How CBN Works: What We Know About the Not-So-New Cannabinoid

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Unmasking the Therapeutic Potential of CBN

We’ve all heard of THC and CBD. But there’s another cannabinoid finally stepping into the spotlight called cannabinol (CBN) that has for far too long been under-reported.

There are over 100 chemically distinct phytocannabinoids or naturally occurring cannabinoids, that can be isolated in the C. sativa plant and C. sativa indica subspecies. Yet, they’re often grouped together so their unique properties and therapeutic significance go unsung. CBN is one of these largely overlooked phytocannabinoids that has promising potential on various aspects of the body and brain.


What is CBN?

CBN organically forms much, MUCH slower than CBD and THC, and in much smaller amounts. CBN is actually a derivatve of THC. As cannabis ages and degrades, tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THC-A) oxidizes to create CBN-A. The further oxidation and decarboxylation of CBN-A then give way to CBN.

So, scientifically speaking, CBN is a “non-enzymatic oxidative byproduct” of THC. In other words, CBN is essentially “matured” THC that has lost its bold psychotropic properties but retained its symptomatic health benefits.

CBN has been studied by scientists and the medical community for several decades. But research is still in its preliminary phase because of the legal gray area surrounding the status of marijuana and limited CBN research dollars.

Based on what we know, CBN is hailed for its role in facilitating a restful sleep and helping folks stay alert throughout the day. CBN may also be a potent immunosuppressive, anti-inflammatory, anticonvulsant, and appetite stimulant, in addition to demonstrating analgesic, antibacterial, and hypothermic properties. We’ll dig into the details in a minute.


Are CBN Benefits Psychotropic or Mind-Altering?

Most studies indicate that CBN is a non-psychotropic cannabinoid, meaning it doesn’t alter your mood or immediate mental state. Yet others suggest CBN may be a mild or weak psychoactive. A 2008 British Journal of Anaesthesia report provides some insight into this discrepancy. BJA reports that CBN is 90% less psychoactive than THC because of CBN's carbon double-bonds.

And when CBN is combined with CBD, the psychoactivity of CBN is eliminated altogether. So it’s highly unlikely that you’ll experience the same high or euphoric feeling that THC temporarily induces when using CBN.

How is CBN Different from THC and CBD?

Phytocannabinoids like CBN, CBD and THC are similar to our brain’s endocannabinoids. But they each interact with our cannabinoid receptors in diverse ways to produce varying effects on our physiological and cognitive processes. CBN is unique in that it modulates the nervous system, immune system, digestive system, AND skeletal system in such complex ways to awaken an assortment of health benefits.

As a largely non-psychotropic descendant of THC, some effects of CBN also mirror those of THC. Like THC, CBN is a potential therapeutic target in the treatment of glaucoma and chronic pain. CBN and THC also perform as strong anticonvulsants, sedatives, sleep aids, and appetite stimulants for people struggling from an appetite suppressing illness or treatment.

Although CBN is a completely different compound than CBD, CBN is chemically similar to CBD. Some even consider the two to be “cousins”. So it’s no surprise that many studies have found similarities between the health benefits of CBN and CBD.

For example, both CBN and CBD play a role in reducing pain, chronic inflammation and certain bacteria. They also both act as a sedative, sleep aid, anticonvulsant, and treatment for bone fractures. But CBN and CBD have opposite effects on appetite and different cancer-fighting capabilities, which we’ll discuss momentarily.

How Does CBN Work?

CBN mainly binds to CB2 cannabinoid receptors distributed throughout the body. Our CB2 receptor proteins are most highly expressed in our immune tissues and blood cell subpopulations, allowing them to modulate immune function and provide anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer potential. CBN has minimal affinity for CB1 receptors, which may explain why CBN doesn’t produce THC-like effects on the psyche.

CBN works synergistically with other cannabinoids, so it’s more effective when combined with THC and/or CBD. For example, an investigation of the antibacterial profile of the combination of CBN, THC, CBD, CBG, and CBC cannabinoids concluded that consuming these activated compounds together delivers potent antibacterial activity (i.e. helps to resist and control bacteria).

And when CBN is combined with THC, users may experience greater sedation. CBN may also be more effective when smoked rather than when CBN is extracted and used for orally.

CBN Effects & Health Benefits

  • CBN for Sleep and Alertness

CBN is a robust sleep aid, sedative, and insomnia treatment. In fact, CBN may be the strongest sedative out of all the cannabinoids. CBN helps to initiate sleep onset and prolong sleep times while minimizing drowsiness and promoting wakefulness during the day.

Considering one in four Americans battle acute insomnia lasting days or weeks year after year, CBN may hold the key to treatment by helping us naturally lull to sleep and recover sustained sleep. Patients report feeling refreshed in the morning and energized throughout the day when using CBN. However, more research focusing on the specific mechanisms by which CBN aids sleep and wakefulness is needed.

  • CBN for Inflammation & Immunosuppression

An abundance of research points to the anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive benefits of CBN. In particular, a growing body of literature highlights the role of CBN in reducing chronic inflammation caused by arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and many other conditions.

CBN may be a powerful immunosuppressive agent or “anti-rejection” medication by blocking the production of the IL-2 signaling molecule in the immune system, and by inhibiting nuclear factor of activated T-cells and proteins. CBN may also diminish the binding activity in two critical transcription factor families in the immune system, which limits proinflammatory immune responses to foreign agents in the body.

