You’ve probably heard about CBD being used to treat sleep, anxiety, and a whole host of ailments.
Maybe you’re using it yourself. Cannabidiol, or CBD for short, is getting very popular these days. People are using CBD for pain relief, as a quit-smoking aid, to help relieve anxiety and to improve sleep.
I wrote earlier this year about the very promising research showing a broad range of therapeutic benefits from CBD, from treating epilepsy and addiction, to its potential cancer-fighting capabilities, to improving sleep.
Today, I’m going to talk about another compound derived from the cannabis plant that you might not be familiar with…yet. It’s currently a relative unknown, compared to CBD. But it may not stay that way for long. I’m talking about cannabinol, or CBN.
This cannabis-derived compound may have benefits for sleep, along with other benefits for health and treatment for illness and disease. Ready to go under the radar and learn a bit about a natural plant compound that could be an up-and-comer as a natural sleep therapy?
What is CBN?
Like CBD, CBN is what’s known as a cannabinoid. That’s a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant. By a recent count, cannabis has more than 100 different cannabinoids (that’s how many have been identified so far).
CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the best known and most well studied of the cannabinoids. But CBN was actually the first cannabinoid to be identified by scientists. And all three of these cannabinoids—CBN, CBD, and THC—have been studied by scientists for several decades, both for their chemical composition and for their effects on humans.
CBN occurs naturally in the cannabis plant as the plant ages. That’s because over time—and when heated or exposed to oxygen—the cannabinoid THC converts to CBN. CBN can also be produced from THC that’s extracted from cannabis.
The differences between THC, CBD, and CBN
Different cannabinoids have different chemical properties and drastically different effects when they’re consumed. For a lot of people who are just beginning to learn about the therapeutic uses of cannabis compounds, it might seem as though they’re all just one thing—marijuana. But that’s not the case. These different compounds are all found naturally in the plant—so if you consume cannabis, you’re exposed to all of that plant’s cannabinoids, including THC, CBD, and CBN, as well as dozens of others.
But CBD, THC, and CBN are also produced as isolated extracts from the cannabis plant, or synthetic versions of these compounds. Extracting or making the individual compounds enables us to take advantage of the properties of each cannabinoid individually, without exposure to the effects of any other cannabinoids.
People sometimes are uncertain about cannabis-derived supplements because of the impression that they all cause a mind-altering high. They don’t. (For a refresher, I wrote this spring about why CBD isn’t weed.)
Let’s take a quick look at the different characteristics of these very different cannabinoids. Tetrahydrocannabinol—known as THC for short—is a cannabinoid that is the main psychoactive component in cannabis. What does psychoactive mean? A psychoactive substance is one that affects brain function and mental state, temporarily altering one’s mood, consciousness, perception, and behavior.
THC is the component of cannabis that delivers the “high” associated with marijuana. Different strains of cannabis used in medical marijuana will have different levels of THC, which in turn deliver different degrees of psychoactive effects. THC is used to treat conditions such as nausea, low appetite, glaucoma, and pain, among others.
Unlike THC, CBD has no psychoactive effects. There is no “high” or other mind-altering effects from CBD. On the contrary: CBD on its own has calming effects. That’s one of the reasons why it’s been identified as a useful supplement to treat insomnia and other sleep problems.
Is CBN psychoactive?
There isn’t currently a definitive answer to this question. Some research indicates CBN is non-psychoactive. Other research says CBN has very mild psychoactive effects. CBN appears to have potentially powerful sedative effects (more on that in a moment) which might explain at least in part the questions about its psychoactive properties.
How does CBN work in the body?
Cannabinoids exert a wide range of effects on the human body and mind. One way is through interaction with our own endocannabinoid system. This system is involved in regulating a range of our body’s physiological functioning and responses, including mood, pain perception, appetite, and cognitive functions. Cannabinoids also affect the activity of our hormones and neurotransmitters, and influence cell activity throughout the body in different ways.
CBN interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system, and it can affect the function of many hormones and neurotransmitters, which in turn influence mood, energy, cognition and focus, appetite, immune function, and pain.
Chemically similar to CBD, CBN has several of the same effects in the body, including relieving pain, reducing inflammation, and improving sleep.
Potential sleep and health benefits of CBN
To date, the research into the therapeutic benefits of CBN is very preliminary. But it’s starting to heat up, as interest in the health benefits of cannabinoids surges, and the popularity of CBD continues to grow. Let’s take a look at the areas of health and disease treatment and prevention where initial scientific research suggests CBN may make a difference.
CBN as a sedative. There are indications that CBN is a powerful sedative. Research in mice has shown that CBN can prolong sleep time. Some research indicates CBN’s sedative effects are amplified when combined with THC. But there is, at this point, a lack of scientific research into the sleep-inducing properties of CBN. I’m hopeful we’ll eventually see some additional scientific studies that explore the sleep-promoting capabilities of CBN.
CBN as a pain reliever. Research indicates that CBN has analgesic or pain-relieving capabilities in the body. CBN appears to influence the activity of neurons that are sensitive to capsaicin. (Capsaicin, you might know, is found in chili peppers, and an ingredient added to many topical pain relievers.) These capsaicin-sensitive nerves are important to the body’s pain signaling and perception.
CBN as an antibiotic. Research shows CBN has the ability to fight harmful bacteria. A 2008 study found CBN one of several cannabinoids (including CBD) effective in treating MRSA, a bacterial infection that is resistant to antibiotics.
CBN as an anti-inflammatory. Like CBD, CBN appears to have anti-inflammatory capabilities. Scientists working to better understand how the human endocannabinoid system affects the immune system. Cannabinoids, including CBN, are being examined for their possible therapeutic role in treating inflammatory disease.
CBN as an appetite stimulant. This is one area in which CBN behaves very differently from CBD. While CBD has appetite-suppressing effects, CBN appears to stimulate the appetite. This may make CBN a therapeutic option to help increase appetite in people who struggle to maintain an appetite because of another illness, such as cancer, or it’s treatment.
CBN as a cancer fighter. There’s also some promising preliminary evidence that CBN may have direct cancer-fighting capabilities. Cannabinoids including CBN are being studied for their ability to slow or stop the growth and spread of cancer cells. CBN was one of several cannabinoids found to reduce tumor size in one form of lung cancer.
CBN as an anti-convulsant. One of the most promising therapeutic uses for CBD is in epilepsy treatment, because of this cannabinoid’s strong anti-convulsant capabilities. Though it appears to be less strong than in CBD and THC, CBN has also been shown to function as an anticonvulsant.
CBN for bone healing and growth. Research indicates cannabinoids including CBN can help to stimulate the production of new bone, by activating stem cells to help make new bone cells. There are also indications that CBN and other cannabinoids may be helpful in healing fractured bone and helping reverse bone loss, making it of interest to scientists as a potential therapy for osteoporosis.
CBN as a glaucoma therapy. CBN is one of several cannabinoids that appear to be effective as a treatment for glaucoma, as several studies have shown.
Some CBN supplement products are available now, but this cannabinoid has yet to show up widely in supplement forms. There’s a lot more research to be done to understand how CBN affects the body, and ways it might be a safe, effective therapy for sleep problems and other health conditions.
Let’s plan to meet back here to talk more about the benefits of CBN as the science continues to come in.
Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM