CBN 101: A Beginner’s Guide to This Promising Minor Cannabinoid

CBN is an abbreviation for cannabinol. It’s one of over 100 separate phytocannabinoids found in varieties of cannabis.

You’ve probably already heard of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). They’re the most common and popular phytocannabinoids in varieties of cannabis — that’s a given.

But what about the other phytocannabinoids? Why don’t they receive an equal amount of love?

Well, to be honest, it’s pretty complicated and deserves a better explanation than any I could possibly give right now, but let’s just say CBD and THC have taken the spotlight for far too long. 
It’s time for the others to get some well-deserved recognition — cannabinol (CBN) in particular. CBN has significant pharmacological activities, partly due to interacting with THC, that supports and improves bioactivity throughout your nervous system, from your heart to your head. It’s good stuff.

At a glance: What is Cannabinol (CBN)?

  • It is one of over 100 separate cannabinoids found in varieties of cannabis
  • CBN is known for its sedative, anti-convulsant, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, and anti-MRSA properties
  • It’s a rare or minor phytocannabinoid which makes up around 0.3-1% of the plant (depending on strain)
  • Studies into CBN aren’t as common as CBD or THC — it does possess quite a few unique qualities, however
  • It’s non-intoxicating but is said to provide sedation in conjunction with THC
  • Relative to THC, CBN holds about ¼ of the potency
  • It’s federally legal in the US
  • It won’t make you fail a drug test — only THC will

If you’ve never heard of CBN before, don’t worry. It’s quite under-represented in the CBD industry. In fact, it’s taken over 100 years for people to finally take notice of this surprisingly beneficial phytocannabinoid.

Luckily for you, I’ve compiled everything you need to know about CBN. 

So, let me take you on a journey of discovery starting with what this phytocannabinoid is, how it was discovered, and what it can ultimately do for you, your mind, and your body.

CBN vs. CBD vs. THC

CBN vs. CBD
Cannabinol (CBN)Cannabidiol (CBD)
Federally legalFederally legal
Non-psychotropic (no high)Non-psychotropic (no high)
Non-intoxicatingNon-intoxicating
Found in old and aged varieties of cannabisFound in young and old varieties of cannabis
CBN is the product of the oxidation and decomposition of THCA, meaning THCA turns into CBN when exposed to air, light, and heatCBD (and CBDA) first originates from cannabigerol (CBG)
CBN is said to enhance THC’s intoxicating effectsCBD is known to inhibit (and balance) THC’s intoxicating effects

CBN vs. THC
Cannabinol (CBN)Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)
Federally legalLegal in some states. Classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA
Non-psychotropic (no high)Psychotropic (gets you high)
Found primarily in old and aged varieties of cannabisFound in young and old varieties of cannabis
Marijuana & hemp plants typically contain less than 1% CBNHemp plants generally contain trace amounts of THC (<0.3%). Marijuana plants, on the other hand, contain much more

What is CBN (Cannabinol)?

CBN is an abbreviation for cannabinol. It’s one of over 100 separate phytocannabinoids found in varieties of cannabis. It’s often referred to as a minor or rare cannabinoid because it makes up about 1% of the entire cannabis plant. 

Many believe CBN simply comes from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but this explanation is a little too simplified. CBN formation actually goes through two stages. 

First, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), which is THC’s precursor acid, turns into cannabinolic acid (CBNA) when the plant ages and is exposed to air. CBNA then turns into CBN when exposed to heat or light (e.g. sunlight or artificial UV light). 

In other words, CBN is the direct result of THCA degradation via environmental factors — it isn’t formed by the plant’s genetics. This is the primary reason why CBN is most abundant in older, more mature plants that have been exposed to the elements for longer periods of time. 

Here’s a fun fact. An ancient Chinese grave dating back well over 2700 years was excavated over ten years ago. Around this grave were perfectly-preserved varieties of cannabis. A multidisciplinary team looked into the plants and found very high levels of CBN due to the oxidation and degradation of its THC content over the course of thousands of years. 

