What is CBN and How Does It Differ from CBD?

What is CBN and How Does It Differ from CBD?

When you think about cannabis in today’s dynamically progressive era, two compounds should now come to mind – tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is the one that makes people “high,” and cannabidiol (CBD), which makes people feel chilled and relaxed without any psychoactive effects.

Even though CBD and THC are the main two naturally occurring chemicals found primarily in Cannabis sativa, several other phytocannabinoids make up hemp’s molecular structure – over 100 approximately.

One of these minor phytocannabinoids, particularly, is gaining attention because of its involvement in the entourage effect, and its relation to THC molecules. This cannabinoid is cannabidiol, also known as CBN.

Here, we’ll discuss what is CBN, how it works with your body, the difference between CBN vs. CBD, and how you can incorporate CBN into your routine if you’re not doing so already.

A cannabis plant surrounded by a bright corona sits on a blurred gold background next to a molecular diagram of cbd

What Is CBN?

Cannabinol is a cannabinoid that is created when (THC) molecules break down as hemp material matures. Through decarboxylation, in which raw cannabis is exposed to heat and oxygen for prolonged periods, THC degrades into CBN molecules.

And as hemp continues to mature, it loses more THC in exchange for CBN. Cannabinol isn’t completely non-psychoactive, but its intoxicating potency is only one-fourth of THC’s strength, so it’s mildly psychoactive.

Compared to CBD and THC, there isn’t much research surrounding CBN cannabinoids; however, it’s a compound that modern science had recognized in 1999 when the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) was testing the potency loss of cannabis.

According to the UNODC study, the cannabis they tested had dropped its THC content by half of its original potency over four years. And as the THC became oxidized and exhausted, it converted to CBN.

The UNODC also discovered that THC degradation happens most during the first two years of improper cannabis storage, which established a link between THC’s conversion into the CBN and cannabis vulnerability.

Straightforwardly, and as mentioned earlier, THC turns into CBN as time progresses – meaning that the longer cannabis ages, the more CBN content it contains. It’s a strong indication that if hemp material tests are high in CBN, then it is significantly older.

CBN is often referred to as “the sleepy cannabinoid” because of its sedative properties. It’s the main characteristic that sets CBN apart from other cannabinoids. Most of the research regarding CBN’s sedative effects have been conducted on rodents.

A study back in 1975 concluded that CBN boosts the sedating effects of THC. But most people connect the sedation with CBN because matured cannabis contains more CBN than cannabis that is fresher.

The truth is that the CBN cannabinoids aren’t necessarily responsible for the sedation. In actuality, when cannabis ages, it not only produces more CBN but also exchanges two particular types of terpenes.

A colorful diagram shows the multiple terpenes present in cannabis

What Are Terpenes?

A terpene is a naturally produced hydrocarbon based on isoprene combinations. Together, terpenes are organic compounds created by plants that typically give them their distinct odor, flavor, and other characteristics.

And terpenoids are derivative of terpenes, which may have oxygen-based functionality or displacement. Mature cannabis, as it ages, loses its lower molecular weight of monoterpenoids and gains more sesquiterpenoids that cause sedation.

In comparing CBN vs. CBD, the sedating factor is often misunderstood as one of the primary differences; however, CBN, by itself, does not cause sleepiness – neither does CBD on its own either.

A diagram of the male and female body in blue and pink shows the body systems that interact with the endocannabinoid system

How Does CBN Work?

Like other cannabinoids, CBD and THC in particular, CBN also works through multiple pathways in which it creates an effect. Its functionality is possible because it can trigger several biological pathways through the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

It can attach to both CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors and share alternative mechanisms of action with THC. Even though CBN isn’t anywhere near as intoxicating as THC, CBN can increase THC’s euphoric effects. This synergistic response of cannabinoids boosting other cannabinoids is called the entourage effect.

While CBN's effects are less known compared to CBD and THC, CBN also offers a few other beneficial uses.

A black alarm clock, a sleep mask, and a glass of water sit on a table near a pile of pills

What Are The Benefits Of CBN?

CBN is still highly valued as a beneficial sleep aid, as 5 mg of CBN is reportedly as effective as a pharmaceutical-strength sedative – and such properties are useful for sleep issues, including insomnia. Not to say that pure CBN affects sleep as such, but rather CBN in combination with other cannabinoids – allowing for the entourage effect – is particularly useful for sleeping.

