a chemical drawing of CBN with a background of hemp plants

What is CBN: A Guide to Cannabinol

If you’re familiar with the cannabis plant, then chances are you know something about its two major cannabinoid compounds CBD and THC. But what consumers are just finding out is that there are well over 100 other cannabinoids in the plant. In fact, scientists are just now beginning research into cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, and CBN. These unique compounds are very different from each other, and can also impact people in different ways. In order to better understand cannabis, and CBD products in general, it helps to learn a little something about the different cannabinoids within the hemp and marijuana plants — two varieties of the cannabis plant

What Exactly is CBN?

A single green hemp leaf on a sky blue painted wooden surface.

Cannabinol, or CBN, comes about when THCA is broken down in the cannabis sativa plant. Interestingly, CBN was discovered decades before CBD or THC. In fact, the cannabinoid first showed up in 1896 in scientific literature, which means that it was the first cannabinoid discovered. CBD wasn’t discovered until 1940, and scientists first found out about THC in 1964. In order to understand CBN, however, you have to first know a little about THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. In its pre-decarboxylated state, THC is better known as THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. When THCA is exposed to air and light, it oxidizes and changes into cannabinolic acid, or CBNA. As time goes on, the sun’s UV rays heat up, or decarboxylate the CBNA, changing it into CBN. Typically, older cannabis plants have higher levels of CBN when compared to younger plants. 

What About Terpenes and CBN?

CBN, just like all cannabinoids, works in synergy with terpenes, which are other types of plant compounds. Terpenes are the reason why plants have the different scents that they do. When cannabinoids like CBN combine with terpenes, an entourage effect occurs. In this phenomenon, all of the cannabis plants’ compounds help to improve each other’s positive effects. 

How Does CBN Work in the Body?

A young man holding a CBD bottle and dropping CBD under his tongue

According to scientific research, CBN likes to bind with the CB1 receptor in the body’s endocannabinoid system. The CB1 receptors are located in the central nervous system. But, CBN also binds nicely to the body’s CB2 endocannabinoid receptors, which are located in the peripheral nervous system. Even though the bond between the CB2 receptors and CBN is fairly weak, the cannabinoid still binds to them nonetheless. CB2 receptors are responsible for impacting the digestive system, the immune system, and many others. 

What are the Possible Effects of CBN?

Because CBN is not hugely popular, you’ll be hard pressed to find a specific CBN oil. Based on animal studies, however, scientists note that CBN can cause relaxation, increased appetite, and possibly mild intoxication. Since there isn’t much human testimony regarding how CBN makes people feel, scientists are basing these effects off of the few animal studies that were conducted. 

How is CBN Different from CBD?

While CBD and CBN share some commonalities, they do have some notable differences to be aware of. 

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is one of the main cannabinoids in the cannabis plant and comes from the precursor CBDA. It’s non-intoxicating, and can be legally purchased throughout the United States as long as the products made from it are hemp-based and contain 0.3% or less THC. Unlike THC, the cannabinoid CBD will not cause a euphoric “high” sensation. Additionally, because the hemp plant naturally contains low levels of THC, there’s no way that anyone can get “high” from using hemp-derived CBD products.

Cannabinol, or CBN, is a less plentiful cannabinoid and it is derived from THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid). CBN interacts with the endocannabinoid system differently than CBD does, actually binding to the CB1 and CB2 receptors which are found in the central and peripheral nervous systems, respectively.

How is CBN Used?

There are a lot of overlaps when it comes to CBD and CBN, but there are also quite a few differences. One of the main differences is that CBD is directly produced by the hemp or cannabis plant, while CBN can only come about after a lengthy oxidation process. One other way that CBD and CBN differ is in the way they interact with THC. While CBD shortens and reduces the negative effects of THC, CBN is known to boost THC’s potency. Furthermore, CBD has not been found to bind to the CB1 or CB2 receptors while CBN can bind to both. 

Just like CBD, CBN can also be used in oil and in other types of products, if you can find them. Currently, most consumers can only find CBN oil, but even that may be difficult to find from reputable brands. If, however CBN becomes as popular as CBD, then it’s possible that other types of products, like capsules, will be offered. A big issue with CBN is that it only comes about through the aging of the cannabis plant. Because of this, some people worry that the plant has gone bad or has expired. Today, cannabis expiration dates are shrouded in mystery, so this concern about CBN and old cannabis may not be warranted. 

If you’re looking for products that contain CBN, then you might want to go with a full-spectrum or broad spectrum CBD product over a CBD isolate. Full-spectrum and broad spectrum products contain all of the terpenes, cannabinoids, and phytonutrients of the hemp plant. Conversely, broad spectrum oils are free from THC, as it has been filtered out. As for specific CBN products, reputable brands, like FAB CBD, are increasingly expanding their product lines as they see the need arise among their consumers. The good news is that more brands are beginning to offer products with isolated CBN as oils or gummies. 

How Does Full Spectrum Differ from Broad Spectrum?

The difference between full spectrum and broad spectrum lies in the incredible phenomenon called the entourage effect. This is when all the elements of the hemp plant like cannabinoids and terpenes are used together, at the same time. They have a synergistic quality when used in concert, and so full spectrum hemp products offer that extra oomph.

Broad spectrum is very similar, with the exception of one cannabinoid-- THC. Broad spectrum products have been made without any THC, but have kept the rest of the cannabinoid and terpene profile. There is still some interaction among the various hemp elements in a broad spectrum product, it's just not considered to be the ultimate level of synergy because THC is not present to play its part in the effect.

What are the Possible Side Effects of CBN?

Because products containing straight CBN aren’t that common, the potential side effects are not well known. Since CBN has not been studied that much, scientists don’t have many side effects on record, if any at all. But, if one were to take an educated guess on the cannabinoid’s side effects basing them on those of CBD’s, then it’s quite possible that CBN can cause:

  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Diarrhea

Can You Get High From CBN?

Even though CBD cannot cause people to feel “high,” CBN can because like THC, it also binds to the CB1 endocannabinoid receptor. 

Is CBN Legal?

The short answer is yes, CBN is legal. The long answer is that as long as the cannabinoid comes from industrial hemp, it’s considered legal. If, however, it’s labeled as an analog of THC, then it could be considered illegal. 

A person holds four boxes of CBD oil in front of a cerulean blue background


Closing Thoughts on CBN

Even though CBN was discovered quite some time ago, scientists are still learning what they can about this interesting cannabinoid. And sadly, because not many consumers know about CBN, there aren’t many products containing CBN in isolation. Therefore, if you want to experience the synergistic relationship of the hemp plant’s cannabinoids, terpenes, and phytonutrients, then you should buy a top-quality full-spectrum CBD product from a respected and trusted brand. If you do find dedicated CBN products, then you should do your research to make sure that you’re getting clean products from a trusted and reputable brand.