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 TCH (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the best known and most well studied of the cannabinoids. But CBN was actually the first cannabinoid to be identified by scientists.
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 TCH converts to CBN. CBN can also be produced from THC that’s extracted from cannabis.
People sometimes are uncertain about cannabis-derived supplements because of the impression that they all cause a mind-altering high. They don’t. Here are some different characteristics of these very different cannabinoids.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) 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. TCH 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 any other mind-altering effect from CBD. On the contrary: CBD on its own has calming effects. 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.
Potential sleep and health benefits of CBN
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. Here are 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 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 its 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, 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.