CBN or cannabinol: What is it, properties and effects of the “sleep cannabinoid”?

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In the cannabis industry, knowledge about the different compounds present in the plant has been increasing. One of these compounds is cannabinol (CBN), whose therapeutic potential and effects are attracting the attention of consumers and professionals. A variety of CBN products are available on the market: from oils that combine CBN and CBD for sleeping, to edibles, hashish and CBD flowers with high CBN content. In this article, we explain in detail what CBN is, its origin, properties, effects, dosage and legal aspects you should know.

What is CBN?

Cannabinol (CBN) is one of the many types of cannabinoids present in the cannabis plant(Cannabis sativa L.). It is formed from the breakdown of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and, unlike THC, has much weaker psychoactive properties .

Popularly, CBN is known as the “sleeping cannabinoid“, as CBN has been studied for its possible sedative and relaxing effects, and especially for helping to fall asleep.

Because it is a breakdown product of THC, CBN is found mostly in cured or aged cannabis flowers, and its levels gradually increase during the storage process. However, products with synthetically or semi-synthetically obtained CBN are also available on the market.

Origin and history of CBN

Cannabinol (CBN) is a very stable cannabinoid of which traces have been found as early as 750 BC in China (1). CBN is the first cannabinoid identified in the cannabis plant in 1930 (2, 3). But it did not stand out in research as the spotlight was focused on the most abundant cannabinoids in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

What is CBD and what is it for?

Differences between CBN, THC and CBD

CBN, THC and CBD have similar chemical structures and originally come from cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). However, THC and CBD are produced in the plant by cannabinoid biosynthesis, while CBN is produced from THC, by non-enzymatic oxidation or degradation. The structures of these cannabinoids also differ in terms of specific arrangements and functional groups, which contribute to their unique properties and effects. The chemical formula of CBN is: C21H26O2

Unlike the two major cannabinoids CBD and THC, CBN concentrations in cannabis are very low, but gradually increase as the plant is further exposed to light, oxygen and heat (4) as it is a breakdown product of THC. As the trichomes of the plant age, or during the drying and curing of cannabis, the THC present in the cannabis buds or flowers is gradually converted to CBN.

What are the effects of CBN?

CBN interacts with the endocannabinoid system of the human body. The endocannabinoid system is a complex regulatory system involved in the maintenance of various physiological processes. It consists of cannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2), endogenous cannabinoids(endocannabinoids) and enzymes responsible for synthesizing and degrading these compounds.

CBN is a partial agonist of the CB1 and CB2 receptor (5), which means that it has the ability to bind to and activate these receptors, but its affinity or strength of interaction is lower compared to other cannabinoids such as THC or CBD. With respect to the CB1 receptor, a receptor linked to the psychoactive effects of marijuana, CBN has a lower affinity than THC (6); therefore, CBN has lower psychoactive effects and tends to be linked to a sleepy effect, catalepsy or sedation (7). Catalepsy refers to a decrease in motor response, which could explain the potential relaxant effect of this cannabinoid.

CBN has a milder psychoactive effect than THC and is attributed with sedative and relaxing properties that may influence sleep.

The effects of CBN may also be influenced by other cannabinoids and terpenes. These compounds can interact synergistically and give rise to unique effects when consumed together, a phenomenon known as the entourage effect of cannabis . For example, perhaps combining CBN with CBD oil could enhance the effects of CBD for insomnia.

Properties and potential benefits of CBN

Sleep induction

Research on CBN initially pointed to its effects on the endocannabinoid system, and in the 1970s it began to be shown that CBN could induce catalepsy (8, 9). Because of this, it is said that CBN can be used as a sleep aid.

In reality, the benefits of CBN as a sleep promoter are based on subjective results that do not validate that it induces sleep clinically (10, 11). The sensation that cannabinol can help sleep is due to the sedation it causes, which has been reported in scientific studies by users as “a sensation similar to THC, but lighter and more pleasant” (12).

One of the differences between CBN and THC is that large amounts of CBN are needed to produce a euphoric effect (high) as THC does (12).

Adjuvant in the treatment of ADHD

People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have problems maintaining attention or controlling compulsive behaviors. A study in Israel reported that cannabis strains high in CBN were associated with a reduction in ADHD symptoms, as reported by patients in the study (17).

Does CBN stimulate appetite?

Findings from animal studies suggest that cannabinol may stimulate appetite (14, 15). However, more research is needed to understand the underlying mechanisms. Based on the current data, it is not possible to state conclusively that CBN increases appetite.

