What is CBN?

CBN - Cannabinol


Anyone who has ever looked into the diverse ingredients of the cannabis plant will certainly have come across the term cannabinol at one time or another. Cannabinol, or CBN for short, is the name of another phytocannabinoid that, unlike its related counterparts, has a special feature. Although it has its roots within the cannabis plant, it is not formed there.

CBN is created through the aging process and the external oxidation of the psychoactive cannbinoid "tetrahydrocannabinol" or THC for short. Exposure to oxygen or exposure to heat and light rays promotes the breakdown of the psychoactive effect in the process. The lower the THC content, the higher the CBN content. For this reason, cannabinol can only be found in very small quantities in fresh cannabis plants.

Like other cannabinoids, CBN is not water-soluble but fat-soluble. It is known to be a liposoluble molecule, with low psychoactive effects and only binds weakly to CB1 receptors. Structurally, CBN binds to the docking stations of our CB2 receptors. The exact way that CBN works on the CB2 receptor is still part of tests in various studies.

In Germany, CBN does not come under the German Narcotics Act unless it is sourced from the cannabis plant intoxication purposes. Also, CBN is not part of the “United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 30 March 1961”[1] and the “Convention on Psychotropic Substances”. This makes CBN a legal preparation, especially for medical purposes.


Just like its relative THC, the dosage of CBN is critical to achieving the right effects. This also explains why it is hard to compare the method of action of CBN with THC even though it is a direct successor to this well-known phytocannabinoid. For example, taking CBN in high concentrations can lead to feelings of exhaustion. This phenomenon contradicts the findings of a study that found that participants in the study improved their cognitive abilities by taking cannabis (1LINK). This suggests that CBN works as an antagonist to cannabinoids like THC. An important contribution is made by both CB receptors and these like to take ownership of the effects of many cannabinoids.

Since CBN seems to have a better connection to the binding sites of CB2 receptors, we can draw further conclusions about possible areas of use. These receptors are mainly found in the immune system and are important components in dealing with neuropathic clinical cases, as well as inflammatory pain, neuronal and neurodegenerative diseases.

In combination with other cannabinoids, CBN is said to stimulate the appetite.

Other modes of action are:

  • Sedative
  • Analgesic
  • Antibacterial
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antispasmodic
  • Promoting sleep

The potential antidepressant effects of CBD were also tested with CBN, but could not be proven.

Phytocannabinoid studies are still an ongoing and continue to provide new and revised results. Since there is a potential medical benefit from taking CBN, research is of course still being carried out on this phytocannabinoid.

Use in medicine

Although many cannabinoids overlap and have similarities in their effects, each is unique and always offers new therapeutic potential in medical use to support recovery processes in effective and sustainable ways. The oxidation processes from tetrahydrocannabinol that gives rise to the “new” cannabinoid, CBN, takes place through a change to the chemical profile of the flower, which in turn causes these important changes in the therapeutic properties.


Sedatives have a calming and anxiolytic effect on patients. At the same time, they can reduce activity levels, promote sleep, relieve spasms and relax the muscles. Sedatives are used for people with severe inner restlessness, trauma or anxiety.

The Internet gives information on CBN’s use as a sedative drug. For this purpose, studies are cited where cannabinol has a sedative and calming effect. In this context, cannabinol is often placed on a par with the well-known sedative diazepam. But there is hardly any evidence to back this up:

The supposed sedative effect of CBN is probably its best-known feature. However, there are not many studies that totally support this theory.

This could partly be due to the fact that many studies and scientific work on the cannabis plant came to a standstill for decades following a collective prohibition after the 1970s and 1980s. Research is still busy catching up on the lack of time and gaining knowledge of the versatile cannabis plant. Another reason could lie in the free interpretation of a study that tested the effects on just five male participants after taking CBN.[2]

As early as 1975, CBN was tested in various doses (0mg to 50mg) when taken orally in combination with 25mg of the cannabinoid THC. Cannabinol appeared to modify the effect of THC on the test subjects. The five men felt drowsier after taking the combination and felt that the effects of the “drug” were more noticeable compared to the effects of THC alone. In conclusion, it could be said that CBN appeared to increase the THC effect in some processes, but only to a small extent. The sedative effect of the cannabinoid consumed on its own was not specifically tested or found in this study. So, it could be that CBN ultimately only boosted the properties of THC.

Animal studies also looked into this area early on and showed motor impairments in dogs by adding 12mg or more of the cannabinoid CBN according to body weight.[3] However, there was no dampening effect shown on the human central nervous system.

Another reason for the assumption that CBN has sedative effects on humans could be due to looking at the mode of action of mature cannabis plants. As already described above, these have a higher proportion of CBN and have an increased sedative effect. The crucial question is whether this phenomenon is attributable solely to cannabinol. Science has not yet resolved this.


Analgesics are pain relieving, pharmaceutical agents. A distinction is made between opioid and non-opioid painkillers, since the two groups have different mechanisms of action.

Non-opioid painkillers intervene in a very specific enzyme, which is the COX enzyme. They block the further production of prostaglandins there. This local hormone plays a crucial role in local pain syndromes.

