What is CBN (Cannabinol)?

and What is its Health and Wellness Value Proposition? 

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If unharvested or cut hemp flowers are left unattended for a prolonged period of time and permitted to remain exposed to air and sunlight -- or any highly oxidized environment for that matter, naturally occurring THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid) within the biomass will spontaneously degrade and ultimately convert to CBN, or cannabinol.  

Defined as a “minor cannabinoid” typically found in trace amounts (less than 1% of the cannabis plant), CBN resulting from old, stale hemp was long viewed as a useless cannabis byproduct offering little to no redeeming health and wellness benefits, much less meaningful economic value.  However, based on results of numerous research studies in recent years, opinions of cannabinol have done a 180 degree turn, making it a cannabinoid of serious interest to scientists, medical researchers and cannabis entrepreneurs, alike.  However, before attempting to evaluate the promising health and wellness benefits of CBN, let’s first take a look back.

The History of Old Weed

While the history of cannabis use for medicinal and recreational use dates back virtually thousands of years, it wasn’t until 1896 that scientists first isolated the very first phytocannabinoid, which they extracted from a red oil distilled from Indian hemp1.   That phytocannabinoid was cannabinol. 

But it was not until 1932 when British chemist Robert Sidney Cahn reported the partial chemical structure of CBN2.  Then, in 1940, Sir Alexander R. Todd, a future Nobel Prize winner, and American organic chemist Roger Adams – in separate independent research studies – isolated, purified and identified cannabinol from hemp and showed its relationship to THC.  While the onset of World War II had preempted Todd’s cannabis research, it was noted that Todd said he was “of the opinion that the interesting and varied pharmacological effects and the potential medical uses (of CBN) were strong justification for pursuing that work.3

For more than two decades following the 1940 discovery, cannabinol was largely misunderstood, thought to be the primary psychoactive component of cannabis – the component in cannabis plants that makes you feel “high.”  Then in 1964, Israeli researchers Yechiel Gaoni and Raphael Mechoulam successfully isolated THC and discovered its psychoactive dominance within the plant.  This discovery led to further research that identified CBN as an oxidized, degraded version of THC, but without THC’s intoxicating effects.4

Scientific Research into CBN Therapeutic Applications

A person holding a flowerDescription automatically generatedAdmittedly, the research into the therapeutic benefits of CBN is still very preliminary.  However, with the onslaught of new scientific exploration into the field of cannabis research over the past few decades, several institutions have sought to assess and confirm potential therapeutic applications of minor cannabinoids, such as cannabinol, in a wide range of medical indications.  

Included among those was a 1984 study which involved administering cannabinol into the eyes of cats to determine intraocular pressure, ocular toxicity and neurotoxicity. The findings revealed that chronic administration of CBN lowers ocular tension considerably.5   

In a peer-reviewed article published in the British Journal of Phamacology in 2006, researchers determined that CBN, working in conjunction with other cannabinoids, controlled the growth of a certain type of lung cancer cells.6  In the paper “Antibacterial Cannabinoids from Cannabis Sativa: A Structure-Activity Study,” researchers showed that CBN was among a number of cannabinoids that effectively combated a variety of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) strains of current clinical relevance.7

In 2012, scientists studied whether or not the use of cannabinoids, including cannabinol, would increase food consumption by rats, and concluded, “This is the first time cannabinol has been shown to increase feeding. Therefore, cannabinol could, in the future, provide an alternative to the currently used psychotropic-THC-based medicines, since cannabinol is currently considered to be non-psychotropic.”8

Don’t Believe Everything You Read on the Internet

If you google CBN, it is likely that you’ll see a number of blogs and trade magazine articles pointing to the positive sedative or sleep effects of CBN, even though there have been little by way of legitimate research studies conducted to confirm this.  Perhaps the most quoted ‘study’ associated with the sleeping benefits of cannbinol came out of cannabis lab Steep Hill, who apparently reported on its blog in 2017 some very specific claims, including: “Of all the cannabinoids, CBN appears to be the most sedative. Not only is it sedative, it takes very little to do the job. 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.”  This study was later debunked by several researchers and industry experts who pointed to the fact that the Steep Hill findings did not rely on any meaningful data to support its claim.

Nonetheless, based on legitimate studies rich in supportive data, CBN – like many minor cannabinoids – clearly merits ongoing research to affirm its prospective ability to treat a broad range of diseases and chronic medical conditions.

