What is CBN?

We've all heard about THC, and now CBD has become a household name. But these are just two of over a hundred compounds found within cannabis. Now it's time to meet CBN.


Cannabis is comprised of over 100 different cannabinoids, each of which play a role in providing the experiences and benefits associated with the plant. Of these hundred different cannabinoids, THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol,) and CBD, (Cannabidiol,) have taken the top of the podium as the most renowned and esteemed within the cannabis family.

THC is the active compound in cannabis which causes users to get high, while CBD is a non-psychoactive compound that provides users with a host of medicinal benefits. However, they aren't alone. One cannabinoid, which is being researched for its sedative effects, is CBN.

CBN, (cannabinol) was the first cannabinoid to be isolated, even before THC. The structure of CBN was discovered in the early 1930s, with chemical synthesis achieved in 1940. It was believed at the time of its discovery that CBN was responsible for the psychoactive effects that marijuana is known for. That is until THC was discovered. From then on, THC would take center stage and CBN would be put on the backburner.

Now, with the increasing legalization of cannabis globally, CBN is being looked into again.

CBN is just one of 113 known cannabinoids isolated within the cannabis plant, which work by interacting with receptors that are found naturally within our bodies. These receptors are known as endocannabinoids, and they exist within our Endocannabinoid System or ECS.

Two cannabinoid receptors have been found within our Endocannabinoid System, termed CB1—which is found in the brain—and CB2 which appears in our immune cells. These receptors have influence over functions such as memory processing, pain regulation, appetite, sleep, and motor control. When you consume cannabis, these receptors can be activated or deactivated, which creates the feelings or experiences typically associated with cannabis use.

Like CBD, CBN is a non-psychoactive compound, which means that you won't get high from ingesting it. However, there are still believed to be a host of benefits to consuming this compound, so let's take a look at what they are.



Like A Fine Wine 

Just like your favorite bottle of Merlot, CBN is believed to get better with age. In fact, it's only when THC ages, that CBN becomes present within cannabis. This is because when THC is oxidized it begins to degrade into CBN.

The clearest example of this was in China, when a grave from 600BC was excavated in China and contained archaic cannabis with high levels of CBN.

As THC has to degrade to become CBN, you'll typically find lower amounts of THC in plants that have CBN present within them. This degradation can occur when cannabis is incorrectly stored or if it's stored for too long. Due to being older and less psychoactive, cannabis plants containing CBN were considered to be inferior or undesirable when compared to a THC-rich, fresher plant. However, this may not be entirely true. Early studies are showing a host of benefits to the lesser-known compound, with its ability to sedate being the most well-known benefit.



The sedative effects of CBN are the most discussed, and perhaps the most disputed. One study involving mice has shown that CBN can prolong sleeping time, while another study which gave isolated CBN to humans showed no effect on sleep. So what's the answer?

Well, like CBD, it's believed that CBN works best when ingested in conjunction with THC. This is known as the entourage effect, which states that the sum of cannabis is greater than its parts. CBN has no effect on sleep, while THC has some effect, and it appears that when the two are combined they have an even greater effect.

Whether or not this is purely due to the synergy between CBN and THC is not yet fully known. Some believe this may even be due to aged terpenes, which are said to also induce a sedative effect. Early studies believed 5 mg of CBN to be a more effective sleep aid than 10 mg of the pharmaceutical diazepam, though this has yet to be confirmed.

Regardless, many products such as tinctures, oils, and gummies that contain isolate CBN are advertised as a sleep aid, despite having no THC in them.



CBN has been tested on strains of MRSA bacteria that are resistant to traditional antibiotics, which found it to be a powerful antibacterial agent.

This is pertinent as MRSA—or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—is a bacteria that can lead to infections in different parts of the body, and is notoriously difficult to treat.

This may suggest that CBN will become an ingredient in the antibacterial drugs of the future, as it could prove effective for treating different bacterial infections. Though it must be said that the antibacterial properties of CBN are also shared with THC and CBD, which have demonstrated similar effects.


Preventing Neurological Degeneration

Early studies in mice have found that CBN can delay the onset of ALS, a neurological disease.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as motor neuron disease (MND)—or Lou Gehrig's disease—causes the neurons that control voluntary muscles to die. The debilitating disease removes the ability for individuals to walk, use their hands, speak, swallow, and eventually even breathe.

The study chose CBN over a more renowned cannabinoid like THC because of THC's psychoactive, and potentially addictive effects. Interestingly, over a period of 12 weeks, CBN treatment delayed the onset of ALS in mice for over 2 weeks.

While these studies are small and don't involve humans, it represents an exciting potential to treat neurological diseases in the future through cannabinoids.

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Increased Appetite 

THC isn't for everyone, and as we've discussed previously, some people can respond quite negatively to the compound. However, THC has also proven to be a powerful appetite stimulant – which is hugely beneficial for patients who are suffering from Crohns Disease, AIDs or going through cancer treatment, as these diseases can lead to a suppressed appetite.

Often times when someone faces a severe or life-threatening illness, their treatment can lead to Cachexia. Cachexia is the term for weight loss, muscle wastage, and general ill-health caused by chronic, life-limiting illnesses; and it can be deadly.

Appetite stimulants have been one method for combatting Cachexia, to ensure the patient receives all their necessary nutrients, and CBN has shown early promise in stimulating the appetite of rats.

The study revealed that CBN showed an ability to stimulate the rat's appetite without the psychotropic effects of THC. Conversely, CBD, another non-psychoactive compound within cannabis showed the opposite effect, reducing the subject's appetite.

This may put CBN in the unique position of being one of the few non-psychoactive cannabinoids to increase appetite in individuals suffering from chronic illness.


Treating Psoriasis 

Psoriasis is an inflammatory disease that is characterized by symptoms such as itchy patches of raised red, flaky skin. Psoriasis most commonly appears on the scalp, but can also be found on the elbows, knees, legs, trunk, and nails. The reason psoriasis forms is because of keratinocytes, which comprise 90% of the cells in our epidermis, or outer layer of skin. Keratinocytes serve as a barrier against environmental damage caused by bacteria, fungi, heat, radiation, parasites and more. However, with psoriasis, these keratinocytes can proliferate at a rapid rate which can cause issues with the outer layer of the skin.

Alongside THC and CBD, studies have revealed that CBN possesses powerful anti-inflammatory effects, and have all shown the potential to inhibit keratinocyte proliferation, and therefore support a potential role for cannabinoids in the treatment of psoriasis.



Slow and Steady

Unfortunately, the common thread among cannabis studies—particularly with lesser-known compounds like CBN—is that most evidence is gathered in very small studies that are only performed on mice.

The federal illegality of cannabis has made it difficult to actively study, which has created a big gap in knowledge when compared to the growing demand for the plant. As we've recently learned, many have been making unfounded claims—or oversold the healing properties of other cannabinoids like CBD—which has led to CBD products being banned in certain U.S. states.

Unfortunately, all of the above benefits to CBN can't be confirmed fully until further trials are done. This means that you may want to read some reviews before purchasing CBN oil online to kick your insomnia, as you may not get the results you want.

While the benefits to cannabis seem endless and powerful, the studies frankly aren't conclusive enough to give us a definitive answer. This lack of conclusive knowledge is precisely why medical professionals are hesitant to prescribe medicinal cannabis to their patients.

So until further research is done, we must be realistic about the benefits and downfalls to cannabis use, as we don't want to further contribute to the misinformation that has plagued the plant for decades.

If you enjoyed this article, stay tuned as we continue to delve into Medicinal Marijuana Month here at The Green Fund!

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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