By Luke Sumpter

CBN, or cannabinol, is far less popular than THC or CBD, and it’s not even so easy to extract from the cannabis plant. However, its potential beneficial effects on human body are beginning to be explored by science. What do we know to date about the “sleepy” cannabinoid?

How Is CBN Formed Within The Cannabis Plant, And Where Is It Found?

Unlike many other cannabinoids, cannabinol (CBN) does not develop from cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). In fact, CBN is a metabolite of tetrahydrocannabinol, which means it develops when THC is heated or exposed to oxygen. For that reason, you’ll find that aged or oxidized cannabis flowers are high in CBN. However, the CBN content within the plant is usually less than 1% even in cured or aged cannabis flowers.

How Does CBN Exerts Its Effects?

Most cannabinoids exert their effects on our body and mind by chemically “binding” with the cannabinoid receptors that constitute our endocannabinoid system (ECS). In case you're unfamiliar, the ECS is a neuronal messenger network that exists in all of our bodies. It contributes to the regulation of many physiological functions while also influencing mood, immune response, sleep, appetite, pain perception, and much more.

The cannabinoid receptors are named CB1 and CB2, yet we know that several cannabinoids can also influence other receptors as well. The wide range of different cannabinoids can strongly or weakly bind to these receptors, some of them as “agonists”, some as “antagonists”, thus exerting a variety of potential effects.

Much like its parent molecule, THC, cannabinol has a greater binding affinity for the CB2 receptor than the CB1 receptor, although CBN’s affinity for CB2 is lower than THC’s. Lab tests show that CBN acts as an agonist at the CB1 receptors, albeit with much less strength than THC. CBN is also an agonist at TRPV2 receptor, potentially contributing to exert pain-relieving responses from our endocannabinoid system. Cannabinol might also inhibit the production of other neuronal signalling enzymes.

How Does CBN Affect Our Bodies?

Before we proceed with this section, we should clarify that all studies today available on CBN are early-stage experiments. Not even small scale clinical data has been produced, and people’s anecdotal reports on CBN use are very limited as well. In comparison, we know much more about the variety of effects by THC and CBD. That being said, relative to the amount of information out there, research has shown a fair amount of promise.

Back in 1984, a study on cats revealed that both CBN and CBG caused reductions in intraocular tension[1], while more recent studies are showing other target areas for CBN. In lab environment, CBN reduced the overgrowth of skin cells by inhibiting the hyper-proliferation of human keratinocyte. Similarly to CBD and other cannabinoids, CBN also seemed to act as a soother in inflamed skin[2] by modulating TRPV2 receptors.

Recent research also supports the hypothesis that all five major cannabinoids, CBN included, exert an action against a variety of antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus[3] of clinical relevance. This effect seems to be determined by specific biochemical mechanisms which have yet to be understood.

Studies with THC, CBD and CBN on rats showed that the modulation of CB1 receptor by CBN can potentially increase both appetite[4] and the amount of food consumed. CBN is also supposed to substitute THC in improving symptoms and delaying the onset of neurodegenerative[5] conditions. Finally, CBN has been studied for its anticonvulsant[6] effects, although this specific action is not as evident as it is with THC and CBD.

How Does CBN Affect Our Bodies?

What Is the Difference Between CBN & CBD?

Cannabidiol and cannabinol, despite the similar names, are two different molecules with two separate development pathways.

The cannabinoid biosynthesis pathway remains a source of debate, but it seems to start with a substance called geranyl pyrophosphate. This either binds with olivetolic acid to form cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), or with divarinolic acid to form cannabigerovarinic acid (CBGVA). These two cannabinoid precursors are then combined with specific plant’s enzymes to develop the acid forms of cannabinoids like THC and CBD. The last stop in the cannabinoid pathway is decarboxylation, which usually happens when the plant matter is heated.

CBN, in contrast, is developed via the the non-enzymatic oxidation of THC. This, simply, means CBN's development pathway is the natural degradation of the most loved cannabinoid.

Besides their actual chemical differences, the way they're perceived by researchers and consumers is quite different as well. The potential positive effects of CBD gained a lot of attention, while CBN is still little known. CBD is widely available today, as opposed to CBN, which is seldom contained in significant amounts within cannabis well-being products. Solid research and information is now available on CBD, but we can't say the same of CBN. At any rate, CBD is more studied, available, cheaper, and offers a wider potential range of applications.

That being said, they aren't completely different.

Neither show a great affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors, and neither produce euphoria (or any other intoxicating effect). In turn, both CBN and CBD can slightly modify the high induced by THC.

