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What is Cannabinol (CBN) and What Are the Benefits?

Cannabis is a complex plant and many of its constituents are thought to have beneficial properties. Most people are aware of THC and CBD and that the latter is not about getting you high but has numerous medicinal applications.  

CBD isn’t the only part of the cannabis plant that has been getting attention in recent years. Cannabinol or CBN is another potential therapeutic constituent which could be used for a variety of medical issues such as pain relief, insomnia, promoting healthy bones and as an anti-convulsant.  

It’s a little different from other cannabis products – for one, you don’t find it much in fresh plants. You have to basically ‘cook’ the THC to get it.  

This article takes a closer look at CBN and it’s potential therapeutic properties.  

What is Cannabinol? 

CBN is formed when THC, the compound responsible for delivering the cannabis high, undergoes oxidation. If you have old or poorly stored cannabis, while the THC might have degraded, you can often get CBN from it. It’s is only mildly psychoactive and can be produced by exposing your cannabis plant to light. 

The biggest and most notable affect of CBN is its ability to sedate. Some people suggest that just 5mg of CBN is the equivalent of 10mg of diazepam, though there has been little research done in this area. While many use cannabis because they have trouble sleeping, CBN could well be a great alternative to taking more traditional sedatives that may have other side-effects.  

We’ve actually known about the existence of CBN for a good few decades – it was first isolated at the turn of the 20th Century. It’s structure was understood by the 1930s and shortly afterwards scientists were able to synthesize it in the laboratory.  

More recently, particularly with the legalization of cannabis and it’s increasing medical use, people have once again started taking an interest in it.   

The Research on CBN 

While CBD and THC are most commonly known to anyone who uses cannabis, CBN was actually the first substance to be properly identified by scientists. Since we’ve known about its existence for over 60 years, not a lot has been done until recently with respect to research.  

As with most areas of cannabis when it comes to therapeutic effects, there still needs to be a lot more work done before we fully understand the potential of cannabinol. But there have been some very interesting studies undertaken to date and these do suggest that CBN could have a lot of promise.  

Research has shown that both THC and CBN can combine to have an analgesic effect. Many people who suffer from chronic pain conditions opt for cannabis because it has less side-effects than many other pharmaceutical drugs on the market today. Letting your cannabis harvest cure in the light, at least for part of the time, could well increase levels of CBN if you want to boost the analgesic properties. 

Other research has indicated that CBN may well play a role in helping to repair bone. It’s been known for a while that CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body are involved in the modulation of bone formation. A range of cannabinoids, including CBN, may influence this process in some way. There may be another way in which CBN works in the body, this time inhibiting the growth of skin cells, something which may assist with conditions such as psoriasis.  

Similar to the more well-known CBD, CBN has anti-inflammatory effects and there is research currently looking how these two together can be used to help burn patients.  

A lot of the small amount of research that has been carried out in recent times suggests that cannabinoids like CBN may have multiple therapeutic effects. There’s even some research that show it works as a vasorelaxant which reduces blood pressure and perhaps has a role to play in the eye condition glaucoma.  

The Benefits of CBN 

Overall the benefits that have been claimed for CBN include: 

  • Pain relief 
  • Insomnia relief 
  • Anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects 
  • Anti-convulsant  
  • Stimulating appetite 

CBN is a cannabinoid and the potential for it to be used therapeutically is looking increasingly positive. It may even overtake CBD in the future. The truth is there are a lot of other cannabinoids that we still need to investigate. According to the research some 100 have already been identified. Our understanding of these and substances such as terpenes so far is just the tip of the iceberg.  

CBN may just be one of many different cannabis products that we will be using in the future. For the moment, there is a growing list of anecdotal ‘evidence’ that it is able to help with a variety of health issues.  

The Difference Between CBN, THC and CBD 

As we all know the main component of cannabis that delivers the high and creates euphoria is THC. If CBN is made from oxidizing THC, then does it produce the same effect? The answer is no. Well, slightly. 

THC appears to be the only compound that brings the mind-altering psychoactive change that many recreational users associate with the plant. The amount of THC that you find in a particular plant will largely determine the strength of the high.  

CBD is also non-psychoactive. In actual fact, the CBD content in a particular strain can often off-set the effect of the THC, even for fairly high percentages.  

CBD does produce calming affects though their route is different to THC, which is why those using medical cannabis tend to go for high CBD strains.  

Not everyone agrees 100%, however. A recent bit of research concluded that CBN does have some mild psychoactive effects but nowhere near that of THC.  

How exactly it does this, we don’t know, but CBN is thought to interact with our natural endocannabinoid system and may influence areas such as hormones and the work of neurotransmitters. It’s quite chemically similar to CBD so you might expect both compounds to share similar effects, which they do.  

There’s no doubt the research in this area is beginning to heat up. There’s still a long way to go but recent studies have been pretty interesting.  

Giving CBN to rats in a laboratory setting led them to sleep longer which could have implications for dealing with problems such as insomnia. That sedative effect may well be boosted when taken in conjunction with THC.  

There has been some research done on the potential impact of CBN in dealing with some cancers, though this is far from definitive. Cannabinoids in generally are being better researched because they may actually be able to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and may even reduce tumor size. Much of the work here has been done on animals such as mice which rarely translates to how things would be affected if used on humans.  

Where Can I Find CBN? 

There aren’t many supplements containing CBN at the moment but you can expect this to change over the next few years. For now, you will probably have to wait until oils, tinctures, creams and other products start to come onto the market. 

The truth is that most cannabis strains have some level of CBN but this is usually much less than 1%. The main way to improve CBN yields is through the natural decarboxylation of THC. This happens to a higher degree in strains that have been left or improperly stored or cured or exposed to light after the harvest process.  

You might think that letting your cannabis crop go stale on purpose is sacrilege but it’s the only real way to boost CBN levels. The key it so put your curing jar in a warm place where there is plenty of light. As with curing, you want this process to take as long as possible and you don’t want your crop to dry out too quickly.  

It’s not an exact science and there’s no real way to tell by how much you have boosted levels of CBN. The good news is that there should be more manufactured products becoming available in the next few years which should mean you don’t have to worry about the hassle of making your own.  

By then, we may also know a lot more about how CBN works as a medical remedy. 

Steven Meredith

Steven is a full-time freelance writer based in Wales. He joined the Seedsman team in 2018, contributing articles on a number of topics including global news, cultivation and strain profiles.

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