CBN was the first cannabinoid to be isolated from cannabis

Just because CBD and THC are the most recognized and studied cannabinoids found in varieties of cannabis doesn’t mean they’re the OGs. You’ll actually be surprised to learn CBN was the first-ever cannabinoid to be isolated from varieties of cannabis.

Way back in 1896, CBN was first discovered in the resin liquid of Indian hemp. However, it wasn’t until 1932 that esteemed British chemist R.S. Cahn defined its chemical structure, which led to its chemical synthesis and official discovery in 1940. 

Over the next two decades following its discovery, it was a common belief that CBN was the primary intoxicating cannabinoid in varieties of cannabis. This is quite understandable, to be honest, considering CBN originates from THCA. However, this belief was dispelled by Israeli researchers in the 1960s after the discovery and isolation of THC.

Despite limited research, CBN is still beneficial in some areas 

CBN research isn’t quite as substantial as other major cannabinoids present in varieties of cannabis — CBD and THC have taken the spotlight here. In fact, very little is known about CBN. So much more needs to be done to know exactly how this phytocannabinoid works and what it can really do for you.

However, this isn’t to say it’s an enigma. There are studies out there, some dating as far back as the 1970s. 

Let’s take a look at CBN’s studies.

CBN as an effective sedative (when used with THC)

The first-ever study into the effects of CBN dates back to 1975. It’s not really a broad study, however. Only five test subjects were used and CBN was used alongside THC. The test subjects reported increased feelings of dizziness, drowsiness, and inebriation after consuming CBN and THC in combination. This led researchers to believe CBN heightens THC’s intoxicating effects. 

Later in 2017, Steep Hill Laboratories discovered the optimal CBN dosage for sedation equal to diazepam. Researchers at the lab believed roughly 2.5-5 mg of CBN is equivalent to 5-10 mg of diazepam. Therefore, half the amount of CBN is needed to produce pharmaceutical levels of sedation. Crazy. 

It could also potentially be a solid pain-reliever (when used with CBD)

The combination of CBD (1:1 mg/ml) and CBN (5:1 mg/mL) as a pain-reliever in rodent test subjects was conducted in 2019 with some pretty promising results. The rodents were injected with the CBD/CBN blend via injections into the muscles with noticeably positive effects. 

The researchers concluded that both these cannabinoids work together very well and could be a sound treatment for chronic muscle pain and fibromyalgia. 

It’s worth noting, however, that these pain-relieving qualities worked using injections directly into the muscles. No tests were conducted using oral or topical application. The overall efficacy via these application methods is still relatively undetermined at a scientific level. 

Anti-inflammatory (for skin conditions and minor burns)

CBN’s anti-inflammatory potential has been overshadowed by CBD and THC in terms of both scientific studies and anecdotal evidence. However, a 2009 review of cannabinoids as novel anti-inflammatory drugs revealed CBN to be a promising treatment for inflammatory conditions such as allergic asthma, which can leave sufferers unable to breathe during allergy season(s). 

Combats skin conditions (amazing for your skin)

CBN is also known to soothe inflammation caused by skin conditions such as psoriasis, as well as other skin conditions if combined with other beneficial cannabinoids — a full-spectrum CBD topical with CBN in the extract is perfect here, especially if you’re susceptible to skin complaints. 

Helps soothe skin burns (by lowering your body temperature)

CBN is known to have a hypothermic effect that lowers your body’s core temperature. If used in a topical product, it may have the ability to cool your skin much like aloe vera — this is especially true if CBN is used in conjunction with other cannabinoids such as CBD. I recommend only using CBN/CBD products for mild burns. 

Anti-convulsant (effective against epilepsy-related seizures)

CBN (alongside CBD and CBDV) is proven to be an effective anti-convulsant. Researchers believe CBN is particularly useful at decreasing the frequency and intensity of epilepsy-related seizures by increasing cellular uptake of anandamide

Encourages bone tissue growth 

One of the lesser-known benefits of CBN consumption is its ability to encourage bone tissue growth by way of “mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) recruitment in whole bone marrow”, resulting in increased bone formation. This phenomenon, in turn, has the potential to be a solid treatment for fractured or broken bones. 

