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Beyond CBD: Exploring the Health Benefits of CBN in Cannabis

By George Mouratidis
Published: Feb 12, 2019   
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CBD, marijuana's famously calming cannabinoid, has played an important role in the recognition of cannabis as a legitimate medicine in the scientific world. And although it's still early to make assumptions, the current evidence for its efficacy is very promising, especially against seizures and anxiety.

However, as the cannabis industry is waiting to see how the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill will influence research on CBD, a new cannabinoid has been making headlines. Cannabinol, or CBN for short: a cannabis compound that promises to be the next big thing in the industry. But how does it compare with CBD?

What is CBN?

CBD is a cannabinoid that occurs from the oxygenation and decomposition of THC. That's why it's most commonly found in aged cannabis plants and almost never on hemp that hasn't flowered.

CBN comes from stale cannabis and the breakdown of THC molecules, which explains why researchers have only discovered its benefits recently. After all, most people believed CBN to be a waste by-product, unworthy of further examination. That all changed after a study by Steep Hill labs, which showed that CBN could be the most sedative of all cannabinoids. The discovery led to a renewed interest in the therapeutic effects of CBN and its role in regulating the endocannabinoid system.

How is CBN formed?

The chemical formula of CBN is the first and most noticeable difference between CBN and CBD. The basis of all known cannabinoids is cannabigerolic acid (or CBGa for short). CBGa, in turn, produces with other compounds to create THCa, CBDa, and CBCa, the acid forms of THC, CBD, and CBC, respectively. All cannabinoids that produce desirable effects (recreational or medicinal) stem from the decarboxylation (heating) of these acid forms. Which is why many dab, smoke, or bake cannabis instead of eating it raw.

CBNa, the compound that breaks down into CBN, is produced from the aging of THCa and its exposure to UV lighting. A live, growing plant will not have any CBN in it. The process of creating it comes with time and the natural breakdown of raw cannabis acids. If left for several weeks, THCa-rich cannabis will begin to produce CBN naturally. 

Current research on CBN

Perhaps the most striking report about the therapeutic effects of CBN comes from the cannabis testing facility Steep Hill Labs. Its researchers claim that CBN is the most sedative of all cannabinoids, with efficacy that surpasses those of pharmaceuticals. The lab company claim that the consumption of 2.5-5mg of CBN has the same results as using 5-10mg of diazepam (Valium). The study also asserts that CBD and CBN work together to provide an even better sedative synergy.

As of yet, there aren't many scientific studies about the efficacy of CBN. But early evidence is promising. A 2012 study indicated that CBN is also useful as an appetite stimulant in lab rats, whereas CBD had the opposite effects. A 2006 paper claims that CBN can work synergistically with other cannabinoids to control the growth of a very specific lung cancer type. And in 1984, researchers administered CBN to lab cats with glaucoma. The results revealed that chronic use caused a reduction in intraocular tension.

How does CBN compare with CBD?

CBD is known in the cannabis world as the “healing” non-psychoactive cannabinoid. Therein lies another difference between the two. As CBN is a by-product of THC, it's mildly psychoactive, especially when sourced from industrial cannabis, since it cannot have more than 0.3 percent THC. It's estimated that CBN is only 10 percent as strong as THC, meaning that one would need a big dose to make it work.  

Apart from their chemical formula, CBN and CBD interact with the human endocannabinoid system in fairly different ways. CBD shows little affinity to the CB1 and CB2 receptors found in the nervous and immune systems. Instead, it increases the production of endocannabinoids that promote homeostasis. CBN has a weak affinity to both receptors but more research is still needed to get the full picture of exactly how it works.

What are the health benefits of CBN?

Although they do have major differences, CBD and CBN are quite similar in the health benefits they produce. CBN is also a potent sedative that can potentially offer an alternative to traditional pharmaceutical for certain conditions. Some of the health benefits of CBN include:

CBN is currently regarded as a sedative compound that can potentially help people who suffer from conditions such as insomnia and anxiety disorders. Although early results are promising, more scientific research is needed to reach conclusive evidence.

Side effects of CBN

Although they are mostly harmless, all cannabinoids have some side-effects if consumed in large doses. CBN is no exception. Inexperienced users who consume a lot of CBN in one sitting might experience unwanted effects such as:

  • Tiredness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of appetite

These mild side effects can easily be avoided by carefully measuring the dosage and starting slow. The process and the side-effects of CBN are very similar with CBD.

How legal is CBN?

The passing of the 2018 Farm Bill de-scheduled CBD and hemp from the Controlled Substances list. However, CBN is a by-product of THC, which makes matters a little bit more complicated. CBN is not listed as a controlled substance, and it can be extracted from hemp, making it legal for all intents and purposes.

What the future holds for CBN

Research on CBN is still on a nascent stage, but the first extracts and tinctures are already on the way. Insomnia is an often-overlooked condition with far-reaching effects and CBN has a lot to offer to patients. Industrial Hemp Farms are among the first US cultivators to extract wholesale CBN isolates and distillates for the manufacture of commercial-grade cannabinol products. Learn more about them here.

George Mouratidis is a cannabis content writer and freelance contributor to Industrial Hemp Farms, Cannabis Tech and Highlife Media.


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