CBN (Cannabinol) Guide

Published October 16, 2020
CBN (Cannabinol) Guide - Secret Nature

Cannabinol is a unique member of the cannabinoid family for a variety of reasons. First, this cannabinoid affects the human body differently than any other Cannabis sativa constituent, and cannabinol’s chemical structure is also distinct from other cannabinoids. Most notably, however, CBN is the only cannabinoid that is not naturally created during the maturation process of Cannabis sativa. In this guide, discover the mysteries surrounding CBN, find out how this cannabinoid is used, and learn why cannabis investors believe that CBN is about to become the next big thing within the hemp market.

What is CBN?

Cannabinol (CBN) is a cannabinoid that’s created when other cannabinoids are exposed to oxidizing stimuli. Unlike cannabidiol (CBD), tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabichromene (CBC), or most other cannabinoids, CBN is not derived from cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) via enzymatic processes during the maturation of Cannabis sativa flower. Instead, CBN is most commonly generated when THC undergoes chemical breakdown due to age or exposure to ultraviolet light.

Some experts suspect that the oxidizing processes resulting in CBN production are responsible for the increased sedentary effects of aged THC-rich cannabis buds. It’s a known fact that THC will convert into CBN if left alone long enough, which is part of the reason that old cannabis buds are commonly shunned by connoisseurs.

If you suspect that CBN is similar to THC due to this cannabinoid’s origins, you aren’t wrong. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBN (cannabinol) even have similar names to reflect this chemical kinship. While THC shows the highest affinity for the brain’s CB1 receptors of any cannabinoid, however, CBN only exerts weak affinity at these receptors. As a result, CBN is non-intoxicating while THC causes intense intoxicating effects, a fact that has often stymied stoners who came across years-old bags of pot they stashed in their attics.

Despite its inextricable relationship with THC, scientists have also determined relatively simple methods for producing CBN using CBD. It turns out that CBD and CBN are more chemically alike than initially recognized, making it possible to produce mass quantities of CBN without relying on THC, which remains strictly regulated or outright illegal in some contexts.

Whether it’s derived from CBD or THC, CBN production is accomplished by exposing an origin cannabinoid to oxidative processes that render it into cannabinolic acid (CBNA), the carboxylic acid precursor to CBN. From there, manufacturers simply expose CBNA to temperatures between 100-110° C to trigger the decarboxylation process and produce CBN.

Long derided as the chemical constituent causing old pot to make you feel sleepy, cannabis researchers have discovered that CBN has a wide range of unique potential benefits despite the fact that it won’t get you high. Along with CBG, CBN has recently experienced a surge of popularity, and there are now a variety of CBN-rich products available within the consumer market.

History of CBN research

The first mention of cannabinol in scientific literature dates all the way back to 1899, but it’s believed that this compound was first discovered in 1896. In addition to being the only cannabinoid not naturally produced via Cannabis sativa metabolism, therefore, CBN was also the first cannabinoid ever discovered.

According to a 1958 paper, researchers believed for decades that cannabinol was the primary active constituent of Cannabis sativa, not tetrahydrocannabinol. During the 1940s, however, advancements in cannabis research unveiled the existence of a variety of other cannabinoids including THC and CBD. As a result, scientists recognized that, while intriguing, cannabinol was not the primary constituent of cannabis, and they largely aimed their research efforts elsewhere.

The chemical structure of CBN was first discovered during the 1930s, and this cannabinoid was isolated for the first time in 1940. Throughout the following decades, cannabinol was largely overlooked with very few CBN-specific studies being published between 1940 and 1970. Starting in the early 1970s, however, CBN became a renewed point of focus within the international cannabis research community largely due to the development of nabilone, a cannabinol-derived THC analogue that served as the first synthetic marijuana-based prescription drug.

Also during the early 1970s, scientists began examining cannabinol for its potential anticonvulsant properties. Research was also initiated in this era to determine the potential interactions between THC and CBN. In 1983, scientists investigated the potential immune properties of cannabinol, and in 1987, the pharmacokinetics of CBN were further elucidated using modern lab equipment.

Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, cannabinol was included in Cannabis sativa studies with increasing frequency, and in 2002, CBN was investigated for its effects on human sensory nerves. Starting in 2010, research into the potential appetite-modulating effects of cannabinol began to accelerate, and throughout the last four years, new CBN research has become more plentiful than ever before.