Cannabis derivatives with a very high percentage of CBN or CBD could actually exert similar kinds of side effects, such as tiredness or dizziness. However, the required doses for these effects actually go beyond the normal medical use of cannabinoids, and their application would be inefficient in turn. Both CBD and CBN have also been studied as potential treatments for seizures, inflammation, pain, and other conditions, but nothing has been proven for either.

Are The Sedative Effects Of CBN Real?

CBN is sometimes called the “sleepy cannabinoid”, but science doesn’t fully support this claim. CBN is anecdotally known to generate sedative effects, especially if combined with THC in indica strains, which are supposed to be more sedative than sativas because of their cannabinoids and terpenes profile. However, back in the 1970s, one small scale study[7] on humans with oral administration of CBN alone, CBN with THC, and THC alone, found that the combination of these two cannabinoids was producing higher levels of dizziness and drowsiness compared to THC alone, while CBN alone didn’t make subjects sleepy nor high.

This result brought researchers to believe the supposed narcotic effect of CBN was instead caused by the higher content of sedative terpenes in older cannabis, such as myrcene and linalool. Recent research conversely indicates CBN as the most effective sedative out of all cannabinoids, yet none of these results should be considered as conclusive. More likely, in some cases, CBN contributes to sedation via the entourage effect, with other cannabinoids and terpenes enhancing the overall effectiveness.

Are The Sedative Effects Of CBN Real?

Is CBN Legal?

CBN is not listed in the United Nations’ controlled substances schedules. However, local laws on cannabis products around the world are often confusing and contradictory, with further complications due to the fact that CBN derives from THC, which is a controlled substance in most regions. However, CBN can also be extracted from hemp, which is legal in most countries, and could provide a tolerated way to process the plant in order to extract CBN.

Once again, patients and cannabis users might find themselves locked within a “gray area” scenario. As a consequence, it is always a good idea to check the local laws before buying or possessing products with CBN, whether the cannabinoid is isolated or is a component of a full spectrum cannabis product.

What CBN Products Are Available Today?

Extracting CBN is not an easy task. This cannabinoid has to be carefully isolated and then concentrated in products with decent degrees of bioavailability. A few CBN extracts are already available on the market, and a few reputable brands today offer products with high concentrations of this cannabinoid in different forms, such as CBN oils, tinctures, edibles, topicals and capsules.

The safest and most reliable CBN products are created by isolating the cannabinoid from organic hemp and using sophisticated extraction techniques. This removes the possibility of even a little THC content which could eventually generate a high, and also grab the attention of law officers in countries where THC is illegal. In order to be sure of the actual cannabinoid content of a CBN or full spectrum product, it is always a good idea to ensure the cannabis (or hemp) derivative has been independently analyzed by a third party testing lab.

Combining different cannabinoid-infused products is also possible, in the attempt to get the best of CBN, CBD and other cannabinoids’ benefits. In this case, experts recommend keeping a daily record of one persons’ cannabinoid intake, in order to understand the best mix and avoid excessive dosage with potential side effects.

Looking At The Future Of CBN

Given the limited amount of research about the effects of CBN, we can't make any claim of it treating specific conditions, even if early evidence is quite promising. That being said, if these early findings are supported by future studies, CBN could eventually be used to increase appetite, promote healthy sleep, enhance the immune system response, reduce inflammation, contrast bacterial infections, and even fight diseases[8]. Moreover, the non-psychotropic nature of this cannabinoid might make CBN a substitute for THC in some medical applications. However, CBN seems to be more effective in combination with THC and CBD.

To date, one of the primary recognized applications of CBN is its potential to relax and treat insomnia. However, research continues to be conducted into its other potentials, particularly if its synergistic effects with other cannabinoids will be fully leveraged in a new generation of medical cannabis products.

External Resources:
  1. Intraocular pressure, ocular toxicity and neurotoxicity after administration of cannabinol or cannabigerol
  2. Cannabinoids inhibit human keratinocyte proliferation through a non-CB1/CB2 mechanism and have a potential therapeutic value in the treatment of psoriasis - PubMed
  3. Antibacterial cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa: a structure-activity study - PubMed
  4. Cannabinol and cannabidiol exert opposing effects on rat feeding patterns - PubMed
  5. Cannabinol delays symptom onset in SOD1 (G93A) transgenic mice without affecting survival - PubMed
  6. The anticonvulsant activity of cannabidiol and cannabinol - ScienceDirect
  7. Effects of delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabinol in man - PubMed
  8. Cannabinol inhibits proliferation and induces cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in glioblastoma, hepatocellular carcinoma and breast cancer cells
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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