You’ve heard of cannabinoids by now – the class of chemicals that give cannabis its punch, and most of its health effects. Cannabinoids are found in the trichomes of the plant, sticky “fingers” that grow from the leaves and dry into a dusty, “crystal” coating on the bud.
Since the legalization of cannabis for medical and recreational use, the general public has become more informed about cannabis than ever before. But as much as cannabinoids like THC and CBD have entered our public vocabulary, many people still don’t have an understanding of what CBN is, or even know it exists.
What is CBN?
To put it simply, CBN (cannabinol) is what happens when THC degrades.
When cannabinoids are on the still-growing plant, they’re actually cannabinoid acids - An acidic form of the chemical you’re used to. When heat is applied to the chemicals, they turn into the cannabinoids that interact with our body’s endocannabinoid system. This is why if you’re consuming cannabis any other way than smoking it, you’ll have to decarboxylate it first - basically, this means you’ll need to apply heat to activate the cannabinoids in order to get the effects you’re looking for.
Understanding this, we know that when applying an outside force, in this case heat, the chemical structure of the cannabinoids can change.
The same thing happens when THC is allowed to sit for too long. Over time, the structure of the THC oxides, and creates the by-product we call CBN. In this case, the outside force that triggers the change is time, not heat, so it’s a much slower process.
As long as it’s protected from contamination, older cannabis doesn’t “go bad”, even though it does seem to lose potency over time. That’s because the THC is changing - turning into the cannabinoid CBN. But this doesn’t mean it isn’t as effective! It’s actually still very effective… just in a different way.
CBN and the Entourage Effect
CBN, like other cannabinoids, has its own host of health benefits, but it is most remarkable when combined with THC.
When two cannabinoids work particularly well together -- better synergistically than the sum of their parts -- this creates what is known as the entourage effect. You’ve maybe heard that CBD helps to regulate the high from THC; that’s the entourage effect at work. And CBN is no different in that regard.
For example, while CBN has the reputed effect of making you sleepy, researchers discovered that that’s not entirely true. On its own, CBN has very little in the way of sedating effects. When combined with THC, however, CBN heightened the sedating effects of the more famous cannabinoid. In addition to the heightened drowsiness, the study found that many of the markers for THC intoxication that were not present when the subjects consumed CBN alone were greatly increased with the introduction of both THC and CBN together.
Additionally, while both CBN and CBD (cannabidiol) both have reported pain-relieving effects in clinical studies, one study done on rats showed that the two cannabinoids together had a more marked analgesic effect. While the effect of these two cannabinoids together was not as great as THC (which has strong analgesic qualities), this combination has the benefit of being non-psychoactive, giving it much potential as a pain reliever for humans who don’t want the intoxicating effects of THC.
While research around cannabinoids and how they interact with each other has been slow due to prohibition, what we do know shows a lot of potential applications, both in medical science and people’s day to day lives.
What Are the Benefits and Effects of CBN?
Like the other cannabinoids, CBN has a range of health benefits and potential future applications. Preliminary studies done on rodents show some promising effects, and we’re excited to see what future studies show us. Some of the benefits we’ve seen in studies so far include:
Like CBD, CBN appears to have strong anti-inflammatory effects and may be useful for people with arthritis. One study showed that CBN reduced arthritis-related symptoms and inflammation in rats. While we don’t know yet exactly by what mechanism CBN is able to reduce inflammation, this is promising outlook for those with chronic inflammatory conditions.
CBN, along with other cannabinoids, shows promise as an effective antibacterial agent. One study pitted CBN against MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant bacteria that is notoriously hard to treat in a medical setting. The research found the CBN acted as a strong antibacterial agent against the MRSA strain. We’ve seen similar results from other cannabinoids like CBD in the past - pointing to a potential new way of fighting antibiotic resistant bacteria in the future that doesn’t rely on traditional antibiotics.
While the effects of THC on appetite - colloquially known as “the munchies” - are well known, it’s not the only cannabinoid to produce this effect. CBN also stimulates appetite, without the intoxicating effects of THC along for the ride. This could have great benefit for those who have trouble eating enough to manage their weight, without the high usually associated with cannabis.
Potential Treatment for Glaucoma
The pressure of fluid inside the eye - known as intraocular pressure - is the single largest risk factor for developing glaucoma, an eye condition that damages the optic nerve. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.
CBN, along with THC, have been shown to reduce intraocular pressure in rabbits. However, more research is needed before CBN can be effectively used to treat glaucoma in human patients - but it’s a promising start.
CBN was found to delay symptom onset of ALS in one study performed on mice - pushing back onset by as much as two weeks. While CBN did not cure the condition, this shows potential for many neuroprotective benefits and provides an excellent jumping off point for future research.
Where to Find CBN
Depending on what’s available to you, the easiest way to find CBN might be the old-fashioned way: In older cannabis that’s been sitting for a while. However, while public awareness of CBN grows, many producers have begun to create CBN-centric products. You may soon see CBN tinctures and sprays alongside CBD products in your local dispensary, or be able to purchase dried bud with a higher CBN concentration. If CBN is something you’re interested in trying, be sure to keep a lookout - or ask your friends if they have some cannabis in the back of a cupboard that they’ve forgotten about.