Cannabis-based pain relievers bind to the cannabinoid receptors in our central nervous system. From there, they can use the endocannabinoid system to relieve pain and support our body's own cannabinoids as they work. Even chronic pain can be relieved by actions on receptors. The advantage of cannabis-based medicines for pain relief is, among others, that a constant blood level can be maintained in patients through precise dosage.

According to a 2002 study, CBN can relieve pain by releasing endorphins.[4] THC also has this effect, which takes place through the pain control centre within the endocannabinoid system.

Antibacterial and anti-inflammatory

We have known for many decades that several phytocannabinoids have an antibacterial effect. As early as the 1950s, plant cannabinoids were used to deal with microbial infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. Even before this, initial attempts were made on tuberculosis cases in India with cannabis, which took place at the end of the 19th Century.

It is suspected that the high concentration of polyunsaturated fatty acids, mainly in hemp seed oil, is an essential part of this. The human body cannot produce these fatty acids independently and relies on us to ingest them through food. In addition, hemp seeds provide the ideal amount (3-4: 1 balance) of certain omega fatty acids that the body normally needs. These fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, are needed by the body for inflammatory diseases because they help regulate the inflammatory processes.

Therefore, cannabinol has the ideal requirements for antibacterial properties. In fact: the relatively unknown cannabinoid, along with four other tested phytocannabinoids, showed promising results in a scientific study from 2005 into MRSA germs, which are particularly dangerous multi-resistant and antibiotic-resistant hospital germs.[5] These multi-resistant germs, also known as superbugs, are on the rise in hospitals and old people's homes and, according to an OECD analysis, could cost the lives of over 2.4 million people worldwide by 2050. Successful recovery is difficult because the germs can change their genetic makeup and build resistance after contact with antibiotics. Estimated costs run into the billions and accounts for 10% of the total budget for dealing with infectious diseases in the fight against resistant germs.

For this reason, scientists from London, Rovigo and Novara in Italy have found that phytocannabinoids can be effective in combatting these highly resistant superbugs. CBN was classified as particularly effective with the phytocannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabigerol (CBG), cannabidiol (CBD), cannabichromene, or CBC.[6]

CBN, along with the other four cannabinoids tested, showed the greatest success, particularly in bacteria that had developed resistance to the antibiotic penicillin.

Although this study also is promising in the fight against dangerous pathogens, the current state of research is still in its pilot phase. At the moment it is still uncertain how CBN will actually kill the dangerous MRSA germs.


It is no secret that cannabinoids are true all-rounders when it comes to acting on the endocannabinoid system. Unsurprisingly, cannabinol still has an ace up its sleeve in helping with spasms. In January 1974, an article was published on a "Life Science" study that reported testing on animals.[7]

Scientists subjected mice to maximum electric shocks to investigate the direct effect of the three plant cannabinoids tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabinoid (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN). This was taken as saline, among others. All three phytocannabinoids tested had an anticonvulsant effect. The maximum duration of action was about two hours and cannabinol showed the most passive results of all three.


Cannabinol and cannabidiol have similarities, but differ significantly in their modes of action. Both phytocannabinoids are anxiolytic, relaxing and even anti-epileptic. While CBD has no psychoactive effects on consumers, CBN shows very little of these. The two also have different chemical structures. So, they are not identical at all. When getting to work on the endocannabinoid system, they are not afraid to show these differences. CBD hardly works on the CB1 and CB2 receptors in our immune and nervous system. Instead, the phytocannabinoid acts to balance physiological body functions (homeostasis). CBN, on the other hand, shows weak affinities to both receptors.


Already at the end of the 19th Century, cannabinol was isolated from the cannabis plant as the first phytocannabinoid ever. British chemist Robert Sidney Cahn, who later edited the Journal of the Chemical Society, studied the structure of the cannabinoid in the 1930s. It wasn't long before chemical synthesis in laboratories in the United States and Great Britain took place.

In 1963, the cannabis pioneer and Israeli university lecturer for natural products and pharmaceutical chemistry, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, made the first discovery on the different modes of action of the numerous phytocannabinoids. This finding laid the foundation for important studies on the cannabis plant and these are still ongoing.

After a law was passed for the first time in New Mexico in 1978 that was used to research controlled substances for therapeutic purposes, Raphael Mechoulam made another breakthrough in his scientific work in the 1980s. He tested the mitigating effect of CBD in epileptic seizures on test participants.[8] After four months, an analysis of clinical tests showed that half the subjects had a significant reduction in the frequency of attacks, while the other half even had no epileptic attacks. Through this, Dr. Mechoulam confirmed that the cannabinoid CBD could be used as a hypnotic for medical and therapeutic purposes.


[1] https://www.admin.ch/opc/de/classified-compilation/19610057/index.html

[2] https://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/136944

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7029731

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2503660

[5] https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/np8002673

[6] https://www.worldcat.org/title/cannabis-health-index-combining-the-science-of-medical-marijuana-with-mindfulness-techniques-to-heal-100-chronic-symptoms-and-diseases/

[7] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/18399501_The_anticonvulsant_activity_of_cannabidiol_and_cannabinol

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7413719
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