What we know about this popular cannabinoid.
With over one hundred cannabinoids to offer, cannabis is the gift that keeps on giving, and delta-8 THC isn’t the summer’s only hit. Cannabinol (CBN) is a unique cannabinoid that interacts with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS) in beneficial ways. Scientists have known about CBN for a while, but cannabis brands are targeting the cannabinoid as they develop new products – and consumers are biting. CBN product sales this year reached over $65 million in August. Are those sales a reflection of CBN’s medical efficacy or another passing market trend? Keep reading to learn more about how CBN is created, why a growing number of cannabis consumers love it, and what the research says about this medicinal cannabinoid.
How CBN is Created
CBN products are becoming increasingly popular, but scientists have been aware of this cannabinoid for decades. Researchers first discovered CBN in the 1930s, then isolated it in the 1940s (making it the first cannabinoid isolate). So what do scientists know about the formation of CBN given all the time they’ve had to study it? The acidic forms of THC and CBD (THCa and CBDa) are naturally housed in the cannabis plant. Once THCa and CBDa are decarboxylated, they become the more potent cannabinoids THC and CBD. CBN is also an outcome of a chemical reaction. But CBN is formed as THC is oxidized. In other words, it’s a byproduct of THC’s degradation through age, heat, and CO2 exposure. The good news is that if you decarb your weed for a little too long, you haven’t necessarily ruined your stash – you’ve just manufactured CBN.
Though most cannabis consumers seek out weed for its recreational effects, a significant segment of cannabis consumers want to enjoy the medicinal benefits of cannabis without experiencing psychoactive effects. If the theories about CBN’s medical impacts are true, this cannabinoid delivers medicine without the high. Though slightly psychoactive, CBN’s effects are incredibly mild compared to those produced by THC. Most consumers probably wouldn’t notice a recreational effect. That’s a huge benefit for patients who aren’t interested in getting high. A combination of anecdotal evidence and existing research also suggests that CBN can be used as a sedative, immune system regulator, and analgesic.
Ask most budtenders or even Google what’s so great about it, and you’ll get the same answer nine times out of ten: CBN is great sleep. An abundance of anecdotal evidence (from online forums to customer reviews) claims that CBN, especially when combined with THC, has sedative properties. The peer-reviewed research is far less certain. The most notable study suggesting CBN’s sedative effects when combined with THC was published in 1975. That study only examined 5 participants, all men. The limits here should be obvious, and more contemporary researchers agree that this kind of evidence isn’t enough to draw conclusions. One of the most recently published Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research reviews, “Cannabinol and Sleep: Separating Fact from Fiction,” reports that most of the evidence supporting the claims about CBN and sleep is limited, outdated, and insufficient. The author of the report did not deny CBN’s sedative potential but concluded that “randomized controlled trials are needed to substantiate claims made by manufacturers of cannabis products containing CBN.”
A 2015 Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology study noted that cannabinoids (including CBN) could beneficially impact the immune system through their interactions with the ECS. The immune system is responsible for regulating inflammation, and studies show that CBN has the potential to therapeutically impact diseases with inflammatory components. For example, CBN can slow down the progression of ALS in mice (but that research hasn’t been replicated in humans). On the other hand, a 2019 Frontiers in Immunology study found that CBN can harm dental health. Researchers found that THC, CBD, and CBN weakened white blood cell vitality and suppressed the immune system’s response to bacteria that causes periodontitis. That’s right – there’s a chance that certain cannabinoids can worsen dental health. That said, if you have periodontitis, you may want to reconsider smoking that blunt until you’ve recovered.
THC’s analgesic properties are well known, but consuming THC typically produces a psychoactive effect. While that effect can be enjoyable, it can also be inconvenient or unpleasant for some pain patients. CBD and CBN demonstrate pain relief potential without the high. A 2019 Archives of Oral Biology study found that CBN (especially when paired with CBD) decreased myofascial pain when injected in rats. The researchers concluded that CBN could provide pain relief to chronic pain patients suffering from conditions like fibromyalgia and temporomandibular disorders.
A Need for More Research
If existing CBN research makes anything clear, it’s that the research isn’t clear. There just isn’t enough peer-reviewed evidence to make any conclusive statements about CBN’s effects, even the one it’s most well-known for – sleep. Like THC and CBD, there is enough evidence of CBN’s therapeutic potential to merit additional research. But is it safe to make conclusions about CBN’s medical efficacy? Not yet. There are no significant CBN side effects to report, but that may reflect a gap in the research rather than a guarantee of CBN’s safety. The solution to this ongoing problem is the federal legalization of cannabis. Until the House and Senate can agree on a bill legalizing weed, researchers will struggle to do their best in the legally volatile territory. As always, we recommend that you speak with your healthcare provider before incorporating CBN into your wellness routine.