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Cannabinol: What is Cannabinol?

Cannabinol or CBN (figure 1) is one of hundreds of cannabinoids found naturally in cannabis and hemp and is what some refer to as the “sleeper cannabinoid” due to its drowsy effects. But while research is still in its infancy, there are more factors that contribute to what users describe as that “sleepy” feeling. This article aims to clarify what CBN is and its effects on the body by referencing published research.

Figure 1. The chemical structure of cannabinol (CBN)

What is CBN?

CBN was one of the first cannabinoids to be identified and studied in 1899 by Thomas Barlow Wood, W.T. Newton Spivey, and Thomas Hill Easterfield [1]. It was later purified and isolated in 1940 by Roger Adams, Madison Hunt, and J.H. Clark [2]. CBN has a chemical structure very similar to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) aside from the cyclohexene ring in THC and a benzene ring in CBN [3, 4]. This change, from a cyclohexene to a benzene, occurs naturally through a process called oxidative degradation [5] (figure 2) where a combination of UV light, heat, and the presence of oxygen removes hydrogen from the cyclohexene and converts it into a benzene ring. This effectively changes the structure and properties [6] of the molecule to CBN.

Figure 2. The oxidative degradation of D9-THC to CBN

Effects of CBN

While CBN is very closely related in structure to THC, CBN does not have the same psychoactive effects associated with THC. Instead, some sensitive users report a more mild psychoactive effect. When CBN is combined with THC, users feel more drowsy than using THC alone [7]. This study may indicate that CBN may cause drowsiness.

CBN interacts with the endocannabinoid system [8] just like other cannabinoids. Research on how the mechanism [9] in which it interacts with the endocannabinoid system is slowly progressing. CBN has an affinity for both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, but shows a higher affinity for CB2 [10]; however, CBN does not have a higher affinity to endocannabinoid receptors than its predecessor, THC. Some studies have shown that CBN can increase appetite as opposed to the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG)[11]. Other studies have shown that it has antibacterial effects on the body [12], reduces seizures [13], and even delays the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) [14].

Is CBN Legal?

As with most cannabinoids, the legality of them is always up for debate. In the United States, CBN derived from a marijuana extract is illegal and considered a Schedule I controlled substance, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)[15]. However, according to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, if CBN is extracted from hemp it is perfectly legal, provided that the THC content is below 0.3% on a dry weight basis[16]. 

While the United States has some limitations on the cannabinoid, the United Kingdom considers CBN and any of its derivatives a controlled substance [17] per the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 and is outright illegal to produce from hemp or marijuana, as well as illegal to consume [18]. The United Kingdom’s reasoning for keeping CBN illegal, despite motions to downgrade its status [19], is from a literature review where they found that of all the forms of CBN, only one showed any sort of psychoactive effects in test subjects [20], but that one study was enough for the advisory council to keep CBN on the Class B Schedule 1 list in the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 along with substances such as amphetamines and barbiturates.

Testing CBN Products

CBN, in the United States, is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and it’s important to know what exactly is in the products that are on the market (21). When purchasing a CBN product, make sure that there is a Certificate of Analysis (COA) from an accredited third-party laboratory associated with that specific product. These COAs are usually found as a scannable QR code on the product itself or on the distributor/manufacturer’s website. Shopping for CBN products can be overwhelming with the plethora of products out  on the market. Try to avoid products that do not have a certificate of analysis or have statements that claim their products may treat, cure, or prevent ailments. There is still research being done to learn more about any potential health effects and benefits CBN can provide. Currently, these supposed benefits are not recognized by the FDA.

Our Cannabinoid Testing Services at Ionization Labs are able to test the potency of CBN in products you develop or buy from a manufacturer. You can get verified and accurate results in as little as 24 hours! Any comments or questions about testing can be directed to or call us at 737-231-0772. In addition to our Cannabinoid Testing Services, we also offer CannID, an in-house testing solution for quality assurance/quality control during the product development cycle for our customers that manufacture their own products.


[1] III.—Cannabinol. Part I - Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions

[2] Structure of Cannabidiol, a Product Isolated from the Marihuana Extract of Minnesota Wild Hemp. I

[3] Cyclohexene | C6H10

[4] Benzene | C6H6

[5] Thermal-Oxidative Degradation of Polymers

[6] Phytocannabinoids: a unified critical inventory

[7] Effects of delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabinol in man

[8] Endocannabinoid System: A Simple Guide to How It Works

[9] Cannabinoid CB1 Discrimination: Effects of Endocannabinoids and Catabolic Enzyme Inhibitors

[10] Novel Cannabinol Probes for CB1 and CB2 Cannabinoid Receptors

[11] Cannabinol and cannabidiol exert opposing effects on rat feeding patterns

[12] Antibacterial cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa: a structure-activity study

[13] Cannabis constituents reduce seizure behavior in chemically-induced and scn1a-mutant zebrafish

[14] Cannabinol delays symptom onset in SOD1 (G93A) transgenic mice without affecting survival

[15] PART 1308 - Section 1308.11 Schedule I

[16] ''Subtitle G—Hemp Production

[17] Changes over time for: Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

[18] Misuse of Drugs Act 1971

[19] HO drugs advis. artwork

[20] Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs

[21] FDA Regulation of Cannabis and Cannabis-Derived Products, Including Cannabidiol (CBD) | FDA

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