Cannabinoid Science 101: What is Cannabinol (CBN)?

A woman wearing protective goggles holding a glass jar with a small plant growing in it

Cannabinol (CBN) is arguably the third best-known cannabinoid after THC and CBD. Mildly psychoactive, CBN is thought to act as a weak agonist of both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, and is known to have various medical uses including as an anticonvulsant and antiemetic. CBN may also be partly responsible for the sedative effect of some cannabis varieties.

Cannabinol, more commonly referred to as CBN, is being researched with the same vigour as THC and CBD. Unlike most cannabinoids, CBN is mildly psychoactive, probably due to the fact that THC is one of its precursors in the biosynthetic pathway. CBN presents medical cannabis patients with a variety of different medical applications especially for its use as a sedative.

Chemical structure of the cannabinol molecule

CBN is a product of THC degradation, and has the chemical formula C21H26O2 and a molar mass of 310.43 g/mol. The unstable THC molecule, which has the formula C21H30O2, loses four hydrogen atoms (which give the THC molecule the tetrahydro- prefix) to form CBN. This process is facilitated by heat and light, and does not require the action of an enzyme.

As with all other cannabinoids, CBN is a hydrophobic, lipophilic molecule. As well as being soluble in fats, it also dissolves readily in organic solvents such as ethanol or methanol. The melting point of CBN is approximately 77°C (170°F), and the boiling point is 185°C (365°F). At room temperature, CBN is a colourless crystalline solid.

The molecular structure of cannabinol
The molecular structure of cannabinol (CBN)

Cannabinol in the endocannabinoid system

As well as being a partial agonist of both main cannabinoid receptors, CBN has been shown to inhibit adenylyl cyclase activation. This enzyme catalyses the vital energy-transporting enzyme ATP and converts it to cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), another important signalling enzyme, and pyrophosphate.

CBN also affects the TRPV2 receptor, behaving as an agonist. Activation of the TRPV2 receptor evokes a release of the CGRP protein, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in nociception. In this way, ingestion of CBN elicits pain-relieving responses from the endocannabinoid system.

Much like its sister molecule, THC, CBN has a greater affinity for the CB2 receptor than the CB1 receptor. With that being said, its affinity is not as great as that of THC. CBN is a partial agonist of the CB1 and CB2 receptors.

The molecular structure of THC
The THC molecule, structurally identical to cannabinol save for the extra hydrogen atoms

Physiological properties of cannabinol

The CB2 receptor has been shown to modulate immune responses, specifically by suppressing immune cell function. In certain experiments, this has resulted in the delayed onset of disease. CBN has also been studied for its antiemetic and anticonvulsant effects, although these two qualities of CBN are not as pronounced as they are in THC and CBD.

Medical potential of CBN  

CBN’s molecular structure very closely resembles that of THC and CBD and in terms of the endocannabinoid system, behaves in very similar ways to THC specifically. For this reason, scientists believe that CBN may share some of the same medicinal qualities as THC.

CBN gets most medical attention for its alleged sedative effects. Steep Hill, a US based company who call themselves leaders of cannabis science, technology and research, claim CBN to be a powerful sedative. On their website, they state that a 2.5mg – 5mg dose of CBN causes the same level of sedation as diazepam, a pharmaceutical sedative. However, they have not provided further information or studies that can corroborate this fact. 

A small glass jar with a black lid with a cannabis bud inside

Even though most media attention on CBN is for its sedative qualities, it’s more likely that CBN is a powerful anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial substance. Scientific research supports the hypothesis that CBN is a potent antibacterial compound, although there is very little understanding of how it has such an effect. In fact, scientists have called the mechanism of antibacterial action of CBN “elusive and very specific”.

According to a 2005 study published in the Journal of Neuroimmunology, CBN may have powerful anti-inflammatory effects, moderating inflammation by targeting the immune system. In this particular study, asthmatic mice that were treated with CBN were observed to have less mucus formation in the lungs.

Finally, it is also hypothesized that CBN is an appetite stimulant. This study was conducted with CBD and CBN on rats. Researchers found that CBN increased the amount of food consumed by rats and the total time spent eating. CBD, on the other hand, reduced the total food consumption in the period the rats were observed.

Although there is still much research to be done, CBN continues to gain the attention of scientists as a potential “THC replacement”, as its remedial properties are similar but is less psychoactive than THC. Much remains to be learned about CBN.

  • Disclaimer:
    This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult with your doctor or other licensed medical professional. Do not delay seeking medical advice or disregard medical advice due to something you have read on this website.


3 thoughts on “Cannabinoid Science 101: What is Cannabinol (CBN)?”

  1. The more legitimate information we have about herb the easier it is to take the wind out of the sails of the know-it-alls . Thank you from an old smoker. Bushrat.

  2. Steve Skrobot

    I knew this was a post by Johnny because there is one thing you can count on, he doesn’t know how to leave a short reply to anything.

  3. Johnny Five Eagles Szuros

    Hi, my name is john and I lost my leg 4.5 years ago. Man alive they did not manage the pain properly after the surgery and my specialist said that doctor should be fired. No ph ysician should take your narcotics away after 2 days after the amputation. It is unfortunately going to cause a stink over there abd many docxtors and nurses know she did that and they all complained to management who shut everybody up to see what i was going to do. It was rough. When I was released they gave me Cesamet and boy did I ever get stoned from that. It really helped for thje neuropathic pain in my leg. The pain comes back and the doc ‘made’ me go buy a medical grade vaporizer and he started the paper work required to obtain some, which by the way are comparable to Amsterdam /coffee house prices. 30 dollars Canadian for 2.5 grasms and things like that. So if you are sick and disabled one cannopt ever hope to be able to afford this. Whaqt I plan to do i s buy their shake and make oil and put it away. I would bake with it and I have some good stove top and Jamacain Rum recipes : I can process1/4 pound of weed in 120 minutes on the stove. comesout really good and it is tasty. I cannot afford to buy their medical marijuana becaus even for a disabled person on a disability subsidy they cannot get their pot covered. So imagine me who had a script for 2 grams a da and I can buy 2 ounces at 280 each minus 20%. Comes out to 448 Dollars Canaadian. That is half of my check. That is a lot of money. Marijuana is helpful for many things and the /government doesn’t want to be bothered with it. Poor sickm people cannot ac cess this medicine. Kratom is getting like that too. I know a guy who bought 44 lbs of the stuff and sellls a 400 gram sample for $300 Cda. Pretty wild. Everybody wants to get rich off of people like me. Thereis a unique device that when the put it in the vicinity of an accupuncture poimt near the ankle assuming it was still down there and whole. My leg got really warm and the pain went entirely away for 8 days. He wouldn’t tell me the name of the device or who built it. I mean some weird device that puts a revovling magnetic field near that spot if my leg was there. So something clearly is there in the chi body? I donm’t knoww wwhat it is. Wew got into a fight and he literally maan handled me out the back door. There are things out there that I know work and they are not addicting. Thios Kratom is lkicking again and /I feel like I am having a flashback,Thanks for listening. We used to be ablew to grow 4 plants for ouselves. Big Farma is doing it. Old tobacco operations have been converted to grow ops etc. You guys keep up the good work. Thanks and I want to get seeds and growq at the cxottage. Outin th4e bush and if anybody goes near them /I have booby traps and two very well trained police dogs who patrol in the area off leash. They

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