BACKGROUND During the last years, the usefulness and validity of bibliometric analyses in complementing other types of indicators has been put forward. Especially interesting is the performance of this type of studies in the pharmacological area, due to the important medical and economic repercusions of the research in this field. METHODS Documents of Spanish authors published in international pharmacological journals covered by the database Science Citation Index (1980-1989) were downloaded. Geographical and institutional distribution of the production, main publication journals and the basic or applied character of the research are some of the parameters analysed. The Expected Impact Factor (FIE) is used as an indicator of the potential influence of the research on the international scientific community. RESULTS An exponential growth was detected for the number of Spanish publications in international journals of Pharmacy & Pharmacology during the period of 1980-1989. Universities were the most productive institutions, followed by hospitals, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas, and industry, with only a small activity from private centers. Geographical distribution of production was very irregular, with Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia as the main productive cities. The increase in productivity was associated with a decrease over time in the FIE, although relatively high FIE journals were mainly used. Research in Pharmacy & Pharmacology showed as a mainly basic field, with a more clinical character for hospitals than for the remaining institutions. An increase in collaboration was observed, as supported by the increase in the coauthorship index, number of institutions per document and collaboration rate. CONCLUSIONS The international visibility of the Spanish pharmacological research showed and important growth during this period. It was mainly a quantitative growth, since a higher impact or potential influence of the Spanish research over the international scientific community was not detected.