Recently, pain relief has become recognized as a beneficial CBN effect. But it doesn’t affect discomfort in the typical manner of communicating through CB1 or CB2 receptors. Instead, it works by releasing amino acids known as peptides from the sensory nerves. This process activates an alternative nerve function that achieves a similar effect.

CBN is also seen as useful because of its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Studies surrounding anti-inflammatory cannabinoids identified CBN as a possible option for reducing swelling associated with particular inflammatory conditions. And another study testing antibiotic-resistant bacteria highlighted CBN’s effect as highly beneficial.

CBN has also been identified as useful as an anticonvulsant, appetite stimulant, and a stimulant for bone cell growth. Although studies have concluded with these findings, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved CBN – or any cannabinoid – for these purposes.

With this elemental understanding of what is CBN, how it works, and CBN effects, we can compare its characteristics to CBD and explore its similarities and differences.

A man holds in his hands a cannabis seedling rooted in rich soil

What Is The Difference Between CBN and CBD?

CBN and CBD are both phytocannabinoids synthesized by cannabis plants. And while they share some similar properties as cannabinoids, they are still two unique cannabis compounds that vary significantly in origin and effects – mainly how they’re each produced and interact with the human body. But first, what is CBD exactly?

What Is CBD?

CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating phytocannabinoid found in Cannabis sativa. It’s the second most abundant cannabinoid produced by cannabis, and it accounts for 40 percent of the genetic structure of industrial hemp – a strain of cannabis containing less than 0.3 percent THC.

The word cannabinoids is shown inside a dictionary below a pair of glasses

CBD does not produce any euphoric or “high” effects on its own. It works by interacting with our endocannabinoid system through the binding or communicating with CB2 cannabinoid receptors.

These receptors make up part of the ECS, and they connect to our peripheral nervous system, which are nerve fibers that stretch out to various muscles, limbs, immune cells, skin cells, and other organs.

When CBD molecules attach to CB2 receptors, they transmit a signal that affects the cell, tissue, or organ associated with that particular receptor. This process helps maintain homeostasis – the healthy stability of our mental and physical functions in response to internal or external conditions that would otherwise cause our body to perform less than usual.

CBD is useful for several applications depending on the personal needs of the individual using it. However, any products containing CBD should not be used to diagnose, prevent, treat, or cure any disease, according to the FDA.

Hemp-based CBD products are federally legal in the United States following the enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill, which allows the manufacture and distribution of hemp-derived products as long as they contain no more than 0.3 percent THC.

How Does CBN Differ From CBD?

We discussed earlier that both compounds are phytocannabinoids that are produced from cannabis plants.

However, while CBD is typically abundant with industrial hemp and other high-CBD strains of cannabis, the amount of CBN is determined by cannabis maturity – mainly how long the THC content available was exposed to heat and oxygen.

Neither cannabinoid produces an intoxicating effect on its own, but each of them can influence the impact typically induced by THC. CBD usually reduces some of the adverse effects brought on by THC, while CBN may boost THC – leading to the sedative response that most people mistakenly credit CBN with doing individually.

And while CBD molecules primarily bind to CB2 cannabinoid receptors, CBN can attach to CB1 and CB2 connectors – even though it has a low affinity for both when compared to CBD and THC. But CBN can also work through other biological pathways outside of the ECS.

How Can I Use CBN?

Currently, it’s rare for people to find cannabis-based products that are heavy with CBN. Unlike CBD, there aren't CBN oils, capsules, or tinctures flooding the market – mainly because of the lack of research surrounding CBN, and its connection to “expired” cannabis.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean CBN is unavailable entirely.

Many hemp-based CBD oils and products are labeled either broad spectrum or full spectrum. These categories of CBD products contain a variety of terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids, including CBN, to ensure the entourage effect – though the CBN content may be relatively small.

A colorful diagram shows the different cannabinoids in broad spectrum cbd

The main difference between the two is that broad spectrum is entirely THC-free, while full spectrum may contain detectable traces of THC. And then, there are CBD manufacturers such as cbdMD that offer Superior Broad Spectrum CBD, which includes consistent amounts of CBD, CBG, and CBN in non-THC products.

Additionally, you could also cultivate personal strains of high-CBN cannabis by allowing home-grown herb to ripen beyond its usual freshness. But only do so in states or areas where recreational or adult-use cannabis is legal, of course.

If you want to know more about what is CBN or have questions about CBN vs. CBD, share with us in the comments below or connect with us via Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram You can also learn more about the benefits of non-CBD cannabinoids by viewing our educational blogs.


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