Cannabis contains a number of different active ingredients, called cannabinoids. Some of these cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are psychoactive, while others are not mind-altering at all. Some cannabinoids appear to increase the intoxicating effects of THC, while others counteract these effects. But perhaps most importantly, many cannabinoids are of medicinal value.
Unfortunately, due to the Schedule I classification of marijuana, relatively little peer-reviewed research has been conducted on it. Accordingly, scientists do not yet understand the precise function of each cannabinoid – for that matter, it isn’t yet clear that all of the cannabinoids have even been identified.
However, as state laws have eased over the last decade, some of this work has begun in earnest. Scientists have accumulated some empirical data and when this hard science is compared with anecdotal reports from medicinal and recreational users, the picture is beginning to come into focus.
The Medicinal Value of Cannabinol or CBN
One of the cannabinoids that appears to be of considerable medicinal value is cannabinol (CBN). CBN is reportedly mildly psychoactive, but its primary claim to fame is its strength as a pain killer. However, it is clear that CBN offers additional medicinal value.
CBN has been of interest to scientists since the 1970s, when scientists at the University of Utah College of Medicine investigated the varying abilities of three different cannabinoids to suppress seizures in mice. THC was already thought to be effective in reducing the occurrence of seizures, but the researchers wanted to find out if cannabidiol (CBD) and CBN were similar in this regard. It turns out that all three of the cannabinoids suppressed seizures in mice, although THC and CBD were more effective.
Other scientific studies have illuminated other medicinal benefits provided by CBN. For example, CBN and several other cannabinoids have long been known to exhibit antibacterial qualities, but a 2008 study published in the Journal of Natural Products found that CBN (and other cannabinoids) were capable of killing methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (better known by the abbreviation MRSA).
A 1974 study examined the role of CBN, CBD and THC in rats, and found that all three cannabinoids helped aid sleep. Interestingly, the scientists found that the effect was modulated by the presence or absence of the other cannabinoids. It appeared that CBN may be most effective when used in the absence of THC.
However, other studies conducted only a year later and found that effects of the cannabinoids were not sufficiently different when used in conjunction to warrant altering the dosage guidelines embraced at the time. Until more research is conducted, it remains unclear whether CBN performs better as a sleep aid when used in conjunction with THC or as a stand-alone product.
Cannabis has long been known to be a potent sleep aid, but scientists have yet to explore the subject thoroughly. However, anecdotal accounts are helping to point researchers in the right direction.
CBN is produced by the degradation of THC. As a quantity of cannabis ages and is exposed to oxygen, heat and ultraviolet light, the ratio of THC to CBN changes. This difference manifests most obviously in the experience of the user. Patients and recreational smokers often find that old or poorly stored cannabis causes them to feel much sleepier than fresh cannabis, with a higher ratio of TCH to CBN.
While it is not yet clear how CBN works as a sleep aid, all of the evidence and anecdotal accounts suggest that it is quite effective for such purposes. Scientists are currently investigating the matter further, but some industry professionals are already convinced that CBN will prove to play an important role in the future treatment of sleep disturbances.
David Goldstein, the CEO of a cannabis technology company, said as much in an interview with BrainDecoder. When discussing the role of cannabinoids in sleep, he offered that “the cannabinoid that has shown the most promising attributes for sleep is CBN — cannabinol.”