Medical cannabis offers benefits for many different ailments, and one of the predominant ones in medical literature is connected to sleep. Which part of the plant is responsible for this? It looks like cannabinoid CBN might be partially responsible, at least in conjunction with other elements of the plant. CBN sleep products are already becoming quite popular.
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What is CBN?
We’re all pretty aware of what the cannabis plant is at this point. We’re all pretty aware, whether we agree with the statements or not, that there is a growing body of medical research in support of the positive benefits of marijuana for a number of different medical issues, as well as for recreational purposes. By now, most of us are even aware that the US designates higher-THC cannabis as marijuana, and lower-THC cannabis as hemp, with a cutoff line at .3% THC to make the designation.
When looking into the plant closer, we can designate different effects of the plant to different molecules like THC, CBD, and limonene. We know there are cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, and other plant constituents, some of which are useful, and some of which we aren’t as concerned with. THC, of course, is the main psychoactive component, with a Schedule I spot in the Controlled Substances list of the US, while also being in Schedule I of both the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and the Convention on Psychotropic Substances.
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THC isn’t the only psychoactive compound though. Not only does delta-9 THC oxidize to form another version of THC called delta-8, but there are other cannabinoids – albeit showing up in very small quantities – that also have psychoactive properties, and one of these is CBN, or cannabinol.
CBN was the first cannabinoid of the cannabis plant to be isolated, and technically way before any other cannabinoid. In 1899 Thomas Wood, W.T. Spivey and Thomas Easterfield obtained the molecule from a sample of charas, which is a form of cannabis resin. They used alcohol to extract from the charas, and then ran the tincture through a fractional distillation process to produce a viscous oil. From here, they performed the chemical reaction acetylation to discover CBN. In the 1930’s, Robert S. Cahn was the first person to figure out its structure – giving it the name cannabinol, with the first synthesis done in the early 1940s by Roger Adams.
Cannabinol is a cannabinoid that is formed when the precursor acid to THC – THCA, is exposed to air and sunlight over time. THCA converts to cannabinolic acid (CBNA), which further decarboxylates (loses a carboxyl group – COOH) to form CBN. For this reason, CBN is more likely to be found in aged plants than fresh ones. CBN is much more mildly psychoactive than THC with some researchers putting it at 4/10 the strength, and the compound prefers CB2 receptors to CB1 receptors in the brain. While both THC and CBN activate the CB1 and CB2 receptors, there is a fundamental difference between the cannabinoids.
CBN vs delta THCs
CBN and tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) both activate CB receptors in the brain, both have pscyhaoactive effects, and are both cannabinoids. But there is a fundamental difference which comes down to structure. The thing that delta-8, delta-9, and delta-10 THCs all have in common is that they have the same chemical structure of C21H30O2. They are isomers of each other because this chemical structure stays the same, with the only variation being in the placement of a double carbon bond. In delta-8 THC its on the 8th carbon atom in the chain, for delta-9 on the 9th, and for delta-10 on the 10th.
On the other hand, CBN has this chemical structure: C21H26O2, which is different than tetrahydrocannabinols. Unlike tetrahydrocannabinols which are isomers of each other, CBN has no stereoisomers or geometric isomers, meaning it doesn’t share its chemical structure with another molecule that has the same number of atoms of each element, but different configurations. So, whereas several different tetrahydrocannabinols have been found, only one CBN exists.
CBN isn’t specifically listed in the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, or the Convention on Psychotropic Substances, like THC is. This means that all signing countries of these conventions are not bound by international law to regulate CBN. This is in direct contrast to THC which is listed in both treaties. In the US, CBN is illegal under federal law just like THC. This covers its use medically as well as for use in food products or as additives. CBN is not specifically named in the DEA Controlled Substances list, but it remains a Schedule I controlled substance.
The sale of CBN products, and having possession of them is prosecutable by the Federal Analogue Act. CBN is an analogue of THC because the chemical structure is nearly the same, with also very similar pharmacological and medical properties. This is a debatable point as no clarification has been made about CBN in the Interim Final Rule by the DEA, or the Final Rule by the USDA.
