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Cannabinol (CBN): What Is It And What Are Its Effects?

Research shows CBN works as an antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, pain relief, anti-insomnia and anti-convulsive agent. It can also increase appetite like THC, without psychotropic effects. Cannabinol also seems to exert healthy synergistic effects with THC, CBD and other cannabinoids. Could it become a candidate for new cannabis-based treatments?

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.

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.

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 “grey 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 analysed 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.

CBN, or cannabinol, has the potential to be a very effective health supplement. Its synergy with THC and CBD might open new horizons for cannabis in medicine.

CBN vs. CBD: what’s the difference?

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Contents

  1. What does CBN stand for and what does it do?
  2. Potential benefits of CBN
  3. What does CBD do?
  4. How do CBD and CBN differ?

Judging by the acronyms alone, CBN and cannabidiol (CBD), two cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, seem pretty similar to each other. But these cannabis components are in fact two distinct cannabis compounds with completely different effects and origins. While both CBN and CBD share some similar medicinal properties, they vary significantly when it comes to how they’re produced and how they interact with the body.

What does CBN stand for and what does it do?

CBN stands for cannabinol. CBN was the first naturally occurring cannabinoid to be isolated in its pure form back in 1896. People originally thought it was responsible for the cannabis high, but later found out that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) produces for the intoxicating effects of cannabis. It was discovered that CBN is actually an oxidation product of THC; that is, THC will slowly turn into CBN when exposed to heat and light.

Old cannabis or cannabis extracts left unrefrigerated or in the light will have higher levels of CBN. Levels of CBN in cannabis are not controlled by genetic factors, but by environmental factors. Currently, there are no high CBN strains available on the market, so the optimal way to obtain it is by oxidizing THC and CBD.

Old cannabis or cannabis extracts left unrefrigerated or in the light will have higher levels of CBN. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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CBN on its own does not produce intoxicating effects, however, to the best of our knowledge, the effects of this cannabinoid have not been fully researched in human subjects. THC produces its effects on the body by interacting with the cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which are located in the central nervous system and throughout the body. Specifically, it produces the high by binding to the CB1 receptors and activating them.

CBN binds to CB1 receptors as well, but with only around one-tenth the strength of THC. Cannabis medicines are able to treat a variety of conditions using a “strength in numbers” approach, because cannabis has a lot of components in it. These small components influence the major components in what’s known as the entourage effect. While many strains available in a dispensary have high levels of THC, each strain produces a different high due to the differing levels of other cannabinoids and terpenes, collectively the entourage.

Potential benefits of CBN

While more research into the effects of CBN are needed to make any surefire claims, existing evidence has shown that this relatively unknown cannabinoid could yield a vast array of benefits.

A 2011 study, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, found that the combination of THC with CBN has demonstrated the ability to produce a more sedated, couch lock high in human subjects. Older cannabis products or those exposed to a lot of heat and sunlight, such as Moroccan hashish, are said to be better for relaxing than others because of their higher CBN content.

Researchers also discovered that CBN demonstrated anti-inflammatory and anti-convulsant properties on its own. CBN may also act as an appetite stimulant in rats, and could act as a pain reliever when combined with CBD. Since it’s not yet possible to breed cannabis plants that produce high levels of CBN, researchers need to synthesize this cannabinoid in order to properly study it, and this has hindered further research into the benefits of this cannabinoid.

There is sparse research supporting the claim that CBN acts as a sleep aid. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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CBN has also shown potential as a treatment for sleep disorders, pain relief, and inflammation, among other medical benefits. For instance, in an analysis shared by Steep Hill Labs in 2017, researchers found that a 2.5-to-5 milligram dose of CBN was as effective as a 5-to-10 milligram dose of the pharmaceutical sedative diazepam.

However, this study was not published in a peer-reviewed journal and, moreover, there is sparse research supporting the claim that CBN acts as a sleep aid. It’s possible that the sedative properties of aged cannabis may come from terpenes with low molecular weight, which tend to remain on cannabis for long periods of time, rather than the amount of CBN that strain has developed over time.

What does CBD do?

CBD is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid that is most common in hemp plants. In fact, following THC, CBD is the second-most-abundant cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Following the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, marijuana plants containing less than 0.3% THC were federally legalized as industrial hemp in the United States, unfurling an avalanche of hemp-derived CBD products upon the health and wellness market.

In states without recreational or medical marijuana legalization, hemp-derived CBD products are legal so long as they contain no THC or trace amounts below the federal limit of 0.3%. However, it’s important to note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not allow CBD to be sold as a dietary supplement or used as an ingredient in edibles and drinks. Currently, the only FDA-approved drug containing CBD is called Epidiolex, which for treatment of seizures associated with Lennox-Gastaut syndrome or Dravet syndrome.

Due to the many potential positive effects of CBD, it has gained a lot of attention in the medical community as well as the consumer market. Research supports CBD for the treatment of chronic pain, seizures, and nausea. CBD has also been identified as a powerful agent against the antibiotic-resistant bacteria methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), as well as effective in reducing the risk of stroke and improving cognitive abilities in individuals afflicted with loss of brain function due to late-stage scarring of the liver.

Research supports CBD for the treatment of chronic pain, seizures, and nausea. Photo by: Gina Coleman/Weedmaps

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In the presence of THC, CBD appears to have a regulatory effect on the adverse effects of THC, such as anxiety and paranoia. Several studies support that high doses of THC can cause anxiety or paranoia in otherwise healthy users and individuals with a predisposition for mental illness. It is not clear exactly why this entourage effect occurs or at what amount of CBD is needed to reduce the adverse effects of THC.

How do CBD and CBN differ?

Cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN), are fundamentally two different molecules that have two separate origins. While industrial hemp plants and high-CBD marijuana strains have been high levels of CBD, the level of CBN in a cannabis flower or concentrate depends on the amount of heat and light it has been exposed to, and how old it is. Again, this is because CBN is a byproduct of the action of light and heat on THC, in technical terms, a product of oxidation or degradation.

Despite the fundamental difference in the origin of these two components, they do share a lot of similarities in their purported medicinal effects. Neither produces an intoxicating high on its own, but they both affect the high when combined with THC. However, the presence of CBD tones down some of the negative effects of THC, like paranoia or anxiety, and the presence of CBN produces a gently sedative high that may be beneficial for people wanting to use cannabis for better sleep.

CBN vs. CBD: what’s the difference? Copy article link to clipboard. Link copied to clipboard. Contents What does CBN stand for and what does it do? Potential benefits of CBN