If you're interested in natural-based wellness products, cannabis plant extracts have become a huge health trend in the last several years as the stigma surrounding cannabis use declines and research pointing to its potential benefits have emerged.
Cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the best known cannabinoids, but there are over a hundred beneficial compounds in cannabis that have their own unique effect profile.
CBN or cannabinol was the first compound extracted as an isolate from cannabis because researchers at the time believed it was the main psychoactive compound [ 1]. We know now the intoxicating effects of marijuana come from THC.
We'll explore the benefits of CBN based on scientific findings.
What Is CBN?
CBN forms as THC breaks down in a mature cannabis plant. It's developed as the THC molecules are exposed to UV and oxygen.
As a by-product (metabolite) of the main psychoactive compound, CBN can have mildly intoxicating effects at extremely high doses — but most people don't feel high off of this compound on its own, so it's considered non-intoxicating.
People who reportedly use cannabis for its psychoactive effects and relaxation may enjoy older cannabis plants because of the higher CBN levels that contribute to sedative effects that have garnered it the nickname "the sleep cannabinoid."
On its own, as an isolate, CBN may have some potential health benefits. However, CBN is much more powerful when consumed alongside other cannabinoids.
CBN products aren't easily to come by as it's often difficult to extract and isolate, but it is becoming a more popular offering on the market with manufacturers specializing in CBN isolate powder. While CBN may have some health benefits, many cannabis experts agree that the effects of CBN are more impactful when combined with other cannabinoids.
How Does CBN Exert Its Effects?
Most cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is present in all mammals, which was discovered in the 1990s when researchers were looking at the mechanism through which cannabis affected us.
It was through this research that we discovered that our body produces similar compounds to that concentrated in cannabis plants, called endocannabinoids. The ECS is a complex signaling system made up of cannabinoids that act as messengers, receptors (CB1 and CB2), and enzymes. Together, this messenger network regulates many of the body's vital systems including our metabolism, hormones, mood, sleep, pain perception, and much more.
CBN exerts its effects by binding to cannabinoid receptors.
THC has a high affinity to bind to the CB1 receptors concentrated in the brain. As a metabolite of THC, CBN can also bind to CB1. However, it doesn't create a strong bond with CB1, which is perhaps why it doesn't produce strong psychotropic effects like THC.
CBN has also been studied for its unique interactions at the vanilloid receptors (TRPV2 receptor), which is primarily responsible for detecting painful stimuli [ 2].
What Are The Potential Benefits Of CBN?
More research is needed in understanding the effects of CBN, since most of the current research on the cannabis plant heavily are concentrated on THC and CBD.
We've collected some studies supporting the potential benefits of CBN, but before we get into them there's one misconception we want to get out of the way.
The Myth: CBN Isolate Is A Sedative
If you're starting your research into CBN, you may have encountered CBN isolate products that claim to have sedative effects.
This myth came at the discovery of CBN, and it may have perpetuated as a result of THC and high CBN strains of marijuana that gave users a "couch-locked" high.
In a study conducted in 1970, five male participants were given 50 mg CBN doses to examine its sedative qualities. However, none of the participants felt sleepy after consuming it [ 3]. When combined with THC, the participants began to feel sleepy.
Dr. Ethan Russo, a prominent figure in the investigation of cannabis in the health industry, suggests CBN as a sedative only works in combination with THC. Additionally, older cannabis plants may have higher concentrations of relaxing terpenes that contribute to the feeling of sleepiness.
There's no evidence to support that CBN on its own as an isolated compound is more effective than full spectrum extract. Its effects seem to be more complimentary when combined with other cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, and CBG.
With that out of the way, let's get into the benefits of CBN.
CBN May Offer Neuroprotective Benefits
CBN's potential as a neuroprotective compound was conducted on mice experiments studying alternatives to THC due to its mind-altering effects for slowing the progression of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. This disease causes a weak communication line between the muscles and the brain leading to muscle atrophy. More research is needed in this space, but researchers found that intervenous delivery of CBN at 5 MG per KG per day over 12 weeks delayed the disease onset by more than two weeks [ 4].
