What is Cannabinol (CBN)? [More About the “Sleepy” Cannabinoid]

There are over 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Each one offers different medical possibilities. Today we’re looking at cannabinol or CBN, sometimes called the sleep cannabinoid because it is particularly useful for treating insomnia. But beyond insomnia, CBN can also be used to treat multiple sclerosis (MS), Crohn’s Disease, chronic pain and much more. Here’s an introduction to the sleepy cannabinoid, or cannabinol.

Unlike many other cannabinoids, cannabinol (CBN) does not stem from cannabigerol (CBG). CBN is a metabolite of THC that is formed as cannabis ages. THC degrades into CBN over time and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. CBN retains some of THC’s psychoactivity, but is significantly less psychoactive than THC. THCA converts into cannabinolic acid (CBNA), which is converted into CBN when decarboxylated.

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How Does Cannabinol (CBN) Affect the Body and Cannabinoid Receptors?

There is a lot of debate surrounding CBN’s effects. Some claim that it has a slight psychoactive effect, others claim that it barely has an effect at all. Others say CBN has an effect, but only when combined with THC and CBD. CBN could be useful for the following:

CBN acts as a partial agonist of both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, but has a lower affinity for them compared to THC, meaning it doesn’t bind to cannabinoid receptors as readily as THC does. CBN is also an inverse agonist of the CB2 receptors, a TRPA1 agonist and TRPM8 antagonist, giving it anti-inflammatory effects. Due to CBN’s agonism at CB1 receptors, it retains some slight psychoactivity.

CBN is found in trace amounts in recently-grown cannabis, it is found in greater amounts in aged and degraded cannabis and traditionally-produced hashish. For those who like to use pipes, the resin that collects on the screen can be high in CBN! If you want to know more about how long cannabis flower, extracts etc. last for, then check out our article on cannabis and CBD product expiry dates.

Cannabinol (CBN) chemical structure and formula. C21H26O2
Chemical structure of CBN (cannabinol), C21H26O2. Source. Author: Benrr101. Public Domain Image.

What Medical and Therapeutic Uses Does CBN Have?

CBN and Insomnia

CB1 agonism is associated with both hunger and sleepiness, and this is one reason why THC may be so useful for insomnia. However, CBN may be just as useful, with cannabis laboratory Steep Hill reporting that, “The consumption of 2.5mg to 5mg of CBN has the same level of sedation as a mild pharmaceutical sedative, with a relaxed body sensation similar to 5mg to 10mg of diazepam.” CBN could therefore be an excellent alternative to sedative medications such as benzodiazepines.

A combination of some THC and CBN may be particularly effective as a sleep aid and the treatment of insomnia. CBN may be sedating due to a loss of monoterpenoids and a retention of sesquiterpenoids as THC ages. Some studies show that CBN on its own does not necessarily display sedative properties, and that its sedative effects are mostly only seen when used in combination with THC and terpenes like myrcene and linalool. There is a lot of debate surrounding the effects of CBN, and the evidence is certainly mixed.

Structure of delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN)
Howlett, Allyn & Barth, Francis & Bonner, T. & Cabral, G. & Casellas, Pierre & Devane, William & Felder, Christian & Herkenham, Miles & Mackie, Ken & Martin, B & Mechoulam, Raphael & Pertwee, Roger. (2002). International Union of Pharmacology. XXVII. Classification of Cannabinoid Receptors. Pharmacological reviews. 54. 161-202. 10.1124/pr.54.2.161. Chemical structures of delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, CBD and CBN.

CBN, Asthma and Allergies

This study states that:

“Intraperitoneal administration of THC or cannabinol (CBN) in OVA-sensitized and challenged A/J mice led to attenuation of serum IgE, IL-2, IL-4, IL-5 and IL-13 mRNA expression and decreased allergen-induced mucus production, indicating that cannabinoid-based compounds may represent a novel class of therapeutic agents for the treatment of allergic airway diseases [113]. While most studies have shown that cannabinoids, such as THC, facilitate a Th1 to Th2 cytokine switch, as discussed previously, it is surprising that cannabinoids can also suppress allergic asthma triggered primarily by Th2 cytokines.”

Basically, THC and CBN can reduce inflammation of the airways and reduce the overproduction of cytokines associated with allergic reactions and asthma. CBN can dampen an over-reactive immune response.

CBN, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Other Autoimmune Conditions

As stated above, CBN has some significant anti-inflammatory properties. Suppressing inflammatory responses and cytokine production makes CBN of significant use for various kinds of autoimmune disorders. CBN acts as an immunosuppressant. The neuroprotective properties of cannabinoids like CBN may make them useful for neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis (MS) as well.

CBN, Pain & Inflammation

Insomnia, pain and inflammation are intimately linked, with a lack of sleep causing greater inflammation and resulting in an overactive immune response. This can weaken the immune system over time and decrease immune function, meaning that the ability to ward off pathogens (an invasive microorganism that can cause diseases, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi) is reduced.

It is important to remember that sleep, immune function and inflammation share a common regulator. The increase in the levels of cortisol, C-reactive protein and insulin, and a lowering in the levels of melatonin, can all put the body in flight-or-fight mode and heighten pain and inflammation.

CBN and Glaucoma

CBN may be somewhat more limited than THC and CBD for the treatment of pain and insomnia, but shows even greater promise than THC and CBD as a neuroprotectant and a treatment for glaucoma. A CBN-rich formula developed by InMed Pharmaceuticals shows that CBN can be used to lower intraocular pressure. CBN’s therapeutic effects for diabetes and hypertension means it acts as a multiple treatment for glaucoma.

Legality of Cannabinol (CBN)

Interestingly, unlike THC and CBD, CBN is not on the list of controlled substances in the US. However, as CBN is formed from the degradation of THC, it could be seen as an analogue of THC or CBD. This makes CBN potentially a Schedule I drug, but the precise rules imposed by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) are not clear when it comes to CBN. It is likely that CBN extract would be prosecutable as a Schedule I substance, especially as it is a degraded form of THC and has some slight psychoactivity.

Free Infographic Guide to Cannabinoids


CBN’s efficacy for conditions like pain and insomnia is limited but useful, and is ideally used in combination with THC, CBD and the “sleepy” terpenes like linalool myrcene and humulene. However, CBN could be of more use than CBD and THC when it comes to neuroprotection. Combined with cannabinoids like cannabichromene (CBC) and CBD, and CBN could be a very potent antioxidant and neuroprotectant.

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Written by
Dipak Hemraj
Dipak Hemraj

Dipak Hemraj is a published author, grower, product maker, and Leafwell’s resident cannabis expert. From botany & horticulture to culture & economics, he wishes to help educate the public on why cannabis is medicine (or a “pharmacy in a plant”) and how it can be used to treat a plethora of health problems. Dipak wants to unlock the power of the plant, and see if there are specific cannabinoid-terpene-flavonoid profiles suitable for different conditions.

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