What is CBN? Benefits, Effects and Uses

Illustration of What is CBN
Written by Livvy Ashton | Last updated: March 1, 2022

Up until the dawn of 2021, the cannabis space revolved around CBD and THC. Then, delta 8 THC products arrived at the market, drawing as much attention as the controversy around themselves.

This year, it seems, CBN (cannabinol) will become the trending cannabinoid due to its many benefits associated with physical and mental health.

With at least 113 different cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, there’s plenty of work to be done if we want to understand the effects of each molecule.

As cannabis legalization in the USA is progressing, scientists are eager to dive into this new field of research.

It appears that minor cannabinoids, such as CBG and CBN, aren’t as irrelevant as many people thought them to be. They all engage in a biological phenomenon known as the entourage effect — providing a stronger effect when working together with other cannabinoids and terpenes.

Today, I’ll give you a detailed breakdown of what CBN is, how you can use it to optimize your health, and whether you can buy it legally in every state.

What is CBN?

Picture of fresh hemp Plant

CBN stands for cannabinol, a mildly psychoactive and potentially sedative compound in marijuana.

Yup, that’s correct — you won’t find CBN in hemp.

That’s because CBN is a breakdown product of THC, marijuana’s most abundant cannabinoid.

While hemp and other products extracted from hemp like CBD only have trace amounts of THC (0.3% or less).

As marijuana buds age, the THC transforms into CBN in a process known as THC oxidation. Early research suggests that CBN could have similar health benefits to THC and CBD.

According to studies, CBN may have anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, and antibiotic properties.

Unfortunately, dry plants usually contain less than 0.5% of CBN. You can make it more abundant by exposing your cannabis to UV light; it will speed up the oxidation process.

How is CBN Different from CBD and THC?

The first difference has already been covered in the above paragraph — it’s about the availability.

CBD and THC are major cannabinoids but marijuana and hemp are widely different; hemp comes in higher levels of CBD while marijuana has more THC inside of its buds.

In contrast, CBN rarely surpasses the one-percent mark.

The good thing about CBN is that you don’t need a large dose to reap its benefits. Despite being a product of THC-oxidation, CBN is only mildly psychoactive.

It may induce sedation, but it won’t make you feel high or couch-locked. It may even reduce the potency of marijuana, which is why aged weed is generally less psychoactive but more sleepy than fresh buds.

How is CBN Formed?

Now to the sleepy part.

According to one theory, the oxidation of THC results in a change of effects — giving them a more sedating profile.

As mentioned earlier, some research indicates that products like edibles infused with CBN may also improve your sleep quality, ease pain, boost appetite, and kill bacteria.

THC starts to degrade with the harvest when the plant is collected and doesn’t receive nutrients from the roots anymore.

This, in turn, impairs the biosynthetic pathways of cannabinoids.

As this degradation continues, your marijuana gets subsequently weaker.

Remember that dried buds still contain more THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) than THC, which is an inactive, acidic form. When THCA degrades over time, it turns into CBNA (cannabinolic acid). You need to heat your cannabis to turn it into CBN.

The longer you expose THC to oxygen and light, the more CBN you’ll get from your weed. Keep in mind that the weed may go stale, losing some terpenes in favor of the higher CBN content.

Speaking of terpenes, the second theory says that it’s their oxidation that leads to the sedating effects of dried cannabinoids — and that CBN may only enhance the tranquilizing effects of THC, but it doesn’t have such power alone.

We need more research into the mechanisms of CBN to figure out which theory is true.

What Happens When THC Oxidizes

On a molecular level, CBN and THC are like twins. However, there’s a subtle difference in how its atoms are arranged — and as they say, the devil lies in details.

THC has four extra hydrogen atoms that begin to disappear as cannabis gets exposed to air, heat, and light. This causes the aforementioned loss of potency in the buds.

One study conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that THC levels in an exposed sample can decrease two times after four years; the fastest degradation happens during the first two years of exposure.

Given this, if you don’t want to lose the potency in favor of that extra sedation, make sure to avoid the following:

  • Air
  • Light
  • High heat

Is CBN Psychoactive?

Unlike CBD which is entirely non-psychoactive, CBN may make you high, but you’d need to consume a heavy dose to feel the same high as with THC. That’s because CBN is about 10 times less potent than THC.

Some studies claim CBN is non-intoxicating, while others consider it as “having very mildly psychoactive effects.”

Just so we’re on the same page, CBN won’t make you feel high, euphoric, or craving hearty food because it doesn’t have such a strong affinity with the CB1 receptor in the brain.

What Are the Main Health Benefits of CBN?

CBN has plenty of potential health benefits. The most important one is that it can enhance the sedative qualities of your cannabis. When paired with the right bouquet of terpenes, CBN can make for a decent sleep aid.