CBN was also promising in its results for Parkinson-like neurodegeneration in mice [ 5]. These studies show potential for CBN's use as a nerve cell protectant to improve mental clarity, but at this time it's not clear if it delivers the benefits for humans.
CBN May Support Healthy Inflammatory Function
CBD and CBN appear to share this in common. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating the function of the immune response, and one of the primary actions of the immune system is inflammation.
While inflammation is a self-preserving function, designed to protect us from infection and kickstart the healing process, prolonged inflammation can do more damage than good. It's suggested that CBN may help to support healthy inflammatory function by stimulating specialized fatty acids which act as markers to put an end to the inflammatory response [ 6].
We want to highlight that these were conducted on animal studies and human clinical trials are underway to investigate these effects.
CBN May Support CBD and THC For Promoting Normal Post-workout Recovery
Postwork out soreness can affect your everyday routine and can keep you from hitting the gym on a more consistent basis. CBD products such as topical lotions and creams can assist you with the localized promotion of recovery.
According to the Journal Of Neuroscience, CBN, THC, and CBD influence CB1 and CB2 receptors that help to regulate sensory nerves in mice . Balancing these sensory nerve signals may help make the post-workout recovery a little more comfortable.
The Takeaway: The Benefits Of CBN
There's a lot of buzz surrounding CBN as a "new cannabinoid."
While it's technically not new in its discovery, we're learning more and more about its benefits as a minor cannabinoid. You'll likely encounter more CBN-focused products on the market, but we're here to remind you to err on the side of caution when it comes to cannabis manufacturers making outlandish health claims especially CBN isolates.
While CBN does show a great deal of potential for supporting the endocannabinoid system, it's not a cure-all compound, and there's certainly not enough evidence to support that it's more powerful on its own as an isolate.
According to our collection of research, CBN is a complimentary cannabinoid that can help support the effects of CBD and THC. Rather than seeking out isolate CBN products look for full spectrum CBD products that contain a wide range of cannabinoids and terpenes for well-rounded benefits and a stronger potency.
If you're avoiding THC altogether, THC-free broad spectrum CBD products are your next best option as they contain a diverse cannabinoid profile. Always refer to the products' third-party lab testing to check to see that the extract is free from harmful contaminants and has the appropriate levels of cannabinoids listed.
For more articles like this where we look to what current research says about cannabis-based compounds check out our blog or sign up to our Inside Scoop for insights delivered straight to your inbox.
- Russo, E. B., & Marcu, J. (2017). Cannabis pharmacology: the usual suspects and a few promising leads. Advances in pharmacology, 80, 67-134
- Qin, N., Neeper, M. P., Liu, Y., Hutchinson, T. L., Lubin, M. L., & Flores, C. M. (2008). TRPV2 is activated by cannabidiol and mediates CGRP release in cultured rat dorsal root ganglion neurons. Journal of Neuroscience, 28(24), 6231-6238.
- Karniol, I. G., Shirakawa, I., Takahashi, R. N., Knobel, E., & Musty, R. E. (1975). Effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabinol in man. Pharmacology, 13(6), 502-512.
- Weydt, P., Hong, S., Witting, A., Möller, T., Stella, N., & Kliot, M. (2005). Cannabinol delays symptom onset in SOD1 (G93A) transgenic mice without affecting survival. Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, 6(3), 182-184.
- Alvarez‐Fischer, D., Guerreiro, S., Hunot, S., Saurini, F., Marien, M., Sokoloff, P., ... & Michel, P. P. (2008). Modelling Parkinson‐like neurodegeneration via osmotic minipump delivery of MPTP and probenecid. Journal of neurochemistry, 107(3), 701-711.
- Gilligan, M. M., Gartung, A., Sulciner, M. L., Norris, P. C., Sukhatme, V. P., Bielenberg, D. R., ... & Panigrahy, D. (2019). Aspirin-triggered proresolving mediators stimulate resolution in cancer. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(13), 6292-6297.