So, how can CBN oil help you?

If we look at the benefits I’ve outlined above, CBN oil has shown promise as a potential treatment for pain and inflammation. Athletes and those who work in physically strenuous occupations should definitely look into consuming CBN as part of their health and wellbeing regime. 

In fact, because CBN works well alongside both CBD and THC, I recommend using a CBN oil with a full-spectrum CBD oil. You’ll get a nice top up of CBN and CBD with trace amounts of THC (as well as any other phytocannabinoids in the extract). However, I wouldn’t recommend using full-spectrum CBD oil if you’re in an occupation or sport that requires regular drug testing — even trace amounts of THC have been known to show up on these tests. 

If this is the case for you, either use CBN oil alone or mix it with a broad-spectrum CBD oil containing no THC in it whatsoever. 

If you suffer from insomnia or any other sleep-related condition, CBN oil may also be a pretty solid choice, particularly if pain and inflammation keep you awake at night. The supposed sedation effects after CBN consumption could very well be a useful addition to your bedtime routine. 

Again, I would personally mix CBN oil with another cannabis-derived product — maybe a cannabis oil with an 8:1 CBD:THC ratio. Not too strong for beginners but enough to help you fall asleep at night. Stay away from anything stronger than this unless you’re a veteran marijuana/THC user, in which case I’d recommend a 1:1 CBD:THC ratio. This ratio is often used by beginners to start them off on the THC path but it’s pretty useful for most users before bed. Nice and balanced without too much euphoria. 

CBN’s side-effects aren’t life-threatening

All cannabinoids have side-effects depending on how much you choose to consume during the day or night. However, because CBN does have some sedative-like effects (especially in combination with THC), the side-effects may be more pronounced e.g. drowsiness and lightheadedness. 

CBN side-effects:

  • Tiredness/mild fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Lightheadedness/dizziness
  • Appetite loss
  • Dry mouth 

Because CBN has some sedative-like effects, particularly in combination with THC, some of the side-effects may be more pronounced e.g. tiredness, lightheadedness, and dizziness. 

To counteract this, I recommend you start slow, dose your CBN carefully, and don’t overdo it. My suggestion in terms of dosing is two small drops in the morning and again in the evening on a weekend where you have no prior commitments. You certainly don’t want to go to work feeling sleepy, unable to concentrate properly, and then have to explain to your boss (who knows nothing about cannabis) why you’re not performing to an appropriate standard.  

CBN oil won’t get you high (but can be quite sedating with THC)

Despite being mildly psychoactive, CBN will not get you high. It’s primarily non-intoxicating but does have sedative-like effects when ingested alongside THC. I liken CBN to CBD more than I do any other cannabinoid in terms of how it makes me feel. I personally experience relaxation and tranquility after I’ve taken a small dose of CBN oil with a full-spectrum CBD oil. 

If you’re looking to actually get high, I don’t recommend CBN oil on its own — in fact, I don’t recommend CBN oil at all. You’re better off sticking to marijuana flowers (specifically Indica strains) that have been exposed to UV light and heat for longer periods of time. 

If in doubt, always check in with your local cannabis dispensary and ask them about certain CBN-heavy marijuana strains. They’ll point you in the right direction. 

CBN interacts with your endocannabinoid system (ECS)

CBN interacts with your endocannabinoid system (ECS). In fact, CBN is similar to THC insofar as it interacts with both your CB1 and CB2 receptors (more so your CB2 receptors). However, CBN doesn’t have as much of an affinity with binding to these receptors as THC, which makes it a “partial agonist”. This explains why CBN is only mildly-psychoactive and not intoxicating. 

CBN is also known as a vanilloid receptor 2 (TRPV2) agonist. This attachment to TRPV2 provides pain-relief, which is very helpful if you’re suffering from pain-related (especially burns) symptoms.