Analgesic and anti-inflammatory

CBN may be useful in the treatment of muscle pain (18) and decrease inflammation caused by elevated intraocular pressure in glaucoma (19). These are studies on the analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect in very particular conditions, which cannot be transposed to humans for the time being, pending further research.

Dermatology

In topical use, cannabinol has been shown to be a good adjuvant in the treatment of itching for epidermolysis bullosa, which is a condition where the skin becomes fragile and is prone to blistering (13).

Potential antibiotic

CBN has been suggested to have antimicrobial properties and has been shown to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus (16).

Consumption patterns and doses of CBN

CBN can be found for consumption naturally in oils, vapes, hashish or flowers made from some cannabinol-rich cannabis strains, or from plants that have accumulated higher amounts of CBN. It can be smoked, vaporized or consumed in the form of edibles, such as cannabis gummies.

In some cases, it is possible to find products with high amounts of cannabinol, which have been elaborated by adding CBN of semi-synthetic origin in their composition.

CBN dosage

Some studies that have evaluated the interactions of CBN with other cannabinoids, or studied its psychoactive effects, have used doses ranging from 20 mg to 1200 mg per day (11), a very wide range. Although these doses did not present toxic effects, their safety has not been evaluated and it is not known if CBN presents a bell effect, similar to that of other cannabinoids.

A clinical study on the influence of CBD in combination with CBN for sleep is currently ongoing, using doses of 30 mg CBN and 300 mg CBD (NCT05344170).

According to the European CBN market, CBN products, mainly “sleeping oils” use concentrations of 2.5%, 5% or more (1-2 mg CBN per drop), which is usually combined with different concentrations of CBD.

Ultimately, CBN dosing is not an exact science and the effective amount of cannabinol can vary depending on the individual, the purpose for which the CBN is taken and the type of CBN product used and its composition. As with other cannabinoids, the appropriate dosage may be different for each person, so indications will usually be to start with low initial doses, and increase gradually if necessary.

On the other hand, it is possible to find products of very different composition and doses of CBN in the market. In addition to the lack of research on the safety of this compound, it is recommended to consult a professional before taking CBN.

Ways of obtaining CBN

How is CBN obtained?

It could be thought that the way to obtain CBN is through its extraction from cannabis plants, but this procedure is very complicated, since cannabinol has polarity and solubility characteristics similar to those of other cannabinoids, making its isolation very complicated. Therefore, most of the CBN in commercial products is of synthetic origin. It is the result of years of adaptation of the synthesis method to be able to produce cannabinol without extracting it from the plant (20).

CBN synthesis

CBN can be produced synthetically or semi-synthetically in the laboratory. In the semi-synthetic synthesis process, CBD or THC are used as precursors to obtain cannabinol. On the other hand, synthetic synthesis involves methods that do not use compounds derived directly from cannabis (CBD or THC) as a starting point, but use a lactonic intermediate (biphenyl or cyclization) or non-lactonic intermediates (20).

Legality: regulatory status of the CBN

Although derived from THC and a cannabinoid with a mild psychoactive effect, CBN is not illegal in many countries around the world. This is because, just as research was always focused on CBD and THC, many cannabinoids have been left out of the legal frameworks.

On the other hand, the possibility of producing synthetic CBN, detaches the compound from the illegal context of marijuana. However, the safety, side effects and toxicological profile of cannabinol is not yet well established and this implies that users should exercise caution.

Is CBN legal?

In Spain, CBN falls under the same regulation as other cannabinoids that are not THC, so it is possible to find it in cannabis flowers, vapes and oils (although not in edibles, such as cannabis candies(due to the prohibition of the use of cannabinoids for oral consumption products).

CBN can be added to enrich cannabis products, although it is also marketed individually in products such as edibles, ointments and oils.

CBN Overview

Thinking about the future of CBN, it is important to keep in mind that research on this specific cannabinoid is still relatively limited compared to other cannabinoids such as THC and CBD. However, as interest in cannabis research grows, it is likely that more attention will be paid to exploring the potential of CBN. At the moment, CBN has no long-term effect studies and not all possible therapeutic applications are known. More research is needed to fully understand the effects of CBN, the mechanisms of action and its role in the future of medical cannabis.

We hope you have found this tour of the characteristics, properties and legal aspects of CBN interesting. See you next time!

Masha Burelo
Investigadora en cannabinoides | Doctoranda en Neurociencia

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