Cannabinol (CBN) Introductory Guide
Most people have heard of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). They’re the two most abundant cannabinoids in cannabis and play a major role in its effects.
But they’re not alone. Cannabis contains many other minor cannabinoids, including cannabinol (CBN). Despite being the first cannabinoid to be isolated from the plant in 1896, CBN hasn’t received much attention. ¹
That’s because most minor cannabinoids are present in only trace amounts. Some people recognize CBN as the compound that makes old weed more sedating, but there’s a lot more to it.
And many are starting to realize this. You may have seen CBN products hit the market recently. So, what is CBN oil and what can it be used for? We invite you to follow along as we take a deeper look.
What is CBN?
CBN is one of more than 120 different active components, or cannabinoids, found in the cannabis plant. ²
THC breaks down into CBN over time, especially when exposed to oxygen. ³ This is why CBN concentrations are very small in raw cannabis but can reach significant levels in older, dried plants.
Most of the cannabinoids in cannabis are considered “minor” because their concentrations are quite small — less than 1%. CBN is one such cannabinoid.
Like CBD, CBN is completely non-intoxicating, so it can’t get you high. Interest in CBN has been steadily growing because it appears to have a wide variety of potential health benefits.
Some people even consider CBN and other minor cannabinoids to be the “next big thing” following in the footsteps of CBD’s success.
Is CBN Legal?
Yes, as long as CBN is derived from hemp, it’s completely legal. Hemp is one of the two main kinds of cannabis, the other being marijuana. By definition, marijuana has significant THC levels, whereas hemp contains 0.3% or less of this intoxicating cannabinoid.
The 2018 Farm Bill made hemp an agricultural commodity in the United States, which means that any cannabinoid product sourced from it is also legal. CBN extracted from any type of cannabis is also legal in Canada.
As for the rest of the world, the legality of CBN can vary. Some countries ban cannabis (including hemp) completely, which means any part or extract of the plant — including CBN — is illegal.
Meanwhile, in other places where hemp is legal, CBD, CBN, and any other cannabinoid derived from hemp are also legal.
However, because hemp plants have low THC levels and CBN comes from the breakdown of THC, it can be difficult and expensive to make CBN products from hemp.
As such, most CBN products are sourced from marijuana and only sold in states and countries where it’s legal.
How Does CBN Work?
Like most cannabinoids, CBN seems to work by interacting with your endocannabinoid system (ECS). This system regulates all major bodily processes, including brain function, metabolism, and sleep, to maintain homeostasis — a healthy state of balance.
The ECS is composed of three major parts: ⁴
- Endocannabinoids — cannabinoids produced on-demand by your body.
- Enzymes that help build and break down endocannabinoids.
- Cannabinoid receptors are found in all parts of the body. The CB1 receptor is especially common in the brain and the CB2 receptor in immune system cells. ⁵
Cannabinoid receptors can be activated by both “endo” (naturally produced in the body) and “phyto” (plant-derived) cannabinoids. For example, the phytocannabinoid THC produces most of its effects by binding CB1. ⁶
As for CBN, research suggests that it has a lower attraction to CB1 receptors than THC, but a higher one for CB2 receptors, which means it might have stronger effects on the immune rather than the nervous system. ⁷
Still, we don’t know enough about how CBN works because most minor cannabinoids are not well-researched. It’s quite possible that it may affect other parts of the body aside from the ECS, similar to CBD.
CBN also contributes to the “entourage effect” — the proposed synergy between cannabinoids and other active components of cannabis, which strengthens their overall effects. ⁸
This effect means that using whole-plant cannabis is better than isolated compounds, such as CBD or CBN on their own.
The entourage effect has been demonstrated by multiple studies. In the case of CBN, for example, studies in rabbits and rats have shown that it can synergize with THC, enhancing its sedating and intoxicating effects. ⁹
However, more research is needed to explain exactly how CBN works, what it may be able to treat, and how it contributes to the entourage effect.
Where to Buy CBN Oil?
CBN can come in many product forms. For now, CBN oil is the most common but cannabinol can theoretically be offered in all of the same product types as CBD, including capsules, isolates, edibles, topicals, and vape products.
Just like CBD products, the best place to buy CBN is online. They’re just starting to appear because most legal cannabis products are made from hemp, which has naturally lower CBN and THC levels.
CBN can come in several formulations. The simplest one is isolate: pure cannabinol and nothing else.
You can also find whole-plant CBN preparations. These typically combine full-spectrum hemp extract with CBN isolate to create a product that has high CBD and CBN levels and maintains all of the other cannabinoids found in hemp.
