Sleep is one of the most crucial things required for maintaining well-being. Sleep helps us maintain healthy brain function as well as our physical health. Sleep is critical in many bodily processes, including growth and development, proper immune functioning, balancing hormones, solidifying memory, and other vital bodily functions.
Within the last few years, as medical cannabis continues to legalize across states, patients who have received their medical cannabis certification may find products within dispensaries with the cannabinoid CBN or cannabinol. Many of these products are touting CBN as a sleep aid, with branding being developed to support this alternative method to a good night’s rest. However, in recent years, the actual efficacy of CBN as a “sleepy” cannabinoid has come into question.
At Compassionate Clinics of America, we believe it’s essential to educate our consumers in a way that doesn’t make any promises about what cannabis may be able to do, as it is not a cure or panacea. While we have seen the benefits of medical cannabis for thousands of patients, even those using cannabis for sleep, we cannot make claims that are not yet supported by sufficient clinical evidence. It’s our goal to arm our patients with the tools to be conscious and educated consumers as they explore the best medical cannabis products for them.
In this article, we will examine CBN. What is it? How is it created or extracted? Does it really have the sleep or sedative properties that many cannabis brands are saying it does? Read on to find out more.
CBN: An Overview
Despite cannabis being primarily known for THC and CBD, one interesting fact about CBN, or cannabinol, is that it was the first cannabinoid isolated from the cannabis plant, even before THC in the 1940s. Researchers first believed that CBN was what was responsible for the psychoactive or intoxicating properties of the cannabis plant. What had happened was that the researchers had extracted what results when THC oxidizes or is exposed to air over time or ages.
Simply put, CBN is created by old cannabis. If you’ve had a bag of cannabis lying around that hasn’t been perfectly sealed for a few months, some of the THC has likely begun to convert to CBN.
CBN is mildly intoxicating but is believed to have about one-quarter of the psychoactive effect of its predecessor, THC.
Medical Properties of CBN
As we say in many articles within our patient education series, there is a lot more research that needs to be done on cannabis, cannabinoids, terpenes, and how they affect the body and mind before we can make any definitive claims about it. However, research is beginning to reveal a bit more about this mysterious cannabinoid.
A 2012 animal study tested the ability of CBN to increase appetite and food intake, recognizing that appetite stimulation has always been attributed to THC. The study noted that CBN acted as an appetite stimulant and increased food intake, noting its medicinal benefits without the strong psychotropic effects. This may be particularly helpful for those experiencing nausea, cachexia (wasting syndrome), or loss of appetite due to chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
A 2018 study looked at CBN and other cannabinoids, noting that it had antibacterial properties against MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) that was of “clinical relevance”.
As far back as 1981, CBN, along with other cannabinoids, has been researched for its ability to relieve intraocular pressure (IOP) in glaucoma patients. As some know, glaucoma was one of the earliest eligible conditions for medical cannabis programs.
Does CBN Really Help with Sleep?
As mentioned, many brands that sell medical cannabis are capitalizing on marketing and branding that touts CBN’s supposed sleepy and sedative properties.
As far back as the 1970s, researchers have been trying to determine if this hypothesis of CBN being a sleep-inducing cannabinoid rings true. A 1975 study concluded that CBN alone wasn’t a sedative, but it helped amplify the effects of THC when consumed, suggesting that THC and CBN work synergistically and that CBN is not solely responsible for the sedating effects. This synergetic relationship between THC and CBN occurs within the entourage effect, where the components of cannabis are more effective working in harmony than in their isolated forms.
This video below explains a bit more about that study that saw that CBN wasn’t a sedative on its own but held more sedating properties when consumed alongside THC.
The Role of Terpenes in Cannabis’ Sedative Effects
Prominent cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo’s position on CBN is that the sedative properties have much more to do with terpenes than the cannabinoid itself. “Pure CBN is not particularly sedating,” he has stated, “But it is typically found in aged cannabis in which the monoterpenoids have evaporated, leaving the more sedating oxygenated sesquiterpenoids. This accounts for the discrepancy.” In other words, when cannabis has aged, the oxidation of terpenes, which help determine the effect of cannabis, is most likely responsible for producing sedative effects.
Terpenes are part of the essential building blocks of the cannabis experience, alongside cannabinoids like THC, CBD, and CBN, among others. Terpenes are responsible for the aroma, flavor, and sometimes effect of cannabis and help differentiate different cultivars (“strains”).
Certain terpenes, such as myrcene and linalool, hold sedative properties and have been used as a sleep aid for centuries. For instance, linalool has been widely used as a sleep aid, most commonly through lavender oil, abundant in terpene. Be sure to check out our past blogs, where we’ve deeply explored and some of their properties.
When answering the question, “Is CBN really a sleepy or sedative cannabinoid?” our best answer is that research is determining that CBN may hold valuable sedative properties but is most effective in conjunction with THC and terpenes that are known to have sedative properties.
Explore Medical Cannabis for Sleep
Learn more in our article about the role of cannabis in the sleep cycle. The article covers the endocannabinoid system’s involvement in sleep and the role THC and CBD play in sleep, helping our patients understand the body of research that supports some of the claims made by medical cannabis brands about the effects of products.
If you are struggling with sleep issues, reach out to Compassionate Clinics of America. Our qualified, knowledgeable physicians are certified across multiple states to provide medical cannabis certifications that will allow you to explore how cannabis can play a role in your sleep and overall health and well-being.