Did you know that cannabinol, or CBN, is the most prevalent cannabinoid in cannabis, after THC? You may not have heard of it before, but this under-the-radar cannabinoid has some potentially impressive benefits that set it apart from THC and CBD, though it is far less utilised and studied. In this article, we'll take a closer look at cannabinol and how it compares to the cannabinoid that so often steals the limelight - CBD.
What is Cannabinol (CBN)?
We so often hear of the benefits of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) oil that it’s easy to forget there are over 100 different cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, each with their own structure, which potentially carry their own benefits to health and wellbeing.
Cannabinol (CBN) is just one of those cannabinoids. It was, in fact, the first cannabinoid to be isolated and purified in 1940. Cannabinol forms when THC is exposed to light, heat or air and degrades. As a result, cannabis plants with higher levels of CBN tend to be of the mature kind. Although a derivative of THC, CBN is only very mildly psychoactive.
What’s the Difference Between CBN and CBD?
Both CBN and CBD interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, stimulating CB1 and CB2 receptors and influencing the body’s response to external and internal stimuli. Although similar in molecular structure, CBN and CBD are quite different. These differences include:
- CBN derives directly from THC.
Unlike CBD, CBN is not formed by the metabolism of the cannabis plant. Instead, it is a product of oxidation and is typically produced when cannabis is aged and dried following the degradation of THC.
- CBN is a mild psychotropic.
While CBD does not cause any intoxicating effects, CBN is very weakly psychotropic. It is unlikely to produce the same ‘high’ associated with cannabis use, however; this is an effect caused by potent THC.
- CBN is not legal in the UK.
CBN, unlike CBD, is currently regulated as a classified substance in the UK and many countries. This is due to its weak psychoactive effects (although it is mild in comparison with the intoxicating effects of THC).
- There is more extensive scientific research that supports the wellbeing benefits of CBD.
CBD has received far more attention than CBN and more research has been carried out on the activity and benefits of the popular cannabinoid. As a result, an abundance of emerging evidence supports the claims of CBD’s benefits for wellbeing and CBD products are popular in mainstream retail. By contrast, research into CBN is extremely limited. That’s not to say that cannabinol doesn’t hold its own secrets and potential uses, it is simply that the cannabinoid has received far less focus to date.
- In the UK, a CBD product has been approved for use.
In October 2019, a CBD product known as Epidyolex® was approved for use in the UK. Epidyolex® can be prescribed to help minimise seizures triggered by a certain type of epilepsy. The product has also been officially approved in the US by the FDA. No CBN products are currently approved for use in the UK.
Potential Benefits of CBN
CBN studies, particularly human-based clinical research, are very limited. However, preclinical trials suggest that CBN may offer some benefits to health and wellness.
- Chronic Pain Relief
A 2019 animal-based study found that CBN, when combined with CBD, provided relief from chronic muscle pain disorders such as fibromyalgia (which causes pain across the body) in rats, without causing any side effects. Human-based studies have yet to investigate this theory.
The combined therapeutic effects of CBN and CBD may be a result of the entourage effect, which suggests that cannabinoids offer enhanced therapeutic value when consumed together.
- Antibacterial Properties
CBN shows potential in its ability in helping fight off bacterial infections. It was laboratory tested on certain MRSA bacteria strains that showed resistance to traditional antibiotics and showed promise as a potent antibacterial agent. More research is required to test this theory.
- Treatment of Epidermolysis Bullosa
CBN has been studied as a topical treatment for a rare condition that causes blistering of the skin. Clinical trials are ongoing and to date, results suggest that CBN may have effective anti-inflammatory properties which could help wound healing with very few side effects.
Safety and Side Effects
Without many human clinical trials, it’s not possible to conclude exactly how CBN affects the body. It does appear to be well-tolerated, though there is a risk of drowsiness, especially when consumed with CBD. CBN could also lead to a positive drug test result and may even increase the appearance of THC (an ‘additive effect’). So, the presence of CBN may increase originally undetectable concentrations of THC to a level which triggers a positive result.
To experience the benefits of a broad range of cannabinoids without the risk of failing a drug test, we recommend using a broad-spectrum CBD. This contains multiple cannabinoids, terpenes and flavonoids, but THC has been removed. Alternatively, CBD isolate products contain pure CBD and will not trigger a positive drug test result.
Could CBN Be Legalised in the UK?
Both THC and CBN are still against the law in the UK, but the arguments to keep cannabis criminalised are rapidly weakening as the public health benefits of legalisation become more apparent. Progress is being made and attitudes are changing, with more people understanding the therapeutic potential of cannabis. As other countries relax their laws, this trend looks set to continue. In the UK, sweeping reforms are unlikely right now due to political instability; however, this does not change the fact that there is a growing case for legalisation.
The Bottom Line
Initial studies certainly suggest that CBN may provide analgesic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. While we can’t make any firm clinical conclusions yet until there are more human-based studies, we expect to see a lot more of this under-the-radar cannabinoid in future years.