This type of product shouldn’t be confused with a regular full-spectrum CBD extract. Standard full-spectrum CBD can contain CBN but only in very small amounts.
Similarly, you might also be able to find broad-spectrum CBN products, which are the same as full-spectrum formulations but with zero THC.
Whole-plant hemp products also contain many other natural substances, including terpenes — aromatic molecules responsible for the characteristic aromas and flavors of plants, including various cannabis strains. ¹⁰
Terpenes play a notable role in the entourage effect by not only providing beneficial effects of their own but also working in synergy with cannabinoids. For example, terpenes can enhance the passage of cannabinoids across the blood-brain barrier, enhancing their efficacy. ¹¹
Finally, some products combine CBN isolate with CBD isolate for a 1:1 formula.
There are few studies of CBN and most of the research is restricted to investigations in animals. So far, all we know is that CBN can enhance the sedating and intoxicating effects of THC and may have other beneficial properties, such as suppressing appetite. With this, some researchers suggest it may be able to be used as a sleep aid or to alleviate anxiety.
But we don’t know much about its potential side effects and drug interactions, especially after prolonged use.
The right amount of CBN to take is different for everyone. That’s because the optimal dosage of any cannabinoid is influenced by many factors, such as your body weight, genetics, and medical symptoms.
Additionally, CBN and other cannabinoid products can come in various formulations, concentrations, and consumption methods, which will further affect your dosage.
For example, cannabinoids are known to have poor oral absorption, ¹² so you’ll need to take higher doses of an oral CBN product (such as capsules) to achieve the same effects as a sublingual oil.
As for actual amounts, there’s very little research data for CBN dosages. However, one good starting point is the doses used for CBD, which is another non-intoxicating cannabinoid with similar effects. Most people take about 10-50 mg of CBD once or twice daily.
Using this information, you can start with a CBN dose of about 10-15 mg and see how it makes you feel. If there’s no effect, you can gradually raise the dosage over time until you start noticing the desired benefits.
Choosing the Right Type of CBN Extract
You also have to consider what type of CBN formulation you want to use. If you want nothing but pure CBN, you should look for products containing isolate.
Meanwhile, if you want to benefit from the entourage effect, you should look for a full-spectrum cannabis formulation. ¹³
In most cases, this will be a standard whole-plant CBD extract that’s been enriched with CBN, so it will contain all of the cannabinoids, terpenes, and other potentially beneficial hemp phytochemicals.
Finally, if you want to maximize the benefits of hemp but avoid ingesting THC, you should look for a broad-spectrum CBN formulation. These products will have all of the same ingredients as a full-spectrum extract but undergo an additional step to remove THC.
CBN Benefits & Health Conditions
CBN has been examined in multiple scientific studies. As with other cannabinoids, the research suggests that CBN may have multiple health applications. Here’s an overview of the key findings:
- CBN may have anti-inflammatory properties. ¹⁴
- CBN may have antibacterial effects. ¹⁵
- CBN may have anticonvulsant effects that can help with seizures, although it’s weaker than CBD and THC. ¹⁶
- CBN may have neuroprotective qualities. In one study, cannabinol delayed the development of the neurodegenerative condition amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in mice. ¹⁷
- CBN may have appetite-stimulating properties. In one animal study, it significantly increased the food intake of mice. ¹⁸
- CBN may have analgesic effects; it reduced muscle pain in a rat study. ¹⁹
Having said that, CBN is a relatively under-researched cannabinoid and most of these effects have not yet been studied in humans. But we can expect more findings in the years to come, especially as the interest in minor cannabinoids continues to grow.
Does CBN Help with Sleep?
There’s a popular belief that CBN has potent sedative or sleep-promoting effects. Unfortunately, this is a misconception based on the observation that old, dried cannabis — which has higher CBN concentrations — seems to make people more sleepy.
While it is true that CBN is higher in aged cannabis, it’s not necessarily the compound responsible for its notable sedative effects.
For one, dried, old cannabis tends to contain higher levels of sedating, oxygenated sesquiterpenes, compounds closely related to terpenes. ²⁰ Also, CBN may be able to enhance the sedating effects of other cannabinoids.
This was demonstrated by an older study where the researchers gave people pure THC, CBN, or both. CBN did not make people sleepy or high on its own.
However, when the study participants took both cannabinoids together, they reported feeling more drugged, drunk, dizzy, and drowsy compared to THC alone. ²¹ This is also a great example of CBN’s role in the entourage effect.
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