What is CBNA?

CBNA in cannabis plant
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CBNA (cannabinolic acid) is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid present in cannabis. It’s a natural derivative of THC and the precursor compound of cannabinol (CBN). A decarboxylation process converts CBNA to CBN. Decarboxylation refers to CBNA being exposed to heat and UV light over a period of time, which adds an extra carboxyl ring to its molecular structure, thus making it active. CBNA’s benefits are potentially similar to CBN, including appetite stimulation, anti-bacteria, anti-inflammation, glaucoma therapy, and cancer. However, neither CBNA nor CBN is a sedative on its own despite what many people might lead you to believe.

What is CBNA?

Definition: CBNA is short for cannabinolic acid and is one of over 140 similar chemical compounds present in varieties of cannabis, including hemp and marijuana. CBNA is a derivative of THC and an oxidative degradation product of THCA, meaning it converts from THCA when exposed to oxygen and UV light. CBNA is also the acid form and precursor molecule of cannabinol (CBN). CBNA converts into CBN via decarboxylation (exposure to heat and UV light). CBNA is non-intoxicating and won’t induce a euphoric high, nor will it impair your thinking or judgment. However, it might be a valuable appetite stimulator, anti-inflammatory, neuroprotector, and antibacterial agent, as well as a potential treatment for certain cancer types (colon cancer). 

Chemical formula: CBNA’s chemical formula is C22H26O4, meaning it consists of 22 carbon atoms, 26 hydrogen atoms, and 4 oxygen atoms. By comparison, THC has the chemical formula C21H30O2. Notice a slight difference? During the THC to CBN decarboxylation process, THC loses four hydrogen atoms. These four hydrogen atoms are what gives THC its “tetrahydro-” prefix.

CBNA chemical structure

Low yielding minor cannabinoid: Cannabis plants carry roughly 0.1-1.6% CBNA and CBN, making them both low yielding minor cannabinoids. The percentage of CBNA and CBN increases as cannabis plants begin to age, which is why mature cannabis plants carry the highest percentage of both cannabinoids. You can usually tell when a cannabis plant is carrying higher percentages of CBNA by the color of the trichomes — they turn from a milky crystal color to a nice shade of amber. As CBNA increases in the plant, THCA decreases. 

Discovery: While CBN was the first cannabinoid to be isolated from the cannabis plant back in the 1800s, CBNA wasn’t synthesized until the 20th century. Since then, there’s been some interest in how CBNA works inside your body, as we’ll explore below.

Research on CBNA

Research on CBNA is limited but no less impressive than CBN. In fact, CBNA could potentially be a better, more efficient anticancer treatment and antibacterial agent than CBN.

Medical marijuana plant

Is CBNA more effective than CBN for colon cancer?

Acidic cannabinoid precursors often get overlooked by their active cannabinoid counterparts. Just look at CBDA and CBD. The latter gets the most recognition while the former is cast out to the shadows — but not this time.

Researchers at Cannabics Pharmaceuticals’ High Throughput Screening (HTS) facility in Israel discovered CBN, CBC, CBNA, and CBCA have necrotic effects on human colon cancer cells. Necrosis refers to cancer cell death that promotes beneficial inflammatory and immune responses, thus preventing the spread of cancer. This discovery indicates the power of CBNA and CBCA is on par with their non-acidic brothers CBN and CBC. THCA is another acidic precursor molecule capable of preventing the proliferation of breast and prostate cancer. 

CBNA derivatives combat certain types of bacteria

We already know CBN is a potentially powerful antibacterial agent capable of tackling methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), but how does CBNA fare? It turns out CBNA derivatives can combat certain types of bacteria. 

According to one interesting research paper, CBNA derivatives exhibited decent antimycotic activity on par with CBG in combating MRSA. Researchers already consider CBG a powerful antibacterial agent that outcompetes conventional MRSA medications such as vancomycin and linezolid. 

