Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of two major cannabinoids found in cannabis. It has an acidic form called cannabidiolic acid (CBDA), which turns into CBD when decarboxylated by heat, pressure, and/or light. CBD is psychoactive but doesn’t have the same intoxicating effects as THC.
Cannabinol (CBN) is a byproduct of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and thus has no acidic form. CBN is not produced directly by the cannabis plant; instead, it is a degraded form of THC formed after exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light and aging. CBN is a minor cannabinoid, and CBN is considered to provide both slight intoxicating and psychoactive effects.
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What Is CBN?
CBN is one of the main big six active cannabinoids, alongside cannabigerol (CBG), THC, tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), CBD, and cannabichromene (CBC). Despite CBN being one of the main six cannabinoids, it is still considered a minor cannabinoid as it often only exists in cannabis in small quantities. Cannabinol (CBN) does not stem from cannabigerol (CBG). CBN is a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) metabolite formed as cannabis ages.
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How It Works
There is a lot of debate surrounding the effects of CBN, with some claiming that it has a slightly psychoactive, sedative effect and others claiming that CBN has no effect. CBN is a degraded form of THC with some described sedative effects, so it could be a partial agonist of CB1 receptors with low binding affinity.
Due to its effects, CBN could provide health benefits for:
- Chronic pain
- Appetite loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Seizures and convulsions
- Staph infections like MRSA
- Benzodiazepine replacement
CBN does not tend to exist in significant amounts in cannabis, although aged cannabis or hashish may contain more CBN than fresh cannabis. Therefore, it can make it difficult to determine how much of an effect CBN has and what benefits, if any, it conveys. However, some have noted that CBN has sedative effects, and aged, well-cured cannabis can be slightly less potent and overwhelming than fresh, THC-rich cannabis. Some people may prefer the effect of more aged cannabis.
Risks and Drawbacks
CBN is not considered as psychoactive as THC, with some suggesting no effect. Despite this, CBN is a byproduct of THC, so high levels of CBN may indicate high levels of THC. THC can have the following drawbacks if over-consumed:
- Increased heart rate
- Coordination problems
- Dry mouth
- Red eyes
- Slower reaction times
- Memory loss
- Nausea and vomiting (high doses)
- Anxiety (high doses)
However, these adverse side effects do not necessarily translate to CBN.
What Is CBD?
CBD (C21H30O2) is one of the two main active cannabinoids in cannabis and hemp, alongside THC. Despite misconceptions, CBD is a psychoactive – but not necessarily intoxicating – phytocannabinoid (plant cannabinoid) with mood-lifting and pain-reducing effects.
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How It Works
CBD is a complex cannabinoid that does not necessarily directly affect cannabinoid receptors but does antagonize them in the presence of THC. Cannabidiol has a low affinity for the cannabinoid CB1 and CB2 receptors, and this means that CBD can dampen the effects of THC but also increase the length of its effects. The combination of THC and CBD (as well as other cannabinoids and beta-caryophyllene) enhances cannabis’ anti-inflammatory effects.
CBD is a compound capable of targeting multiple receptors. This gives CBD its anti-inflammatory, pain relief, and mood-boosting effects.
CBD has a multitude of potential uses and could have therapeutic effects for:
- Chronic pain
- Neuropathic pain (nerve pain)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Stress and inflammation
- Epilepsy and seizure disorders
Unlike THC, CBD is not intoxicating, and low to moderate doses could have stimulating, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), and anti-depressant effects ideal for daytime use. In contrast, higher doses can have sedative properties that could help manage seizures, insomnia, and chronic pain. Moreover, CBD is not necessarily illegal and is not screened for on drug tests.
Risks and Drawbacks
- The quality of CBD products (particularly hemp-based ones) is highly variable.
- May need the presence of other cannabinoids to be effective, which can be a problem if you need to avoid THC.
- CBD can interfere with the metabolism of certain drugs, including anti-seizure medications and painkillers, as it can desensitize the liver enzyme CYP 450.
Similarities and Differences Between CBN and CBD
CBN and CBD are quite different compounds with different effects, although the two can be used together for combined effects. CBD comes from CBDA and is naturally produced by the cannabis plant, and CBN is a byproduct of THC and does not come from the parent cannabinoid CBG.
CBD stimulates low doses (less than 50 mg) and sedative effects in higher doses (200-300 mg). CBN is not known to have any effect, although some have described it as having sedative effects.
It is possible to use both to help manage insomnia and reduce or replace the intake of sedative medications like benzodiazepines, which can cause dizziness, brain fog, and addiction.
How to Decide Which Is Best For You
There may be times when you prefer CBD and others when you prefer CBN.
When to Use CBN
Due to CBN’s potential sedative effects, you may prefer to leave it to nighttime use.
When to Use CBD
CBD’s biphasic effects mean low-to-moderate doses are better during the day when it is more stimulating and higher doses at night for more sedative effects.
The Bottom Line
Both CBD and CBN have their uses. You may prefer one over the other, but it is unlikely that you will naturally get extremely high levels of CBN from cannabis. A combination of CBN, THC, CBD, and terpenes like myrcene and humulene may be ideal for those seeking more sedative effects. Those seeking more stimulating effects may prefer a product higher in CBD, CBG, and terpenes like pinene, limonene, and terpinolene and lower in myrcene.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is CBN or CBD better?
Neither cannabinoid is better than the other. Both CBD and CBN are used to manage chronic pain, anxiety, and insomnia.
How is CBD different from CBN?
CBD is one of two major cannabinoids produced naturally by the cannabis plant and is a decarboxylated form of CBDA. CBN is a minor cannabinoid that is a byproduct of aged THC. Unlike CBD, CBN is not formed from CBG.
What is better for sleep, CBN or CBD?
Both CBD and CBN have their uses for sleep and insomnia. Low doses of CBD can be stimulating, so perhaps it is best to use a combination of higher doses of CBD and CBN for sedative effects.