The first evidence supporting the sedative properties of cannabinol date back to a 1975 study (1), followed by 1995 research on mice with insomnia, where it proved effective in terms of improving the subjects’ quality of sleep (2).

Therefore, one of the main potential benefits of CBN is to treat sleep disorders. You can boost these effects with THC-rich marijuana strains that have a naturally higher CBN content.

As for terpenes, humulene and myrcene are the ones you should seek in your buds if you want to get that dreamy mood.

Some medical cannabis patients also use CBD to potentiate the sedative side of cannabinol.

Other Possible Therapeutic Applications for CBN

Doctor Holding A Hemp Plant

Aside from its rumored sleep-inducing properties, CBN may be useful in the management of a wide range of health problems.

Here I share my research from PubMed regarding the medicinal potential of this cannabinoid:

1. CBN as Antibiotic

In a 2008 study, the authors found that CBN triggered the death of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (MRSA), which is responsible for a range of life-threatening infections (3).

2. CBN as Anticonvulsant

Cannabinoids have been highlighted as novel anticonvulsant drugs several times throughout the last decade. CBN has demonstrated anticonvulsant effects in various studies performed on animals. However, these studies also concluded that these effects aren’t as potent as in CBD and THC(4).

3. CBN as Anti-Inflammatory

Some research suggests that CBN may have potent anti-inflammatory properties. Studies on rats have shown the cannabinoid’s ability to effectively reduce inflammation (5).

4. CBN as Appetite Booster

Another study on rats that consumed CBN found that the subjects who were exposed to higher doses of the cannabinoid also consumed more food and more frequently than those who took lower doses (6).

The researchers explained this phenomenon with CBN’s affinity to the CB1 receptor. CBN may be a decent alternative to THC for treating eating disorders, especially if a person is sensitive to the psychoactive effects of the latter.

5. CBN for Bone Regeneration

In his research paper titled “Taming THC: Potential Cannabis Synergy and Cannabinoid-Terpenoid Interactions,” an esteemed neuroscientist and cannabis expert Dr. Ethan Russo discusses the potential benefits of CBN in improving the health of bone marrow (7).

While he emphasizes this is only a theory that would have to be further proven, there’s a chance that CBN could assist the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in bone formation and speed up their regeneration.

6. CBN for Cancer

CBN acts on cellular channels that control tumor growth. Studies have found that CBN can strengthen marijuana’s anti-cancer effects and shrink Lewis lung carcinoma, a type of lung cancer (8).

7. CBN for Psoriasis

Psoriasis is a skin condition that causes constant discomfort by creating flaky, crusty patches of skin covered by white-ish scales.

Preliminary research suggests that CBN may be capable of decreasing keratinocyte (a skin cell type) proliferation.

Psoriasis sufferers struggle with overactive keratinocytes, which is why those flaky skin patches appear in the first place. By reducing their activity, CBN may reduce this problem and relieve other symptoms, such as itching and skin irritation (9).

8. CBN for Chronic Pain

Cannabinol is a mild CB1 and CB2 agonist, so it has very little influence on these receptors. However, as a byproduct of THC’s oxidation, it can help with pain management.

For example, CBN can trigger the release of peptides from sensory nerves, mitigating pain signals (10). Scientists theorize that the painkilling effects of CBN are independent of CB1 and CB2 receptors and stem from its interaction with another cannabinoid receptor that remains undiscovered.

Is CBN Legal?

Cannabis laws in the US are murky in general, and CBN isn’t an exception.

THC, the main intoxicating compound in marijuana, is the biggest problem in federal and state regulations.

THC remains federally illegal, but several states have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes; most US states also have some form of a medical marijuana program.

Since CBN is derived from THC, you can buy it only in states where marijuana is legal.

That’s funny because CBN doesn’t appear on the list of scheduled controlled substances, so its legal status would be more obvious if it wasn’t for THC’s place on that list.

Strains High in CBN

Few marijuana strains have reasonable CBN content. You’ll be lucky if your strain has more than 0.5% of CBN.

Here are some “high-CBN” weed strains:

  • Purple Cadillac: 0.31%
  • Bubble Gum: 0.38%
  • Blackberry: 0.4%
  • Lemon Kush: 0.49%
  • Durban Poison: 0.63%
  • Super Green Crack: 0.79%

How to Get More CBN from Your Cannabis Buds

Weed Buds In a Container

The fastest way to boost the CBN content of your weed is to expose it to air and light.

Cannabis growers often follow the color of the trichomes to figure out when their plants are ready for harvest.

The trichomes begin to clear and then start getting cloudy as they ripen. In overripe cannabis, the trichomes start turning amber.