Because of its anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive behavior, CBN may be an up-and-coming solution to fight certain types of cancer, for example, and autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and the skin regeneration condition psoriasis.

  • CBN for Glaucoma

CBN functions as a "vasorelaxant", meaning it relaxes blood vessel walls to reduce blood pressure and increase blood flow to the eyes. Because of its ability to relieve intraocular eye pressure and inflammation, initial reports indicate CBN may be helpful in the treatment of glaucoma.

  • CBN for Pain Relief

CBN may provide mild analgesic properties through the activation of CB2 receptors. CB2 receptors are known to modulate acute pain, inflammatory pain, and chronic pain such as muscle-spasm-related pain. CB2 receptors also play a role in mitigating pain from surgery, cancer treatment, and nerve injury. CBN is able to relieve such pain not only by modulating pain signaling but also by attenuating localized pain (e.g. pain from a tissue injury, cancer, joint pain, etc.).

ON TOP OF activating our CB2 receptors, CBN effects a separate pain pathway that THC also modulates. Like THC, CBN effects our capsaicin-sensitive sensory neurons, another process involved in pain response. You know how a good chili pepper can make you feel like you’re on fire?  That’s because they contain capsaicin, the active ingredient that makes them hot. Many medicinal lotions and creams contain capsaicin to reduce pain in the muscles and joints. When applied topically, the active ingredient triggers an alleviating heat sensation.

  • CBN for Burns

CBN may also lower body temperature, acting as a highly effective hypothermic agent according to initial testing. Because of its influence on high-threshold thermo-sensors, inflammation, and pain, CBN may help treat burns, especially when used topically as a cooling agent. The topical use of CBN for burn relief is also supported by the fact that the permeability of CBN (and CBD) is 10 times higher than that of THC. And when compared to CBD, CBN exhibits higher thermodynamic activity. But it’s worth noting that CBN combined with CBD is more effective in the treatment of burns than CBN alone.

  • CBN for Seizure Episodes

CBN displays impressive anticonvulsant capacity and may extend seizure latency. Initial research suggests CBN may be a compelling natural treatment for catalepsy and seizures brought about by epilepsy, Parkinson's disease and other conditions. The anticonvulsant performance of CBN seems to peak at about 2 hours when administered orally, but its potency is less than that of CBD and THC.

  • CBN for Bacterial Infections

CBN has strong antibacterial qualities, according to a 2008 study. In the examination, CBN demonstrated potent effects against MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infection) in particular. MRSA is a common and quite stubborn bacterial infection that’s resistant to many antibiotics and can accumulate anywhere in the body.

While the treatment effectiveness of CBN for MRSA proved to be quite significant, the specific mechanism of activity or modulation is still inconclusive due to lack of research. Further investigation into CBN effects on MRSA may be key to the cure.

  • CBN for Cancer Tumors

When administered orally, CBN benefits Lewis lung adenocarcinoma patients by exhibiting anti-tumor capabilities for this specific lung cancer. More specifically, while CBD may lack inhibitory effects on tumor growth for Lewis lung adenocarcinoma, CBN is able to reduce the size and growth of these tumors.

But this doesn’t mean CBD isn’t resistant against tumors. The opposite is true, in fact, as CBD reduces cancer cell viability and growth in many types of colon, prostate, cervical, breast, leukemia, glioblastoma, melanoma and neuroblastoma cancer, as well as other lung cancer cells. But the specific antitumorigenic mechanisms of both CBN and CBD require further investigation.

  • CBN for Appetite Stimulation

CBN has the exact opposite effect on appetite and eating behavior as CBD. While CBD is an effective appetite-suppressant, CBN acts as an appetite stimulant. More research into the behavioral work is required, but current evidence suggests CBN benefits people struggling from the loss of appetite and/or unintended weight loss. For example, many cancer patients and folks undergoing cancer treatment have reported CBN helps them maintain a healthy weight.

  • CBN for Bone Formation

CBN encourages the growth of stem cells in bone marrow indirectly via CB2 receptors. In other words, CBN promotes bone cell growth and bone formation. These bone healing effects suggest CBN may be beneficial for folks recovering from fractures and wounds. CBN may also increase fibroblast cells in connective tissue and help us generate collagen.

Is Trying CBN Worth it?

Controlled and longitudinal research on CBN is still in its infant stage. But to date, there’s no evidence pointing to any harm that can come from the use of CBN, especially since it’s not psychotropic. In fact, all signs suggest CBN may be the next big, natural treatment for sleep and insomnia, chronic inflammation and pain, and seizure episodes, to name just a few of its therapeutic benefits.

But, just like any supplement or treatment, specific CBN effects may differ from person to person. So it’s important to talk to your marijuana doctor or medical physician to get their insight because they should have a better gauge on what’s best for you and your medical needs. Your doctor can also provide information on any potential interactions between CBN and prescriptions, pharmaceuticals or over-the-counter drugs you’re taking.

Additional studies on CBN effects and mechanisms are critical to deepening our understanding of its therapeutic capacity and clinical implications. But with the booming medical marijuana industry, it’s only a matter of time until more funding is allocated to the investigation of promising phytocannabinoids like CBN.

Thinking of giving CBN a try? Give us a call to speak with a medical marijuana physician today at (786) 953-6838.

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