When it comes to cannabinoids, THC and CBD are often the first two compounds that spring to mind. Cannabidiol (CBD), in particular, has come under the spotlight in recent years for its vast beneficial properties. Now, a third cannabinoid has been making a splash for its potential health benefits: a chemical called cannabinol (CBN).
What is CBN?
The cannabis plant contains at least 85 different types of cannabinoids, and researchers have only scratched the surface of their numerous beneficial applications. These chemicals are stored and produced within the trichomes (crystals) of the plant. When ingested, they bind to our natural cannabinoid receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to potentially create a wide range of effects.
CBN is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is a breakdown product of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s most abundant constituent and the main cause of its classic “high.” As the THC in cannabis buds ages, it transforms into cannabinol through the process of THC oxidation. Early research suggests that, once in the bloodstream, CBN could bring along a number of possible beneficial qualities, similar to those of CBD.
Like many cannabinoids, cannabinol has been greatly understudied, but early research indicates that it may have anticonvulsant, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory properties, though more research still needs to be completed. When compared to THC and CBD, it is only present in minuscule amounts in a fresh plant. It emerges once cannabis has aged—for example, if it has been improperly stored for a long time. This compound may have plenty to offer its users, but its marked characteristic is its potential sedative effect that may induce sleep. (1)
Differences Between THC, CBD, and CBN
CBN has only just begun to gain attention for its potential health benefits. This cannabinoid is unique because it isn’t produced naturally by the plant—it can only be found in trace amounts in fresh hemp. Instead, it occurs as a degradation of THC, which is often a slow process that takes place over a long period of time. Even in aged cannabis, its content often does not surpass the one-percent mark. Luckily, only tiny amounts are required to affect the body.
On the other hand, CBD, the second most famous cannabinoid, also has little to no psychoactive effects, which makes it a great choice for those who are seeking a non-intoxicating experience. Combining CBD with THC leads to an ”entourage effect,” a phenomenon wherein both substances enhance each other’s positive qualities. A 1974 study suggests that the effects of CBD can counteract some of the negative effects of THC, such as anxious response. (2)
What sets THC apart from other cannabinoids are its psychoactive properties. In fact, it is the only plant cannabinoid known to have intoxicating effects on its own. This is not to say that THC doesn’t hold its own value when it comes to health and wellness. On the contrary, it has reputed therapeutic properties with strong evidence for its anti-inflammatory applications, among other possible benefits.
How is CBN Produced?
Ever wondered why your old cannabis makes you so sleepy? That’s cannabinol in effect. The compound develops with time as your cannabis ages and its THC content reduces. What’s left is marijuana with potent sedative qualities that may help you fall asleep more easily, increase appetite, relieve discomfort, and more, though it is important to remember that our products are not intended to diagnose or treat any medical conditions.
This process of degradation begins as soon as the plant has been harvested. The cannabis plant stops receiving nutrients from the root ball, and the cannabinoid biosynthetic pathways become disrupted. Their psychoactive properties are subsequently altered, and the compounds within the plant synthesize into different chemicals. For example, THC acid (THC-A) goes through decarboxylation (drops a carbon dioxide molecule) and turns into THC, and THC oxidizes over time and becomes cannabinol.
That’s why buds that have gone “stale” contain larger amounts of cannabinol. It may sound unappealing, but the potential benefits of this cannabinoid may compensate for the lack of vibrant green color and that fresh-smelling scent.
Oxidation of THC
On a molecular level, cannabinol is almost identical to THC. If it wasn’t for the four hydrogen atoms, their chemical formulas would be exactly the same. THC loses these four hydrogen atoms through persistent exposure to air, heat, and light. A lot of patients are wondering whether their medical cannabis loses potency over time, and the answer is firm and short—yes.
Several researchers have already observed how cannabinol content increases over the years in improperly stored cannabis. A study conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime revealed that THC concentration in an exposed sample nearly halved over a four-year period, with the levels degrading fastest during the first two years. (3) They concluded that, in the presence of air, THC-A slowly turns into CBN-A (the acidic form of cannabinol), which is then converted to cannabinol under the influence of heat and light.
In short, over a prolonged period of time, THC will convert to CBN when exposed to:
- Elevated Temperature
This process requires no enzymes, which means that cannabis with a higher cannabinol concentration generally hasn’t been stored properly.
Potential Benefits and Uses of CBN
With an estimated 30 percent of the US population struggling to fall asleep at night, it is no wonder many are researching alternative options. (4) Out of the 85 cannabinoids, cannabinol is considered the most powerful sedative.
Cannabinol may have other benefits, though more research is still needed for conclusive evidence. However, so far, studies have implied that CBN may help with:
- Appetite – A 2012 study conducted by researchers from the University of Reading’s School of Pharmacy has found that cannabinol can increase appetite in rats, which means it may help those struggling to find the urge to eat and looking for a non-psychoactive solution, though again, more research needs to be performed. (5)
- Anti-inflammatory – Early research indicates that this cannabinoid may have anti-inflammatory properties. Tests undertaken on rodent models have shown the compound’s ability to successfully reduce inflammation in mice. (6, 7) Cannabis experts believe this anti-inflammatory quality may help in reducing pressure behind the eyes, such as is experienced in conditions like glaucoma, but further studies need to be conducted. (8)
- Anticonvulsant – Research dating back to 1973 has indicated that cannabinol has anti-convulsing effects in various animal models, but to a lesser degree than THC and CBD. (9)
- Antibacterial – A 2008 study indicated that cannabinol kills methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, which causes highly infectious and potentially dangerous infections. (10)
- Pain Relief – Cannabinol may activate the same pain pathways as THC and CBD, according to a study from 2002. It performed similarly to THC in pain reduction and anti-inflammatory domains but doesn’t come with the potential adverse symptoms of intoxication, which makes it particularly interesting for additional research and studies.
- Burn Treatment – The compound’s reported hypothermic ability means cannabinol could lower body temperature, which, in combination with its anti-inflammatory properties, may help relieve symptoms of burns. (11, 12)
- Bone Marrow – Recent studies have also discovered that CBN may help in triggering stem cells in the bone marrow. (13) Though still on shaky grounds, this could possibly mean there is a chance that this cannabinoid could help in bone formation processes. Again, more studies need to be conducted before this or any of the above can be considered conclusive.
Where can I find CBN?
Cannabinol-infused products are still a rarity on the market, but their production is on the horizon.
You can always cure your high-THC medical cannabis so that it degrades into a CBN-rich sample. Unfortunately, until more in-depth research is conducted and its profile rises, edibles, oils, capsules, and tinctures will remain hard to obtain.