CBN is perfectly legal on a federal level under the Agricultural Improvement Act 2018 (otherwise known as the 2018 Farm Bill). It can be extracted and produced lawfully from hemp plants that contain <0.3% THC. Manufacturers and brands cannot link it to any health claims, however. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are both pretty hot on this. In fact, all cannabinoids, be it CBD, THC, CBC, etc, cannot be linked to any medical health claims. 

Right now, CBN isn’t considered a controlled substance. However, don’t be surprised if it comes under some scrutiny in the future, especially because it’s closely linked to THC. 

Beyond US law, CBN isn’t included in the U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, nor is it controlled by any other international treaty. In other words, CBN is a bit of a maverick and is legal under international law. 

CBN oil won’t make you fail a drug test (but there’s more to it than that)

Put simply, CBN will not cause you to fail a drug test. Drug tests do not check for CBN. Instead, they’ll be looking for THC, which is (if you don’t already know) the intoxicating phytocannabinoid found in varieties of cannabis (including hemp). The THC content in your product is what you have to watch out for.

For instance, you’ve recently bought a CBN oil. Cool. Nice work. It’s a great product and I’m happy you’re giving it a go. However, don’t consume it yet — and certainly don’t consume it in conjunction with any other cannabis-derived products either. 

Look on the label, ingredients list, or Certificate of Analysis (COA) to see if there’s any THC contained in what you’re about to consume. 

If there is, be cautious. THC can stay in your system for a long time — more so if you’re a long-term user of THC. If you’re a short-term user of THC, don’t breathe a huge sigh of relief just yet. You should assume it stays in your system for at least 60 days even if it’s your first or second-time consuming THC.

Let’s take a look at the length of time THC stays in your system and how much THC is roughly needed to show up on a drug test:

Length of time THC stays in your system:

  • Hair – at least 60 days
  • Urine – at least 70 days
  • Blood – at least 7 days
  • Saliva – at least 7 days

How much THC is needed to show up on a drug test:

  • Hair – No cutoff limit
  • Urine  – 50 nanograms per milliliter 
  • Blood  – 1, 2, and 5 nanograms per milliliter
  • Saliva – 4 nanograms per milliliter

Again, I want to emphasize the previous point I made above. You should expect THC to be detectable for up to 60 days irrespective of whether you’re a short or long-term user. If you’re a beginner, you may pass it much earlier than 60 days but don’t always count on it. If you have a drug test coming up, don’t consume any THC. 

CBN products are comparatively rare compared to CBD and THC oil

I hate to be the bearer of bad news for all of you CBN enthusiasts, but CBN oil isn’t as common as, say, CBD or THC oil. This is changing, however, as more of the spotlight is placed on this cannabinoid. 

The problem with making CBN oils (and other products) is down to cost and not being economically viable in terms of production and extraction. Because CBN is only ever really found in trace amounts, it’s incredibly expensive to extract. It requires a large number of cannabis plants and a meticulous extraction process. Many pharmaceutical companies actually create synthetic CBN via biosynthesis or chemical synthesis to counteract the costs.

This is why many CBN oils are a 1:1 mix of CBD and CBN. There are few (if any) pure CBN oils on the market. It’s too expensive to produce. If you’re on the lookout for CBN oil, be aware that most will be mixed with other cannabinoids. 

CBD company 3chi, for example, has created a 250 mg broad-spectrum 1:1 CBN/CBD oil with 16.7 mg CBN/mL & 16.7 mg CBD/mL. Likewise, Swiss CBD company Cibdol has manufactured its CBN Oil with 2.5% CBN & 2.5% CBD in the formula.

Overall, your best bet is to just purchase a good quality full-spectrum CBD oil, particularly if you’re in a bit of a bind. To determine its quality, always check the product’s COA. A COA will show how much CBN is in the extract/product, as well as any other beneficial cannabinoids, terpenoids, and flavonoids. 

If you’re stuck on where to find a COA, always check the product page first — that’s where you typically find them. If there isn’t a link to the COA there, there’s usually a link to a dedicated COA page on the homepage. Failing that, you have every right to request it from a customer service representative. If they don’t send one over, I recommend finding a new company to purchase from.