CBNA can also successfully combat two other types of bacteria: Candida albicans and M. intracellulare. Candida albicans is a pathogenic yeast that commonly causes fungal infections, particularly in the genitals. M. intracellulare is a type of mycobacteria that primarily causes moderate-to-severe respiratory system infections.

Benefits: What is CBNA good for?

While research shows CBNA as an impressive antibacterial agent and treatment for colon cancer, very few other studies show what it’s capable of. CBN has taken center stage on the research front. 

However, since CBNA is similar to CBN, many assume its benefits are equally similar. Potential benefits of CBN include:

Dispelling the myth behind CBNA and CBN’s sedative superpowers

Let’s get this straight right off the bat: CBNA and CBN are not sedatives. Companies marketing CBNA and CBN products as sleep aids and or similar are misleading customers. While there’s some anecdotal evidence suggesting both cannabinoids can induce deep relaxation and sleep, there’s very little scientific evidence to support this.

Effects: How does CBNA make you feel?

CBNA in marijuana plant

The effects of pure isolated CBNA are somewhat unknown. There are very few studies showing how CBNA makes you feel. There are also no CBNA products on the market, meaning very few (if any) anecdotal stories exist. 

What we do know is CBNA does not activate cannabinoid 1 receptors the same way as CBN, meaning it’s non-intoxicating and won’t induce a euphoric high. It also won’t impair your thinking, judgment, or perception. 

We can also reasonably assume CBNA’s potential anticonvulsant effects means it’s a psychoactive substance capable of altering mood and behavior, albeit in a subtle and unnoticeable way. 

However, until we see research or anecdotal stories showing CBNA’s effects, guesswork is all we can do at this point.

Is CBNA legal?

Yes, CBNA is legal and is not listed under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA), provided it’s derived from legal hemp plants carrying no more than 0.3% THC. This legal status means you can use, purchase, possess, distribute, and produce hemp-derived CBNA (and CBN) without fear of penalty or prosecution. 

If you purchase CBNA derived from marijuana plants carrying more than 0.3% THC, it’s federally illegal under the CSA and punishable under federal law. However, 18 states permit the use of medical cannabis and 36 allow adult-use recreational cannabis, meaning marijuana-derived CBNA is legal in the majority of US states.

How does CBNA compare to other cannabinoids?

CBNA vs CBDA

  • CBNA and CBDA are both non-active acids and precursor molecules. As mentioned, CBNA converts into CBN via decarboxylation, while CBDA converts into CBD. 
  • CBDA and CBNA share some of the same benefits, including anti-cancer and antimicrobial. However, CBDA is a less potent antimicrobial than CBNA, especially for treating MRSA and other types of drug resistant bacteria. 
  • Like CBD, CBDA doesn’t bind to CB1 or CB2 receptors. It activates 5-HT1A (serotonin) receptors, which induces anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects, as well as promotes relaxation and calm. CBNA might activate CB1 receptors the same way as CBN, but isn’t known to affect serotonin. 

CBNA vs THCA

  • CBNA and THCA are closely linked. THCA, which is THC’s precursor molecule, converts to CBNA when exposed to air (oxidation) over a long period. This oxidation process causes THCA to lose its hydrogen atoms. 
  • Marijuana plants carry considerably more THCA than CBNA. The THCA percentage in marijuana is roughly 10-20%. On the other hand, hemp plants carry far less THCA than marijuana plants. 
  • Like CBNA but unlike THC, THCA does not bind to CB1 receptors, meaning it will not cause a euphoric, mind-altering high. However, THCA is a potent PPARy receptor agonist, resulting in powerful neuroprotection.

Bottom line

CBNA is an interesting cannabinoid. Not only is it a derivative of THC—the cannabis compound responsible for inducing the world-famous euphoric high—but it’s also a promising standalone cannabinoid with powerful anticancer and antibacterial qualities. 

Unfortunately, research into CBNA’s benefits is still in its infancy, though we believe it has additional therapeutic properties similar to CBN. We’re looking forward to seeing more studies on CBNA’s effects and benefits in the near future.

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