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What is CBN and What Are Its Benefits?

Education Posted Oct 3 2019

Even the most casual observer of the expanding cannabis industry is likely familiar with THC and CBD. Although it's a skewed simplification, the two famous cannabinoids have developed an almost Yin and Yang reputation: THC has primarily psychoactive effects (it gets you high) and CBD has mainly therapeutic effects (relief of pain, anxiety and stress reduction, etc.). General knowledge about cannabis and its interactions with the human body is usually limited to these two cannabinoids. However, as research into this complex plant advances we are beginning to learn more about some of the other 100+ cannabinoids that have been isolated in cannabis. Cannabinoids work by attaching to neurons in your brain and facilitating the production of neurochemical signals that stimulate other parts of your brain and body. Besides THC and CBD, we are now beginning to learn more about another important cannabinoid: Cannabinol (CBN). 

What is CBN?

Cannabinol (CBN) is a cannabinoid that is produced through the oxygenation and decomposition of THC. It is most commonly found in aged cannabis plants and almost never on hemp that has not flowered. In the late 1800s, CBN was the first cannabinoid to be isolated by scientists and in the 1940s the study of the compound advanced as an overall understanding of the cannabis plant developed. The CBN cannabinoid differs from others because it is present in older plants and poorly stored buds more often than in fresh cannabis flower.

How is CBN formed?

There are two ways to produce CBN in cannabis: decarboxylation and aging. THCa is a form of THC with an extra carboxyl group and is a precursor to THC. When THCa goes through the process of decarboxylation (the heating of marijuana) the heat breaks down the bonds that hold the acid molecules together and THC is produced. During decarboxylation, some of the THC breaks down even further to produce CBN. CBNa (cannabidiolic acid), the parent compound that breaks down into CBN, is also produced from the aging of THCa and exposure to UV light. A live cannabis plant often does not contain any CBN. The process of creating CBN involves time and the natural breakdown of acids in raw cannabis. If left for several weeks, THCa-rich cannabis will begin to naturally produce CBNa and eventually CBN. CBN can also be artificially produced from THC that has been extracted from marijuana. By allowing raw cannabis to naturally age and decompose, or by expediting the process with decarboxylation, CBN is generally found in cannabis after a breakdown of THC molecules during which THC oxidizes into CBN.

How Does CBN Work?

Cannabinoids affect the human brain and body in a variety of ways but do so primarily through interactions with the endocannabinoid system. This system assists with the regulation of our body's physiological function and response. Cognitive function, energy, mood, appetite, pain perception and more are all connected to the endocannabinoid system. Research initially suggested endocannabinoid receptors were present only in the brain and nerves, but scientists later found that the receptors are present throughout the body, including our vital organs, skin, immune cells, bone, fat tissue, skeletal muscle, blood vessels and gastrointestinal tract.

We now know the endocannabinoid system is involved in a wide variety of processes including pain, memory, mood, appetite, stress, sleep, metabolism, immune function and reproductive function. Cannabinoids also influence cell activity and interact with neurotransmitters and hormones. When a person ingests a cannabis product, cannabinoids enter the bloodstream. The blood circulates the cannabinoids throughout the body and into the brain. The cannabinoids then link with and activate special neurons that then produce changes across the entire neurological system.

The Benefits of CBN

CBN can be used effectively as a sleep aid or sedative. If you are suffering from insomnia CBN could be incredibly beneficial. It is possible that CBN can be used to reduce the intraocular eye pressure caused by glaucoma. Its ability to regulate the immune system can possibly assist with pain and inflammation, which cause conditions such as arthritis and Crohn's disease. CBN also acts as an anticonvulsant, so it may be beneficial for patients suffering from seizure disorders including epilepsy.

CBD vs. CBN

CBD and CBN have similar genetic structures, but while CBD indirectly influences the endocannabinoid system through several different types of receptors, CBN takes a more direct approach. In addition to having a strong affinity for CB2 receptors, CBN is attracted to CB1 receptors in the same manner as THC. CBN can have some mild psychoactive properties but CBD does not. At the moment, CBD is known to have more beneficial qualities and is used to treat more medical disorders than CBN but this could change as more becomes known about CBN.

Is CBN Legal?

Like many other products relating to cannabis and hemp in the U.S., the patchwork of laws at the federal and state levels often can be confusing. Although CBN is not on the list of scheduled controlled substances, it's perceived and assumed similarity to THC and CBD (both Schedule I substances) leave it open to interpretation by law enforcement. Thanks to the absurdly broad reach of the Federal Analogue Act, it is possible that CBN could legally be considered an analogue of THC or CBD, meaning sales or possession could potentially be prosecuted. Conversely, in a court setting, CBN may not be found to meet the legal standard of an analogue and any charges would be dropped. The Drug Enforcement Administration recently added marijuana extracts - defined as any "extract containing one or more cannabinoids that has been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis, other than the separated resin" - to the Schedule I list so things continue to change.

Where to Buy CBN

Before buying any product with CBN, be sure to check your state laws regarding its use.They vary from state to state and sometimes even from city to city. That being said, there are several CBN isolate products available for purchase online or in your local dispensary. These CBN-rich products come in tinctures, capsules and topical balms and salves. CBN oils also come in different dosages. It is always best to start with a low dose and adjust according to your particular needs.

Do you use CBN? If so, why do you use it? How do you use it? What benefits does it provide? How did you first become aware of CBN? Feel free to take a moment to share your experience with CBN in the comments section below.

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