Cannabinol, more commonly known as CBN, is among more than 111 cannabinoids found in marijuana that play a role in regulating the human body because of the way these chemicals mimic the body’s naturally occurring endocannabinoids.
Combined with specialized receptors throughout the human brain and nervous system, cannabinoids serve to supplement the body’s endocannabinoids to deliver homeostasis, or balance — allowing patients to fight off diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.
Effects of CBN
CBN has a much lower psychoactive level than tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The common effects of CBN tend to be grogginess, dizziness, and confusion. Despite these potentially negative side effects, the health benefits of CBN are considerable.
CBN’s claim to fame is its use as strong sleeping aid. In sufficient quantities, it has the same effects as a pharmaceutical sedative, but requires a smaller dose. Other health benefits include antibacterial resistance, anti-inflammatory relief (especially effective for diseases like Crohn’s), and regulation of the immune system. CBN also functions as an analgesic, or pain killer. It is beneficial for glaucoma patients because of how it reduces intraocular pressure in the eye. It is also an anti-convulsive, helping patients with severe seizures.
Oxidation of THC
Researchers understand that there is a great deal of ignorance regarding the therapeutic effects of all cannabinoids, including CBN. However, what is understood is how there are multiple stages involved in the lives of many cannabinoids. In fact, THC, the cannabinoid responsible for the euphoric high of marijuana, is stored in the plant in an acidic form called THC-A that delivers no high whatsoever. It is only after the application of heat, via combustion or vaporization (a process called decarboxylation), that THC’s acidic form drops a carbon dioxide molecule to gain its infamous role.
Likewise, THC-A produces CBN. In fact, it is the degradation or THC-A that results in CBN. A useful mental model is to think of CBN as stale THC-A. In fact, the chemical formula for CBN is nearly identical to that of THC. The difference? CBN is THC minus only four hydrogen atoms. It is the loss of these atoms during exposure to air, when oxidation occurs, that produces CBN. This is why patients keep their medicine in air-tight jars and answers the age-old question, does cannabis lose its potency over time? The short answer: Yes. But mostly only when exposed to air for prolonged periods.
A 1999 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime revealed that, within four years, THC dropped to nearly half of its original potency. As THC slowly became oxidized, the CBN content of the sample increased (it originally contains zero percent CBN). The study also revealed that THC levels degrade the fastest during the first two years. These results suggest that higher CBN levels in a cannabis sample indicate aging through improper storage.
Synthetic Cannabinoid Medication
Nabilone, marketed as Cesamet, is a synthetic cannabinoid that mimics the effects of THC and CBN. It was approved in 1985 by the FDA for treatment of chemotherapy symptoms like nausea and vomiting and went on sale in 2006. Nabilone has shown effectiveness in treating and alleviating symptoms of fibromyalgia, Parkinson’s disease, and other neurological disorders.
Although few patients or recreational users are interested in decreased levels of THC, CBN’s medical uses could result in specialized strains of cannabis or special CBN-rich extracts and concentrates — similar to how some patients are using CBD oil to treat epilepsy. While exposing cannabis to oxidation for a period of years to increase the CBN content certainly isn’t practical, the delicate interplay of different cannabinoids, including the different states of THC and THC-A, once again proves that more research is necessary to understand which strains of cannabis provide the best relief for particular ailments.
This post was originally published on June 1, 2015, it was updated on October 5, 2017.