The Ultimate Guide to CBN

In recent years, there’s been a great deal of excitement surrounding CBD and cannabis in general. Reform-minded populaces are pushing for widespread marijuana decriminalization and legalization, and the end of a research embargo has led to all sorts of fascinating discoveries surrounding CBD and THC. Today, there are medicines on the market that use hemp-derived compounds as a treatment for conditions as severe as cancer. However, cannabinoids are much more than just CBD and THC; CBN has recently begun receiving an increasing level of attention.

What’s Cannabinol (CBN)? What Are Cannabinoids?

CBN is short for Cannabinol, which one of more than one hundred different cannabinoids that researchers have identified within the cannabis plant. A cannabinoid is a specific type of compound that can interact with the neuroreceptors of your brain, and they don’t only exist in hemp. When you eat broccoli or cloves[1], you consume a considerable amount of phytocannabinoids. But cannabinoids are always present in your body; the brain produces its own phytocannabinoids.

The molecular formula of cannabinol (CBN)
The molecular formula of cannabinol (CBN)

Studies have associated heightened levels of cannabinoids with balanced mood, reduced stress, improved sleep, and lessened pain and inflammation. The wide-ranging effects of cannabinoids, primarily CBD, have led to various theories surrounding the way they interact with the body. Leading researchers theorize the existence of an endocannabinoid system[2] that serves as a universal regulator, detecting and correcting internal disturbances.

Both CBD and its more controversial cousin THC appear to have considerable medical benefits in certain circumstances, but what of CBN? This cannabinoid has received very little attention, but that’s beginning to change. Chemical analysis and a handful of studies have produced some valuable insight into the workings of this cannabinoid.

CBN Basics

Industry aficionados tend to be firm believers in the value of cannabinoids besides the big two. They see the accompanying compounds within cannabis as elements that make the plant amount to more than the sum of its parts, a phenomenon they term the entourage effect. While there’s little evidence supporting or refuting the entourage effect, CBN does have notable characteristics that it derives from its parent compound, THC.

Related to THC

In the early stage of the growing process, a cannabis plant has a higher proportion of THC and CBD. However, exposure to sunlight results in the degradation of these compounds, giving birth to many others. When THC-A experiences oxidization, it transforms into cannabinol. The paucity of existing studies provides few conclusions, but they indicate that CBN has some similarities with THC.

Mildly Psychoactive

One of the major selling points behind CBD is that it’s not psychoactive and that people who want to try it can do so without worrying about a high. While oxidization dramatically reduces the psychoactivity of CBN, it doesn’t entirely remove it. Studies have ascribed the label of “weak psychoactive[3]” to it. You’d need to consume high quantities of CBN to produce a psychoactive effect, which leaves it in a deeply grey legal area.

Is Cannabinol Legal? Sort Of

A few places explicitly regard CBN as a controlled substance, such as the United Kingdom. In areas where THC and cannabis as a whole have been legalized, CBN will be legal by default. Beyond these two points of clarity, cannabinol exists in a realm of technicalities. Most laws surrounding hemp around the world only control products and substances with a certain percentage of THC. This allows CBD-rich hemp oil and other products to stay on the right side of the law, but it also means that any quantity of CBN could hypothetically be legal. Of course, this sort of technicality-skirting is not advisable for anyone.

Promising, But Not Enough Data

Animal trials in CBN have produced some evidence that the cannabinoid could have major health benefits. However, this comes with a caveat in that peer-reviewed studies on CBN in either humans or animals are extremely rare. It’s difficult to overstate the scarcity of reliable data; the leading authority on using CBN as a sedative[4] involved five men and dates back to 1975.

Potential Benefits of CBN

As mentioned, there’s still no consensus on the potential applications of CBN. Nonetheless, any peer-reviewed data is enough to warrant a healthy sense of optimism, if anything else. Early studies indicate that cannabinol might have neuroprotective qualities useful for handling various forms of hard-to-treat pain, such as arthritis and fibromyalgia.

Treat Chronic Pain and Inflammation

Treating pain and inflammation has long been one of the main appeals of cannabis-based medical treatments. Ancient China used hemp and its oils for this purpose, while medical marijuana has often been used for arthritis and other pain conditions. To this end, researchers have published several modern, rigorous trials that indicate CBN may have the potential to treat a variety of serious pain conditions.

One rat study looked at CBN, CBD, and combinations of the two in treating myofascial pain[5] The researchers observed the rats for physical signs of pain and discomfort and involved several control groups. The first group of rats received neither compound, while others received one, the other, or both together. At the end of the study, researchers concluded that both compounds had the capability to reduce pain but that the combination made this effect more potent and longer-lasting.

Protect the Brain

One older study from 2005 tested CBN on a group of rats to see if it had any effect on degenerative brain conditions. While no corresponding study exists for humans, it did considerably slow the development of ALS[6] in the brains of the afflicted rats.

Enhance Sedative Effects of THC and CBD

As mentioned, the singular study on the potential of cannabinol to work as a sedative was quite limited. However, the specifics of it are quite interesting in that it noticed a non-linear relationship between THC and CBN together. This appears to corroborate the entourage effect that drives so much interest around the less-prominent cannabinoids, although more research is needed to state this with any confidence.

Looking Toward the Future with CBN

Right now, CBN looks much like CBD did a few years ago. While there’s little data around it, it shares in the grassroots enthusiasm for “entourage cannabinoids.” Existing studies are promising, if not authoritative. The ability to produce CBN by oxidizing THC, one of the most prominent compounds in cannabis, could have considerable implications for the cannabis industry. If further study indicates that CBN is a valuable, weak-psychoactive alternative to THC, it’s conceivable that it could become a much more prominent cannabinoid.