What Is CBN? Uses, Benefits, and Effects

Cannabinol has intriguing properties that may assist in painful and inflammatory conditions, brain health, cancer, sleep, appetite, glaucoma, and more.

Dr. Abraham Benavides is an international cannabis science advisor, health coach, and full-tuition merit scholar of the GW School of Medicine. Abe pioneered and published first-author research with the Cannabis...

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Cannabis plant rich in CBN cannabinoid
Illustration: Layla Selestrini / CBD Oracle
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Cannabinol (CBN) is a common and weakly-psychoactive cannabinoid that is naturally present in cannabis and hemp plants.

Many potential therapeutic uses of CBN include pain relief, reducing inflammation, anticancer, and inducing sleep. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Therapeutic potential: CBN shows promise for reducing pain, inflammation, and promoting sleep, particularly when used in combination with THC. It may also have potential as an antioxidant, neuroprotector, and anticancer agent.
  • Side effects: CBN is generally well-tolerated and non-impairing with few known side effects, mainly mild and described as enjoyable. Existing studies are outdated, pointing to a need for updated research to clarify any adverse effects.
  • Legality and drug testing: Legally available when derived from hemp, CBN may still pose a risk in drug tests due to potential traces of THC in full-spectrum products. Using CBN isolate can help minimize this risk.

What Is Cannabinol (CBN)? 

Cannabinol (CBN) is a “big four” cannabinoid like THC, CBD, and CBG.

CBN constitutes between 0.1-1.6% of a cannabis leaf’s weight, increasing as it ages. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s relatively abundant compared to the other 150 minor cannabinoids. 

Intriguingly, CBN is a cannabinoid that cannabis plants don’t directly synthesize. Rather, CBN comes from breaking down (oxidizing) THC with UV light, heat, and air. Even under ideal storage conditions, THC slowly breaks down into CBN, which remains detectable for thousands of years. 

CBN is how we can prove THC use in ancient times, since it doesn’t come from anywhere else. Some plants other than Cannabis are capable of producing cannabinoids, but no others can make CBN. 

Because of this time stability, CBN was the first isolated cannabinoid in 1886. Afterward, Roger Adams first synthesized CBN in 1940. Since then, we’ve come up with many ways to fully or semisynthesize CBN.

CBN vs. THC: Key Differences

  • CBN is a degradation product of THC; both are in cannabis and hemp
  • THC is the main psychoactive cannabinoid and CBN is weakly psychoactive
  • THC produces stronger sedation than CBN alone, but they enhance each other

CBN vs. CBD: Key Differences

  • CBD is more abundant and available than CBN for retail distribution
  • CBD is non-impairing at any dose, and CBN may have mild psychoactive effects at high doses
  • CBN and THC may be better than CBD for glaucoma

Benefits and Effects

The benefits of CBN haven’t been rigorously tested enough, but so far limited research points to potential therapeutic use for:

Side Effects

There are very few studies that specifically look at the side effects of CBN. Most are outdated and note that CBN alone doesn’t cause any systemic effects, but in combination with THC, users predictably felt intoxicated.

While not very enlightening, it’s encouraging that people were once hooked up to a CBN IV, turned up to the max dose they could “comfortably tolerate”, and still rated it a “mild and enjoyable” experience. This is the root of thinking that CBN is weakly psychoactive but well-tolerated.

Most CBN studies occurred in the 70s and 80s, so it’s time to follow up on that research because no substance is truly free of side effects.


The amount of CBN you take should be based on your goals and individual needs.

To promote CBN for sleep, manufacturers will typically suggest doses of less than 5 mg. This is unlikely to be effective, as limited research has yet to confirm any efficacious dose of CBN for sleep. 

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean CBN can’t otherwise be used effectively, such as in high doses or better yet in combination with THC.

You should then consider a starting dose of at least 10-20 mg CBN, and keep working your way up by 5-10 mg at a time until desired effects are achieved. Be sure to account for any other cannabinoids present and consider a 1:1 ratio with THC, CBD, CBDA, or CBG to enhance the effects.

Psychotropic Effects

CBN may possibly get you high but this largely depends on the dose, route, and quality of the product.

Unfortunately, the psychotropic properties of CBN are still debated and unclear, thanks to outdated and flawed research. 

Today, we know that CBN binds to CB1 receptors about 10 times less than THC does. This creates the potential for weak psychotropic effects if taken in high enough doses. Akin to THC, oral CBN may be converted into 11-hydroxy-CBN which may be twice as active

CBN is generally non-impairing when taken in small-to-moderate doses (under 50 mg), which is usually the case for most people. Some consumers, including study participants, may note a “mild and enjoyable” experience, and also feel high if THC is knowingly or unwittingly present.

Drug Tests

CBN will likely not show up in a drug test if taken by itself as a CBN isolate.

However, most CBN products are full-spectrum formulations intended to be more naturally effective. Since hemp products including CBN-rich extracts may contain up to 0.3% THC, therein lies the risk of taking full-spectrum products.

If drug testing is a concern, choose to abstain or use CBN isolate products to minimize the chances of building up detectable THC metabolites in the body. CBN and metabolites aren’t specifically looked for. 

Still, even CBD metabolites stand a low chance (1-2%) of cross-reacting. It is possible that CBN, a natural THC derivative, may also share this risk, but that’s yet unconfirmed.


CBN has been slept on for the longest time of any cannabinoid, literally and figuratively. 

CBN could be used for a variety of conditions, but its efficacy for insomnia remains to be clearly demonstrated. CBN is often marketed for sleep, but in reality it seems to work best with THC.