CBN and sleep
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The first thing to understand when looking into CBN sleep products, is that cannabinol has not been studied intensely. Though its easy to believe that claims about it have merit since we know cannabis is associated with lots of medical benefits, the jury is most definitely still out as to the exact effects of CBN. However, one of the most spoken about benefits of CBN, is for sleep. This, unfortunately has not really been medically verified, and requires more study.
In fact, two of the only studies that point in the direction of CBN being useful for sleep have to do with a combination of THC and CBN. In this 1975 study Effects of delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabinol in man, there was found a possible synergistic effect with delta-9 THC in five men. The study investigators made this statement about delta-9 and CBN being used in tandem:
“With combined drug treatment, volunteers reported feeling more drugged, drunk, dizzy, and drowsy than under the delta9-THC condition alone… It appears that CBN increases the effect of delta9-THC on some aspects of physiological and psychological processes, but that these effects are small and cannot account for the greater potency which has been reported when plant material is used.”
This other study: Pharmacologic interaction between cannabinol and delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol from 1975 also looked at the interaction between delta-9 and CBN in mice, rats and rabbits. It found CBN to be less potent than delta-9, but otherwise mimicking delta-9 effects. According to the study authors: “When the mixture delta9-THC + CBN was used, a synergistic effect occurred on most of the depressant effects.”
Apart from this, there haven’t been other studies that specifically identify CBN as a sleep agent. The thing is, when looking at overall cannabis research, there are often tons of contradicting study articles, with information gained over time that better elucidates what starts off as confusing and inconsistent. So ruling out CBN is also just as silly at this point. There does seem to be plenty of anecdotal evidence backing up this property…which is also the way cannabis as a medicine started to become big – through personal experiences being shared. These reddit posts exemplify that people do seem to be getting a sedative effect (although whether these are paid-for posts, or confused users can’t be said).
CBN sleep products
In the tradition of waiting for more information before making judgements, and in trying new products to see what can work, here are some of the CBN products on the market that can be tried for help with sleep. All of these options are combinations including CBN.
Gossamer puts out Dusk, a cannabinoid sleep aid with a variety of ingredients in each one-ounce bottle, like 300mg of full spectrum CBD, CBN in high levels, and terpenes: Myrcene, B-Caryophyllene, Linalool, and Citral. This product is sourced from pesticide and GMO-free hemp, and costs $65 ($58.50 with subscription).
Another option is Dr. Dabbs Everyday CBD Premium Nighttime CBD Gummy’s with 300mg of CBD and 30mg of CBN. This product is sourced from 100% USDA certified organic hemp, comes in a delicious blue-raspberry flavor, and contains 30 gummies in a package. Each package costs $65.
Yet another possibility includes delta-8 THC, an isomer of delta-9, which has already been shown to help with sleep, as well as anxiety. Whereas delta-9 can produce anxiety in users, delta-8 is not known for this. The company VIIA Premium Hemp Products puts out its Delta 8 + CBN – Sleep Vape Cartridge. This sleep-inducing combination contains a total of 1,000mg of cannabis constituents in this breakdown: 500mg delta-8 THC, 250mg CBN, 200mg of CBC, CBG, and CBD, with 50mg in terpenes. Each one-gram cart costs $40.
CBN Sleep Products – Conclusion
It’s hard to know the exact effects of CBN because it’s way too early in the research cycle to say. But, as mentioned, that doesn’t rule anything out, and sometimes the best way of figuring out which part of a plant like cannabis is good for what, is to just give different things a try. After all, not every product works the same way for everyone, and it takes time to figure these things out. So it doesn’t make sense at this point to rule out CBN sleep products at all. Especially when combined with other cannabinoids and terpenes. We’ll know way more about it in the next few years, no doubt.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a doctor, lawyer, or businessperson. All information in my articles is sourced and referenced, and all opinions stated are mine. I am not giving anyone advice, and though I am more than happy to discuss topics, should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a relevant professional.