phenytoin in the gastrointestinal pH range of 1 to 8. Due to such a conversion inside or at the surface of slow-release dosage forms, the release of drug in this pH range was incomplete. The extent of drug release also varied with the type of formulation used. In contrast, complete dissolution could be obtained in water because the pH of the medium gradually rose from approximately 6 to approximately 9.2 where the drug solubility was higher. Although several phenytoin sodium products might have similar dissolution rates in water, the extents of drug release under gastrointestinal pH conditions (pH 1-8) could differ greatly, thus supporting the Food and Drug Administration recognition that the similarity in dissolution profiles in water does not assure that the products are bioequivalent. The reported lower steady-state level of phenytoin in human plasma following oral administration of a slow-release dosage form may be related to incomplete drug release.