Anesthetics are generally associated with sedation, but some anesthetics can also increase brain and motor activity-a phenomenon known as paradoxical excitation. Previous studies have identified GABAA receptors as the primary targets of most anesthetic drugs, but how these compounds produce paradoxical excitation is poorly understood. To identify and understand such compounds, we applied a behavior-based drug profiling approach. Here, we show that a subset of central nervous system depressants cause paradoxical excitation in zebrafish. Using this behavior as a readout, we screened thousands of compounds and identified dozens of hits that caused paradoxical excitation. Many hit compounds modulated human GABAA receptors, while others appeared to modulate different neuronal targets, including the human serotonin-6 receptor. Ligands at these receptors generally decreased neuronal activity, but paradoxically increased activity in the caudal hindbrain. Together, these studies identify ligands, targets, and neurons affecting sedation and paradoxical excitation in vivo in zebrafish.