Whether you’ve been incorporating cannabis into your wellness routine for years or are just learning about the potential benefits of cannabis consumption, you might be wondering: what is the difference between CBD and CBN?
Cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) are both cannabinoids — the compounds in cannabis plants that are responsible for the various effects of consuming cannabis.
Unlike their ever-popular cousin, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD and CBN don’t produce the effects typically associated with a cannabis “high”, but their effects can play a role in everything from relieving stress to improving sleep.
Read on to learn more about the differences between CBD and CBN, as well as how each compound could play a role in meeting your wellness goals.
CBD is one of the most common compounds found in the cannabis plant, especially in cultivars labeled “hemp” to indicate a THC level of less than 0.3% by dry weight.
As we mentioned above, CBD doesn’t produce the psychoactive effects traditionally associated with cannabis. This is due primarily to the differences in how CBD and THC interact with your endocannabinoid system. While THC tends to agitate CB1 receptors, CBD has relatively little impact on the endocannabinoid system aside from mitigating the effects of THC.
While CBD is not yet fully regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, the compound has made its way into the world of pharmaceutical medicine in the form of Epidiolex (used to prevent seizures from certain medical conditions) and Sativex (an oral spray containing CBD and THC that has shown promise for treating symptoms of multiple sclerosis).
With that being said, there is a massive market for CBD products in the form of gummies, tinctures, topicals, and so on, as well as for traditional cannabis plant flower containing only CBD.
How is this CBD market legal? Thanks to the Agricultural Improvement Act, more commonly referred to as the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp — i.e., cannabis with less than 0.3% THC by dry weight — is no longer illegal at the federal level.
This means anyone can purchase CBD products directly from producers or through platforms like Jointly Matches and even have their products shipped through the mail.
“CBD has been touted for a wide variety of health issues, but the strongest scientific evidence is for its effectiveness in treating some of the cruelest childhood epilepsy syndromes, such as Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS), which typically don’t respond to antiseizure medications,” physician and cannabis researcher Dr. Peter Grinspoon writes for Harvard Health.
Grinspoon adds that “animal studies, and self-reports or research in humans” has also shown promising results for CBD to be used to help cope with anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and addiction.
A 2019 review of available literature covering the medical use of CBD supports Grinspoon’s assertions, adding that the best wellness-related outcomes for CBD use are frequently tied to higher doses of the compound.
Furthermore, the review notes that that “there is no evidence for dependency or abuse potential with CBD use, as concluded by the World Health Organisation Expert Committee on Drug Dependence.”
Studies have also shown that CBD can serve as a sort of balancing compound when consumed alongside THC. Jointly user reports indicate that consuming THC and CBD together might offset some of the potential negative side effects of consuming THC on its own, such as red eyes, paranoia, and overconsumption symptoms.
A 2012 case report suggests that CBD might also help prevent symptoms of cannabis withdrawal.
“The absence of withdrawal symptoms over the first 10 days of cannabis interruption in a patient who had reported intense symptoms in four previous cessation attempts strongly suggests the efficacy of CBD against withdrawal symptoms,” the report’s authors state.
Like CBD, CBN is a naturally occurring compound present in the cannabis plant. Discovered in 1899, CBN was one of the earliest components of the cannabis plant to be studied.
CBN isn’t quite as common as CBD in cannabis plants, in part due to the unique way CBN is synthesized. Whereas CBD forms naturally in the cannabis plant as it grows, CBN is actually a derivative of THC, forming when THC breaks down over time through a process called oxidation.
This means that, unless you’re specifically seeking a CBN-rich product, you’re most likely to encounter CBN in aged or degraded THC products.
In fact, researchers have suggested that CBN was discovered before THC “due to rampant degradation of THC to CBN due to poor quality control, the transportation and storage conditions related to the 19th century; challenges that are still difficult to overcome in existing cannabis products.”
Like CBD, CBN is considered a non-psychoactive compound. Because of this, it is regulated in a similar manner — as long as it was derived from a hemp plant rather than a THC-rich cannabis plant. With that being said, studies have shown that “CBN maintains about ¼ the potency” relative to THC.
Despite its relatively early discovery date, CBN remains relatively understudied in comparison to CBD and THC.
Still, the current scientific literature on CBN has indicated a variety of potential beneficial results achieved by consuming the compound.
One of the most popular and unique uses for CBN is to aid sleep, and cannabis industry producers like STIIIZY have already begun introducing CBN into their product lineups.
A 2022 literature review addressing the use of cannabis for sleep states that “The most robust investigation of the effect of a cannabinoid formulation on insomnia involved a novel (ZTL-101) formulation of THC:CBN:CBD (20:2:1mg/mL),” suggesting that a blend of the three cannabinoids might be users’ best bet for using cannabis to aid with sleep.
This could due in part to the ability of CBD and CBN to “moderate the intoxicating and psychological effects of THC.” Some Jointly users report that consuming a high dose of THC has negatively impacted their sleep, which could possibly be due to the undesirable side effects of taking too much THC on its own.
In addition to potentially aiding sleep, researchers report that “CBN can be sedative, anticonvulsant in animal and human studies, and has demonstrated significant properties related to antiinflammatory, antibiotic, and anti-MRSA activity.”
The same report adds that CBN has shown some promising results for use in topical applications for treating burns and for mitigating the spread of breast cancer.
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