Growers that aim for higher CBN yields should wait until most of these trichomes are amber before cutting down the plants.

The other way to enhance the CBN content of your cannabis buds is to store them improperly so that THC has the chance to oxidize.

Fortunately, you don’t need to smoke stale buds if you want to reap the benefits from CBN. Here’s what you can do to maintain the flavor experience.

  1. Place your buds in curing jars in a bright and warm place, keeping a humidity level at around 65%.
  2. Make a few tiny holes in the top of the jar to enable air to interact with the buds.
  3. Watch the flower carefully to ensure it doesn’t go too dry or stale.
  4. If the buds are getting too dry, transfer them to an airtight container and move them to a cool and dark place. You can add a humidity regulator there if you want.
  5. Wait for at least 30 days.
  6. Now you should have a higher CBN content in your weed.

What is CBN Oil and How is it Created?

Yes, CBN oil is real, just like CBD oil or THC oil.

As you may guess, manufacturers extract CBN from aged marijuana plants. Since no marijuana strain has naturally high concentrations of this cannabinoid, extraction requires larger quantities of aged cannabis.

It’s also a good idea to wait with harvesting your plants until all their trichomes turn into an amber color.

When preparing your CBN oil, remember that its boiling point is 365 degrees Fahrenheit — slightly higher than the boiling point of THC.

If you want to maximize the effects of your CBN oil, I recommend looking out for companies who know how to age, cure, and dry cannabis rather than doing it by yourself.

Summarizing the Research On CBN and Its Benefits

CBN is on a good way to becoming the next trending cannabinoid.

Despite being “only” a supportive compound, CBN has a lot to offer on its own, as well as part of the entourage effect in cannabis.

Products like gummies infused with CBN are now marketed as effective sleep aids, although some people suspect it’s the combination of CBN and oxidized terpenes that cause such effects — not CBN alone.

It may take some time until we discover the full potential of CBN. But, what we already know today fills us with the hope that soon, cannabis researchers and manufacturers will be able to create unique blends of cannabinoids and terpenes to target specific health needs.

Have you ever tried aging your cannabis to increase its CBN levels? Did it make you sleepy? Share your stories about CBN and how you use it in your routine; the comments are yours!

Sources:

  1. Takahashi, R. N., & Karniol, I. G. (1975). Pharmacologic interaction between cannabinol and delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol. Psychopharmacologia, 41(3), 277–284. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00428937
  2. Yoshida, H., Usami, N., Ohishi, Y., Watanabe, K., Yamamoto, I., & Yoshimura, H. (1995). Synthesis and pharmacological effects in mice of halogenated cannabinol derivatives. Chemical & pharmaceutical bulletin, 43(2), 335–337. https://doi.org/10.1248/cpb.43.335
  3. Appendino, G., Gibbons, S., Giana, A., Pagani, A., Grassi, G., Stavri, M., Smith, E., & Rahman, M. M. (2008). Antibacterial cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa: a structure-activity study. Journal of natural products, 71(8), 1427–1430. [1]
  4. dos Santos, R. G., Hallak, J. E., Leite, J. P., Zuardi, A. W., & Crippa, J. A. (2015). Phytocannabinoids and epilepsy. Journal of clinical pharmacy and therapeutics, 40(2), 135–143. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpt.12235
  5. Nagarkatti, P., Pandey, R., Rieder, S. A., Hegde, V. L., & Nagarkatti, M. (2009). Cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs. Future medicinal chemistry, 1(7), 1333–1349. [2]
  6. Farrimond, J. A., Whalley, B. J., & Williams, C. M. (2012). Cannabinol and cannabidiol exert opposing effects on rat feeding patterns. Psychopharmacology, 223(1), 117–129. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00213-012-2697-x
  7. Russo E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British journal of pharmacology, 163(7), 1344–1364. [3]
  8. Munson, A. E., Harris, L. S., Friedman, M. A., Dewey, W. L., & Carchman, R. A. (1975). Antineoplastic activity of cannabinoids. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 55(3), 597–602. https://doi.org/10.1093/jnci/55.3.597
  9. Wilkinson, J. D., & Williamson, E. M. (2007). Cannabinoids inhibit human keratinocyte proliferation through a non-CB1/CB2 mechanism and have a potential therapeutic value in the treatment of psoriasis. Journal of dermatological science, 45(2), 87–92. [4]
  10. Russo E. B. (2008). Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain. Therapeutics and clinical risk management, 4(1), 245–259. [5]

Livvy is a registered nurse (RN) and board-certified nurse midwife (CNM) in the state of New Jersey. After giving birth to her newborn daughter, Livvy stepped down from her full-time position at the Children’s Hospital of New Jersey. This gave her the opportunity to spend more time writing articles on all topics related to pregnancy and prenatal care.

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