Extensive preclinical testing undertaken by biopharmaceutical company InMed has identified unique properties of CBN.  According to information supplied on InMed’s website, “CBN can act with higher potency when interacting with certain receptor systems in the body, while acting with lower potency for others when compared to other cannabinoids.  CBN is also generally accepted as non-psychoactive.  While both THC and CBD have established therapeutic benefits in certain instances, our data supports CBN having distinct advantages as potential treatments for epidermolysis bullosa (EB) and glaucoma.  In addition, due to its particular chemical structure, CBN is expected to maintain its structural integrity/stability under external stresses (e.g. heat, light) for a longer period of time.  This unique feature of CBN may provide for longer shelf-life, which is an important commercial pharmaceutical parameter.” 

In April 2020, InMed received regulatory and ethics board approval of its Clinical Trial Application to conduct its second Phase I trial with its topical CBN medication in development, INM-755, for the treatment of EB and potentially other dermatological diseases. Then, in late May 2020, the Company released an update on the preclinical results from its INM-088 drug development program that indicate a potential neuroprotective effect of CBN on nerve cells in the eye.  INM-088 is being developed as a potential treatment option for ocular diseases, including glaucoma.

So, What Are the Biomechanics of CBN and How Might Cannabinol Help You Feel Better?

Like CBD, THC and other phytocannabinoids, CBN interacts with chemical receptors in nearly every system in the human body.  The two primary receptors are called CB1 and CB2, which comprise the Endocannabinoid System.  This system is involved in regulating most of our bodies’ functions required for great health and fitness.  CB1 receptors are found throughout the body but are concentrated in the brain and nervous system.  Comparatively, CB2 receptors are more prevalent in the immune system.  As earlier indicated, CBN’s ability to promote healing still requires further medical study and scientific research; however, early indications point to cannabinol potentially playing an important role in regulating and/or addressing pain, appetite, inflammation and other health and wellness issues.

Cannabinol Is Rare Indeed – and Pricey at All Points in the Supply Chain

Given the current high demand and low supply of minor cannabinoids, including CBN, the cost to produce cannabinol from hemp biomass can be significant.  However, in hopes of reducing costs, hemp plant breeders are selecting CBN-dominant genetics to engineer higher producing CBN-specific crops, among other development efforts.  Nonetheless, in an February 2020 article published in Hemp Industry Daily, the story’s author cautions that until plant breeding becomes more sophisticated in the hemp industry and genetics are identified for production of minor cannabinoids, farmers should remain leery about companies claiming that they have genetics for CBN and other minor cannabinoids, as these are rare at best.  

For manufacturers of CBN products, the most commonly available form of CBN extract is CBN isolate, which is typically refined through utilization of costly solvent or CO2 extraction processes. To better appreciate the high expense associated with producing CBN isolate, consider that during the first half of 2020, CBN isolates have been transacting at approximately four to ten times the CBD (cannabidiol) isolate market, according to information found on ACS Laboratory.  Further elaborating, ACS says that “while the prices may vary from supplier to supplier, the average cost appears to be about $30,000 to $50,000 per kilo.”10


The isolation process removes all secondary cannabis components from CBN, such as other cannabinoids, flavonoids, terpenoids and inactive compounds.  But, new technologies are coming to bear on the industry, offering high hopes for improving processing methodologies while driving high production costs down.

For instance, Tampa-based Teewinot Life Sciences Corporation has developed a proprietary biocatalytic processing using its patented CannSynthesis® technology platform to synthetically produce high quality CBN and other cannabinoids. In an October 2019 press release, the Company’s COO noted, “With our CannSynthesis biocatalytic manufacturing process, we can produce synthetic, stable acid and varin forms of rare cannabinoids with the purity and consistency required by the consumer and pharmaceutical industries.  These capabilities will allow us to not only produce CBN, but to also build a world-class therapeutic pipeline that creates significant opportunities for collaboration and licensing agreements with leading pharma and biotech companies.”

CBNThanks in large measure to growing public recognition of CBN as a potential remedy to ease inflammation, anxiety and pain, demand for cannabinol products is escalating.  For those consumers interested in using hemp-derived CBN as a nutritional supplement for general health and wellness, cannabinol can be purchased in a wide variety of forms, including oils and tinctures, vapes, topicals and capsules.  CBN is also being infused into diffuser oils and is available in full-spectrum CBD and organic teas.  The most popular and affordable products which include CBN are full spectrum oils, or cannabinoid blends, which incorporate only trace amounts of CBN, but are offered at reasonable prices by many online suppliers and retailers. 

With the said, it is important to emphasize that when purchasing any CBN product, make sure you have confirmed the “quality” and “purity” claims stated on the product’s label. Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous suppliers of cannabinoid products who have proven to be nothing more than shysters looking to take your money.  