What is CBN currently used for?

Uses of CBN are currently highly limited. A handful of companies produce CBN-rich products, and this cannabinoid is widely available from bulk suppliers. Due to the relatively high cost of producing CBN combined with ongoing lack of consumer knowledge regarding this cannabinoid’s unique benefits, however, CBN has yet to achieve any significant degree of mainstream acclaim.

Regardless, a variety of published studies have generated a sufficient buzz surrounding the potential benefits of this cannabinoid to make CBN use reasonably popular for a few different purposes. For instance, CBN may share some of the benefits of THC while remaining non-intoxicating, leading individuals to try this cannabinoid for glaucoma and appetite stimulation.

CBN has also been studied for its potential neuroprotective effects. Research indicates that most cannabinoids have at least some neuroprotective potential, so it would be reasonable to assume that further research might validate this potential use of cannabinol. Like CBG, CBN may also have antibacterial attributes, making this cannabinoid a potentially ideal target for hand creams and other topicals. 

Out of all of its possible benefits, CBN has received the most attention for its potential effects on sleep. While studies do not yet support the potential sleep-inducing effects of CBN, abundant anecdotal evidence suggests that this theorized benefit could be CBN’s strongest selling point. Ever since the days when old, oxidized pot made even veteran stoners fall asleep, scientists have suspected that CBN may have sleep-inducing qualities, and all that’s left now is to wait for the research to catch up.

What might CBN be used for in the future?

CBN is in a uniquely tricky place compared to the other cannabinoids. While it’s theoretically possible to breed Cannabis sativa strains containing high concentrations of CBC, CBDV, CBGV, or any other cannabinoid, it is not possible to produce cannabis strains that are high in CBN since this cannabinoid can only be produced by oxidizing other fully formed cannabinoids.

Therefore, conventional means of CBN mass production are off the table, potentially placing a strict lower limit on the pricing of this rare cannabinoid. While cannabinoids such as CBG and CBC will continue to reduce in price as breeders develop novel cannabis strains, the fledgling CBN market is incapable of benefiting from these developments.

Instead, CBN producers must rely on existing inefficient production methods or place their hopes in the upcoming rise of recombinant cannabinoids. Produced using genetically modified yeast or terpenes, recombinant cannabinoids are molecularly identical to their target substances, and they provide impressive repeatability and equally impressive production efficiency.

At such a point that reliable, inexpensive CBN production methods become available, it’s likely that entrepreneurs will focus heavily on the potential sleep-promotion properties and non-intoxicating yet THC-mimicking aspects of this cannabinoid. Research into CBN has been building for more than a century, and the only hurdle standing in the way of this cannabinoid’s widespread popularity is inherent production inefficiency.

What are the best ways to use CBN?

At this point, the only available consumer CBN products appear to be tinctures. Most CBN products are mixed with CBD, and in our research we could only find one (remarkably expensive) CBN-only product.

It is, of course, possible to experience the benefits of CBN by allowing THC-rich cannabis to oxidize, but we certainly don’t recommend smoking old, dry cannabis. Therefore, the best way to use CBN at present appears to be ingesting this cannabinoid in tincture form.

It’s also possible to purchase bulk CBN from a reputable supplier. You can then use this CBN (usually in isolate form) to make your own DIY products at home. With the right tools, it’s even possible to transform isolate CBN into a vape product, but it’s certainly easier to make DIY CBN tinctures or topicals.

As time passes and CBN production methods improve, it’s highly likely that a wider array of high-quality CBN products will appear on the market. Until such a time arrives, it’s necessary to make do with the paltry array of CBN products that already exist or take the issue by the horns and make DIY CBN products in your own kitchen.

The CBN revolution has already arrived

Scientists have been keeping track of CBN for more than 120 years, and there are no signs that interest in this cannabinoid will dissipate anytime soon. Despite the fact that cannabinol is impossible to produce via normal means, entrepreneurs continue to go out of their way to manufacture this rare cannabinoid, and the scientific research that’s been released so far clearly indicates that CBN may have impressive benefits.

Like CBD and CBG, cannabinol is non-intoxicating, but this cannabinoid’s similarity to THC will inevitably make CBN too tantalizing to overlook. It’s only a matter of time until the combination of increased consumer demand and decreased production costs provide CBN with its long-awaited and well-deserved popularity within the international hemp community.

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