Scientists have confirmed the existence of over one hundred cannabinoids in Cannabis sativa, including cannabinol or CBN, which is often associated with being a sleep aid. But what is CBN, what does CBN do, and what is CBN good for?
While tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the best studied cannabinoid, interest in the endocannabinoid system has spurred research into lesser-known cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD), cannabigerol (CBG), and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), and cannabinol (CBN) in recent years.
In this article, we’ll explore using CBN for sleep, if CBN shows up on a drug test, if CBN in weed has other health benefits, and look at which cannabis products have CBN.
CBN, or cannabinol, was the first cannabinoid isolated in the 19th Century. Early experimentation led to the observation that CBN could cause similar psychoactive effects to THC, but only at much higher doses.
Perhaps the most unique characteristic of CBN is the process through which it is synthesized. Unlike other cannabinoids that are biosynthesized in an acid form by the cannabis plant, CBN is formed through the oxidation of THC — a process that occurs naturally when cannabis is exposed to the oxygen in air (or to UV light), similarly to how a sliced apple will brown. As a result, old cannabis samples will have had more time for THC to degrade into CBN, and will typically have higher concentrations of CBN than "fresh" cannabis. Similarly, cannabis lore indicates that "'old' cannabis makes users sleepy."
Researchers report that it is difficult to make definitive conclusions about the effects and potential uses of CBN. Some studies show that CBN potentiates the effects of THC in humans, while others have found contradictory results. However, many people use CBN as a sleep aid because it helps them fall asleep without the intoxicating effects of THC.
CBN acts on cannabinoid receptors in the brain, as well as various other receptors in the body. CBN is a weak CB1 agonist, with lower affinity than THC. That suggests CBN may have a mechanism of action to induce sedation and drowsiness, similar to THC, but with less intoxicating effects. Additionally, CBN is a CB2 receptor agonist, with higher affinity than it has towards the CB1 receptor. Affinity refers to the strength with which a molecule, like CBN, binds to a specific receptor.
The evidence suggests that CBN can get you high, but it requires a much higher dose of CBN than would be required of THC.
For example, a study conducted in 1973 compared the pharmacological activity of various phytocannabinoids, including CBN, with a placebo. In this study, six healthy male volunteers were given an intravenous infusion of CBN at a rate of approximately 1.2 mg/min in a hospital setting. It took a dose of 200 μg/kg for the volunteers to experience a 25% increase in heart rate, a physiological effect consistent with CB1 mediation of the central nervous system, and to report any subjective effects of a cannabis-like "high." The researchers concluded that CBN is capable of producing a marijuana-like "high," but the doses required are significantly larger than those needed for delta-9-THC.
While CBN does not contain THC, CBN products may show up on a drug test according to recent research.
A study assessing the cross-reactivity of four cannabinoids, including CBN, with two commercial immunoassays designed to detect THC metabolite in urine samples found that CBN can indeed trigger a positive result. Both drug tests demonstrated cross-reactivity with CBN. For the EMIT II Plus assay, approximately five times more CBN than THC metabolite was required to produce an assay signal equivalent to the cutoff concentration, and CBN displayed an additive effect with THC metabolite. Meanwhile, for the Microgenics assay, 20 times more CBN than THC metabolite was required to cross the cutoff concentration. These findings suggest that CBN could show up on a drug test, but significantly higher concentrations are needed compared to THC metabolite.
For consumers who are subject to drug testing and considering using CBN products, it's essential to understand that CBN can potentially trigger a positive result on a drug test. Although the study mentioned earlier showed that much higher concentrations of CBN are needed compared to THC metabolite to produce a positive result, the risk still exists.
CBN has been shown to have some overlapping effects with CBD, such as having anti-convulsant activity and anti-inflammatory activity.
One particular use for CBN appears frequently in the literature: using CBN for sleep.
Sleeplessness, defined by one study as “less than seven hours of sleep at least two nights a week,” is “a chronic condition for up to 36% of the U.S. population,” resulting in massive loss of productivity and “increasing the frequency, severity, and medical costs of personal injury.” A lack of sleep is also associated with a host of ailments, including obesity, high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia, inflammation, heart attack, stroke, and diabetes.
