Cannabinol, or CBN, is a mildly psychoactive component found in cannabis which, like strongly psychoactive THC, is derived from tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A). CBN is created when THC-A oxidizes.
CBN can be used effectively as a sleep aid or sedative. This cannabinoid has also been shown to help regulate the immune system and works to relieve the pain and inflammation caused by several conditions, including arthritis and Crohn’s disease. Studies show that it can be used to reduce the intraocular eye pressure caused by glaucoma. CBN acts as an anticonvulsant, so it is also beneficial to patients suffering from seizure disorders including epilepsy.
Effects and Benefits
Research has shown that CBN is effective in the treatment of a variety of symptoms and conditions. Examples of conditions for which CBN is particularly effective in providing symptom relief are listed below:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Seizures (including epilepsy)
- Crohn’s disease
- Chronic post-operative pain
What is CBN, and why is it associated with sleep anyway?
People in the cannabis industry have been whispering about CBN for years. And scientific research on it, although limited and rarely related to sleep, goes back to the 1970s. The compound comes from . Over time, exposure to light and oxygen will convert THC into CBN. You can also use chemical processes to turn CBD, hemp’s golden goose, into CBN, but it’s a more complicated process.
Dr. Ethan Russo, a neurologist who popularized , the idea that various parts of the cannabis plant work synergistically together to cause certain effects, explains it like this: Let’s say someone has cannabis that’s been sitting in a drawer for three years and decides to smoke it. If they’re looking to get high, they’re going to be disappointed with the outcome.
“So the person may feel sleepy or sad, but they’re not going to be high, and they’re not going to be cleaning the garage after doing this,” said Dr. Russo, who once advised the first company to get a CBD drug for epilepsy approved by the FDA, but has since founded a cannabis research firm called Credo Science.
Those effects don’t just come from the THC-turned-CBN, he said. Aromatic compounds that give plants and foods a particular smell and taste, known as terpenes, also play a part. Terpenes are in mangoes, peppermint, lemongrass, and yes, cannabis. In addition to their aromatic qualities, some terpenes tend to be energizing while others are sedating. Over time, the energizing ones dissipate from old weed while the relaxing ones stick around as they’re heavier, more stable molecular compounds.While THC is generally known to make you feel high, CBN isn’t as psychoactive on its own as THC, Dr. Russo said.
“If someone uses pure CBN, they’re not going to find it particularly sedating,” said Dr. Russo, who doesn’t take much stock in the compound’s new cache as a sleep aid.
What do the studies say?
Researchers have studied CBN’s effects on many mice and rats over the years, but few humans. They’ve found it seems to make rodents hungry, relieve their pain when combined with CBD, reduce inflammation, and a lab-altered version significantly prolonged sleep time for mice already on a powerful sedative. One Canadian pharmaceutical company is in clinical trials to test if a CBN cream can treat a rare skin disease. Like other parts of the cannabis plant, scientists are also studying its anti-bacterial potential.
In one of the few studies that compares THC and CBN, completed back in 1975, scientists gave five men oral THC and CBN and found that while THC made the volunteers feel “drugged, drunk, dizzy, or drowsy,” the same feelings weren’t associated with CBN. CBN appeared to slightly amplify the effects of THC, but it wasn’t a significant change. The experience of lab rats and five men, of course, aren’t enough to make sweeping judgments about CBN, but that and anecdotes are all we got at the moment.
For all the talk about CBN’s sedative qualities, the scientific research isn’t there to back it up. Even with its well-known counterparts CBD and THC, which have been tested more often for possible sleep effects, scientists still say more research should be done to better guide consumers.
Formal research on CBN, and other cannabinoids, has been hampered for decades due to politics stigmatizing cannabis. As marijuana legalization expands, more research is underway, but the spotlight has mostly been on THC and CBD. New questions are being asked about the hundreds of other cannabinoids, but it’s still early days.
Steep Hill, a cannabis science and tech company, stoked a lot of the hype around CBN online when it likened CBN to the powerful sedative diazepam. Steep Hill later scrubbed that description from its website, noting, “Initially, it was reported that CBN was a promising adjunct in the treatment of insomnia, but with the advent of a few small trials, sedative qualities have not been observed.”
A Steep Hill representative said its science team was unavailable to clarify which trials the update was referring to as it was moving facilities.
So did the CBN products make me sleepy?
None of the products I tried were pure CBN, which as Dr. Russo contends, won’t make you sleepy.
For example, Bloom Farms’ Dream tincture has both CBD and CBN, but it’s heavy on the CBD. Bloom Farms experimented with various ratios before landing on a 5:1 mix, said Sally Nichols, the California company’s president of CBD. Bloom Farms’ goal was to find a product that made users sleepy, and this ratio was “the sweet spot,” Nichols said. Bloom Farms provided samples to small populations of customers of 50 or fewer and got input from doctors with experience prescribing cannabis as it tinkered with the ratio.
Researchers have found CBD to be relaxing in high doses, but energizing in small amounts. Frustratingly, what is considered a high or low dosage, may vary from person to person. At 1,000 mg CBD in each 30 ml bottle, Dream has the second-highest amount of CBD in Bloom Farms’ line of tinctures.
Bloom Farms recommends starting with a 1/4 ml serving under the tongue, which is about 8 mg CBD and 2 mg CBN in each dose. This is not a lot. Researchers testing the effectiveness of CBD to treat anxiety and sleeplessness have given volunteers anywhere from 25 mg to 900 mg, with negligible to significant effect.