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What's the Difference Between CBD and CBN?

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Please see a doctor before taking any medications or supplements for your health, including CBD, CBN and THC.

It may be easy to confuse the similarly named CBD (cannabidiol) and CBN (cannabinol), but there are some important distinctions between these compounds found in cannabis. They are both cannabinoids, just two of more than 120 that are found in the plant, which interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the human body to produce a variety of health effects.

Perhaps the most well-known cannabinoid is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the component of marijuana that is responsible for producing a psychoactive “high.” The popularity of CBD has grown in recent years, particularly for medicinal purposes, as more has been learned through research about how it affects the body. By comparison, CBN is a by-product of THC that also doesn’t provide a “high.” Research into CBN is still relatively new but is steadily increasing.

What Is the Endocannabinoid System?

According to Lauren Wilson, cannabis expert and author of “The CBD Solution: Wellness,” “Both CBD and CBN are active compounds called cannabinoids that are made naturally by hemp and cannabis plants. These compounds work with a bodily system all mammals share: the endocannabinoid system (or ECS). The ECS works tirelessly to help maintain balance in the body.”

First identified in the 1990s during research into THC, the endocannabinoid system is still only partially understood. According to Healthline it is linked to maintaining homeostasis, or the body’s ability to regulate its internal stability. It’s been associated with keeping balance in appetite and digestion, motor control, metabolism, immune function, inflammation, mood, sleep, temperature, pain, and more.

When something disrupts the body’s homeostasis, through illness or injury for example, the ECS kicks into gear to bring things back into alignment. As explained by VeryWellHealth, it operates through cannabinoid receptors found in tissues scattered around the body. So far, two cannabinoid receptors have been identified, CB1 and CB2, and are found largely in cells throughout the central nervous system and immune system.

Some conditions resistant to traditional treatments, like fibromyalgia, migraines and irritable bowel syndrome, are believed to be linked to problems with the ECS. Research is continuing into cannabinoids as treatment alternatives for these and many other illnesses.

What is CBD?

CBD seems to be everywhere these days as many people believe it is a good way to get the medicinal benefits of marijuana without the psychoactive effects caused by THC. According to Forbes, however, some people report feeling a psychoactive response to CBD that includes higher levels of THC. For this reason, you may want to choose a brand of CBD that contains less than 0.3% THC.

Cannabis users have anecdotally reported that CBD works against some of the negative affects of THC, like paranoia and anxiety. It is also considered as an alternative treatment for anxiety, chronic pain, seizures, and nausea, according to Harvard Health. In children it has been shown effective in treating epilepsy variants including Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome. The FDA has approved one CBD solution, called Epidolex, for the treatment of these conditions.

CBD can have some unpleasant side effects like irritability, fatigue and nausea and it can raise the level of some medications, like coumadin, in the blood.

What is CBN?

While CBD is the second-most plentiful cannabinoid in marijuana, behind THC, CBN is only produced as a by-product. “We do know that CBN is created when THC degrades,” Wilson said. “THC turns into CBN over time, or when exposed to air and light. While there are more and more products hitting the market claiming that CBN can help with sleep, there isn’t a lot of evidence to support that just yet.”

Wilson noted, “Cannabinol (or CBN) is the new kid on the cannabinoid block. It is attracting a lot more scientific interest and we’ll be getting more insight into its potential uses soon. But as of right now, there isn’t a lot of research on CBN.”

What’s the Difference Between CBD and CBN?

Like CBD, CBN does not produce an intoxicating response and is thought to mute some of the negative effects of THC. One study by the British Journal of Pharmacology found that cannabis with high levels of CBN produces a more relaxing high than that typically experienced.

Neither CBD or CBN products are regulated by the FDA so it’s always important to read the label carefully and obtain products from a reputable company. And, as with any health choice, talk to your doctor before beginning to take anything new to check for interactions with other medications or any health affects you may not have considered.

For more on using cannabis for your health, check out these Mighty articles:

Header image via Sohini on Unsplash

Originally published: September 30, 2020
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