The same study notes that CBN has demonstrated relaxing and sedating effects without intoxication - meaning that CBN, when taken in an effective dose, doesn’t give the same “high” as THC, but may still provide similar wellness benefits.
This study used hemp-derived CBN “treated using proprietary nano technology to produce a water-soluble liquid” meant to be added to water before sleep instead of a traditional cannabis extract. This specific CBN formulation appears to have greater bioavailability than similar supplements made with traditional methods given the efficacy at low doses of 1-4mg.
The study reports that CBN had a generally positive impact on the participants. CBN significantly decreased the number of individuals experiencing sleep difficulty. Side effects such as morning grogginess were resolved through dose adjustment, and over 70 percent of a subgroup that took other medications or supplements for sleep were able to discontinue them.
Another study reviewed the effect of administering a combination of CBN and THC via extended-release capsule to 35 participants who were already medical cannabis users and had used cannabis as a sleep aid in the past.
This study is affiliated with cannabis industry startup Curio Wellness, and states that the “validation study found that a repeat-action tablet [the specific type of extended release capsule used for this study] formulation of THC and CBN was associated with improved sleep quality.” Patients taking this formulation of THC and CBN reported improved sleep quality.
In a 2022 review on cannabinoids and sleep, Maddison et al. report that “CBN can moderate the intoxicating and psychological effects of THC,” and note the importance of finding new alternatives to traditional sleep aids, which can come with issues related to “poor adherence, tolerance, or side effects.”
The same review notes that many of the studies on cannabis and sleep “specifically recruited participants with a history of chronic or heavy recreational cannabis use, who appear to have poorer sleep than non-users” and that the “baseline or placebo data in these participants may be a reflection of sleep architecture associated with withdrawal.”
Until more research on cannabinoids and sleep is available, it is worth trying CBN for sleep and reporting your experience on the Jointly app so that the wider community can learn how different CBN products affect sleep.
If you want to try CBN for sleeping, how much CBN should you take? Whether you are taking CBN capsules, CBN gummies, or CBN oil, most brands recommend starting with 5mg or 10mg and seeing how that affects you. That said, clinical studies have experimented with doses up to 400mg of CBN, and the authors indicate that "at no oral dose level were any of the characteristic mental or physical effects of THC observed."
When you are trying a new cannabis product, it's always a good idea to start with a low dose and see how that affects you before ingesting more.
While many people use CBN for sleeping, CBN has various other potential health and wellness benefits.
For example, a 2003 study explored the human skin permeabilities of Delta-8 THC, CBD, and CBN with the goal of determining whether any of the three cannabinoids could be used for transdermal combination therapy, a type of hormone therapy that is sometimes combined with chemotherapy.
The study found that the permeabilities of CBD and CBN were ten times higher than THC, suggesting that both cannabinoids could be adapted into transdermal products.
In another study, Wong and Cairns (2019) found that CBN had nearly indiscernible effects on motor function and was actually more effective for pain relief when combined in a 1:1 ratio with CBD than when used on its own. Although both CBD and CBN were found to be less effective for pain relief than THC, the lack of intoxicating effects from either makes them worth further research.
CBN also might serve as a non-intoxicating alternative to THC for users looking to stimulate appetite. One study conducted on the effects of CBN and CBD on rat feeding patterns found that administration of CBN resulted in reductions of time between eating bouts and “significant increases in the food consumed during the first hour and meal,” indicating that CBN stimulates appetite.
Additional potential medical and wellness benefits of CBN include its “anticonvulsant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial (specifically against MRSA), anti-proliferative, and anti-tumor effects.”
As we noted above, CBN has historically been most commonly found in aged cannabis products.
More reliable sources include CBN tinctures, which are the most widely available product for users looking to incorporate CBN into their cannabis consumption routine.
To make CBN yourself, expose your flower to oxygen and light, and wait.
According to one study conducted in 2010, decarboxylated THC has a half-life of about a year when stored in daylight at room temperature, meaning that about half of the THC will have degraded into CBN at that point. If you’re interested in speeding up the process, the same study reports that cannabis concentrates degrade significantly faster, with a half-life closer to 35 days when stored under the same conditions.
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