Before buying any hemp-derived cannabis product, take the time to confirm that the manufacturer’s products are subject to independent, third party testing by accredited cannabis laboratories.  These are labs which have attested to the quality and purity of the products being sold and have affirmed that those products have been produced using the industry’s best manufacturing practices. Ethical, law-abiding suppliers will be happy to provide you with a copy of their test results upon request; and many post their Certificate of Analysis documents (COAs) on their websites for optimal consumer convenience. 

It is also important to note that while most agree cannabinoids, including cannabinol, are harmless; when consumed in large doses, there may be some side effects.  Abusive dosing of CBN could subject a user to unwanted results including drowsiness, dizziness and loss of appetite.  

More research must be conducted to understand how CBN actually affects the body, and to realize the full potential of this rare cannabinoid as a pharmacological therapy for a number of medical indications.  In the meantime, be wary of unsubstantiated claims on product labels and stay educated on evolving developments in the space.  The consumer market for cannabinoids intended for non-drug use remains a wild, wild west, but there are many responsible companies who value health and safety of their hemp-derived cannabis products above all else.  Those are the companies you need to get to know and trust.


About Bespoke Extracts, Inc.

Bespoke Extracts, Inc. was formed in 2017 to introduce a proprietary line of premium quality, all natural cannabidiol (CBD) products in the form of tinctures and capsules for the nutraceutical and veterinary markets. All Bespoke Extracts’ flavor-infused tinctures and capsules are formulated using pure, all natural, zero-THC phytocannabinoid-rich (“PCR”) hemp-derived CBD sourced from one of the largest, fully and vertically integrated producers of PCR hemp oil. All CBD isolate and oils are authenticated by an independent third party via issuance of a Certificate of Analysis (COA), which cannabinoid content and profile, microbiological content, heavy metal content, pesticide content, and residual solvent content. Bespoke recognizes the importance of compliance and is partnered with one of the industry’s leading CGMP certified extraction facilities. This ensures the consistency and quality of Bespoke’s product line and brand. Bespoke’s products are distributed through its direct-to-consumers ecommerce store, found at www.BespokeCBD.com, and through select specialty retailers, pharmacies/dispensaries and care providers.

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1 Thomas Barlow Wood, W. T. Newton Spivey, and Thomas Hill Easterfield, “III.-Cannabinol. Part I,” Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions (The Royal Society of Chemistry, January 1, 1899)

2 Cahn RS. 174. Cannabis indica resin. Part III. The constitution of cannabinol Journal of the Chemical Society (Resumed). 1342-1353. DOI: 10.1039/JR9320001342. 

3 Daniel M. Brown and Hans Kornberg, “Alexander Robertus Todd, O. M., Baron Todd of Trumpington. 2 October 1907-10 January 1997,” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society (1955-2000) 46, no. -1 (January 1999): pp. 516-532.

4 Itai Bab, “Themed Issue on Cannabinoids in Biology and Medicine,” British journal of pharmacology (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, August 2011).

5 Brenda K. Colasanti, Charles R. Craig, and R.David Allara, “Intraocular Pressure, Ocular Toxicity and Neurotoxicity after Administration of Cannabinol or Cannabigerol,” Experimental Eye Research (Academic Press, April 11, 2004), https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0014483584900137.

6 Maurizio Bifulco et al., “Cannabinoids and Cancer: Pros and Cons of an Antitumour Strategy,” British journal of pharmacology (Nature Publishing Group, May 2006).

7 Appendino G;Gibbons S;Giana A;Pagani A;Grassi G;Stavri M;Smith E;Rahman MM; “Antibacterial Cannabinoids From Cannabis Sativa: A Structure-Activity Study,” Journal of natural products (U.S. National Library of Medicine), accessed June 15, 2020, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18681481/.

8 Farrimond JA;Whalley BJ;Williams CM; “Cannabinol and Cannabidiol Exert Opposing Effects on Rat Feeding Patterns,” Psychopharmacology (U.S. National Library of Medicine), accessed June 15, 2020, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22543671/.

9 “Cannabinol (CBN) Under Development for Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB),” InMed Pharmaceuticals, accessed June 15, 2020, https://www.inmedpharma.com/science/inm-755-for-epidermolysis-bullosa/.

10 Elena Schmidt, “A Guide to CBN: Benefits, Extraction, Storage, Price, Consumption and More,” ACS Lab Cannabis, May 15, 2020, https://acslabcannabis.com/blog/education/a-guide-to-cbn-should-you-be-emphasizing-cbn-in-your-hemp-and-cannabis-products/.

 

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