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By definition, full-spectrum hemp products contain a broad spectrum of hemp's many beneficial compounds. These include flavonoids, terpenes and fatty acids, as well as a variety of cannabinoids. All of these naturally occurring compounds work together to create the "entourage effect" that maximises the benefits to the entire body. CBD, or cannabidiol, is one type of cannabinoid. It is one of the best known and studied cannabinoids found in plants (phytocannabinoids), but scientists are discovering more and more of them. So far, about 100 different cannabinoids have been identified.
One of these cannabinoids, known by the abbreviation CBN, was the first phytocannabinoid to be produced as early as the 19th century. Even though cannabinoids have similar sounding names, they can have very different effects and it is helpful to learn more about them. So what is CBN and what does it do?
CBN stands for cannabinol. Very little CBN is present in young, growing commercial hemp plants, but it forms naturally after a plant has been cut and stored for a long period of time, especially when exposed to heat, sunlight and oxygen. Just like CBD, CBN from industrial hemp is not intoxicating and does not make you "high".
Both CBD and CBN interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), but possibly in different ways. The primary receptor sites of the ECS are called CB1 and CB2. In general, CB1 receptors are mainly concentrated in our central nervous system and spinal cord, while CB2 receptors are mainly found in our organs and immune system. It is possible that CBN interacts with both of these receptors, while CBD increases the production of our own endocannabinoids in other ways. More research is needed to clarify how CBN interacts with the ECS, but it does point to the importance of hemp extracts containing a full spectrum of plant cannabinoids as they are likely to work in complementary ways to promote a balanced response in the body.
Studies have reported that CBN has the strongest sedative properties of all cannabinoids, rivaling even those of benzodiazepines - a class of sedatives that includes Valium and Xanax. In one study, the combination of CBN and CBD was found to have a significantly stronger sedative effect than any other cannabinoid combination - or any cannabinoid alone.
In other animal studies, higher doses of CBN (at least 40 mg/kg) were found to increase total sleep duration in rats and dogs when administered alone. Even then, lower doses were able to enhance the effectiveness of other sleep-promoting treatments. While the studies looked specifically at benzodiazepines, it is likely that CBN can also increase sleep in conjunction with non-pharmaceutical therapies (such as melatonin or CBD). In studies comparing CBN and THC, researchers found that large amounts of CBN (between 50 mg and 400 mg) administered via an infusion were very well tolerated. Participants reported that they never felt too "intoxicated" from CBN, unlike comparable doses of THC. Rather, participants reported that they found CBN mild and pleasant. This underscores that effective serving sizes of CBN can promote sleepiness and relaxation without overwhelming or intoxicating the individual, making it a safe and effective sleep aid.
CBN has remarkable results shown in relation to pain relief. Studies show that CBN is able to activate nerve cells and cause them to release proteins involved in pain relief. CBN doses ranging from 12.5 to 50.0 mg/kg in rats have also shown promise in relieving chronic pain/inflammation (e.g. fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis). Inflammation causes muscle and joint pain, impairs movement and blood flow, and in extreme cases can lead to death. These findings could pave the way for CBN to be used as a new therapy for pain relief without the cognitive impairment - or addiction problems - that many prescription painkillers can cause.
CBN has been shown to be effective in relieving symptoms of digestive discomfort such as nausea and vomiting, thereby promoting appetite. The results of an animal study showed that 100 mg/kg of CBN slowed the rate at which food passed through the gastrointestinal tract in rats - indicating that CBN acts as an effective anti-nausea agent. This suggests that CBN may also be helpful for people who have difficulty keeping food down (e.g. people undergoing chemotherapy or taking other medications that negatively affect the digestive system and appetite), significantly improving overall quality of life.
In a study in which the Antibacterial potential of different cannabinoids, CBN showed a significant antibacterial effect against MRSA - a strain of bacteria that frequently infects humans and which has evolved to become resistant to many treatments available to doctors. CBN was administered to the skin of participants and was able to prevent MRSA from colonising (MRSA is transmitted by contact). We still need rigorous clinical trials to see how well CBN works against bacterial pathogens in the body, but its effectiveness on the skin against MRSA is exciting because it suggests that cannabinoids could be a viable option for developing new antibacterial treatments to which MRSA and other dangerous strains of bacteria have not yet developed resistance.
In exploring the potential uses of CBN, the cannabinoid has been shown to have neuroprotective abilities in animal studies. One study showed that CBN could delay the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - or ALS - in rats. ALS is a neurodegenerative disease that attacks nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain. While the way in which CBN is neuroprotective is not yet clear, the ALS study suggests another potential benefit of CBN.
Cannabinoids affect us by binding to specific receptors that are distributed throughout our bodies. Each class of cannabinoids has a different relationship with these receptors - some bind more strongly than others, and some bind to specific receptors while others do not. When someone ingests a combination of cannabinoids, the compounds act more synergistically than the effects of the individual cannabinoids, commonly referred to as the "entourage effect". Given the individual therapeutic profiles of CBD, CBG and CBN, taking them together could enhance the positive effects on promoting sleep, relieving pain and preventing nausea.