What is Cannabinol (CBN)? An Intro to the “Sleepy” Cannabinoid

By | last updated May 17, 2023

Medically reviewed by
Kimberly Langdon, MD

Evidence Based 11

We’ve all heard of THC and CBD, the main active compounds in cannabis. But the plant contains dozens of minor cannabinoids, each with its own effects.

CBN is one such rare cannabinoid. Like CBD, it appears to have a wide range of benefits and is particularly popular as a sleep aid. Here’s what we know about CBN and its potential uses. 

What is CBN?

Cannabinol (CBN) is a naturally occurring, non-intoxicating cannabinoid present in cannabis. It’s considered a “minor” cannabinoid because its levels in regular cannabis plants are relatively low.

Unlike most cannabinoids, which are made directly by the cannabis plant, CBN is a degradation product of THC. More specifically, when cannabis is harvested and exposed to heat and light, the THC gradually breaks down into CBN (1). As a result, old cannabis buds have lower THC and higher CBN concentrations. 

Over the past few years, CBN has gone from a relatively obscure cannabinoid to the next big thing next to CBD. Most of that has to do with its proposed sleep benefits. 

Did you know? CBN was the first cannabinoid to be isolated from cannabis in 1896. Thanks to its remarkable stability, CBN is used to identify ancient cannabis samples (1).

How Does CBN Differ from CBD?

Main Potential BenefitsAnti-inflammatory, sleep aid, pain relief, neuroprotection, appetite stimulantAnti-inflammatory, sleep aid, pain relief, neuroprotection, appetite suppressant, anti-seizure, anti-anxiety, anti-nausea, anticancer, antipsychotic
Main MechanismsEndocannabinoid CB2 receptor, TRP channelsFAAH endocannabinoid enzyme, serotonin receptor, TRP channels, and more

CBD and CBN are different in some ways and alike in others. Some key similarities:

  1. Both are non-intoxicating, so they won’t get you high. 
  2. CBD and CBN share some properties, like anti-inflammatory, and pain-relieving effects
  3. Both are widely used to support healthy sleep, usually in combination

Their differences include:

  1. CBN is found in much smaller quantities than CBD
  2. CBN seems to increase appetite, whereas CBD appears to reduce it
  3. CBN works differently from CBD

CBN Effects & Benefits

Research suggests that CBN has a variety of potential health benefits:

  • Sedation. In a 1975 clinical study, CBN increased the drowsiness caused by THC in healthy men (2).
  • Anti-inflammatory. In a 2013 mouse study, CBN reduced inflammatory molecules, helping reduce airway allergy (3).
  • Pain relief. CBN improved muscle pain in a 2019 rat study (4)
  • Neuroprotection. A 2005 mice study found that CBN may protect neurons from damage and delay the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) (5), while a 2011 study, CBN protected mitochondria from age-related neurodegeneration, suggesting benefits for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease (6)
  • Appetite stimulation. A 2012 study found that CBN stimulated appetite in rats (7)
  • Anti-glaucoma. A 2022 study in isolated cells and rats found that CBN may protect against glaucoma (8)
  • Antibacterial. CBN showed antibacterial properties in a 2008 study (9)
  • Epidermolysis bullosa. Ongoing research suggests that CBN may help with a rare skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa, which causes easy blistering of the skin (1).
  • ADHD. A 2020 Israeli study found that cannabis strains high in CBN were associated with improved ADHD symptoms in 59 adults (10).

All in all, the available research suggests that CBN has many potential benefits, some similar to CBD, while others distinct. However, further research is needed to confirm these findings in humans and fully understand CBN’s therapeutic potential.

CBN & Sleep: The Jury is Still Out

There’s a widespread belief that CBN may help manage sleep-related problems like insomnia. It’s based on the observation that cannabis that’s been left to sit around too long and is rich in CBN has more potent sleep-inducing effects.

But according to trusted cannabis researcher Dr. Ethan Russo, this may be because old marijuana is rich in oxygenated terpenes, which have more sedating effects. 

In fact, there’s no evidence that CBN makes you sleepy. The only relevant study we have was a 1975 clinical investigation that compared the effects of CBN and THC.

The researchers found that pure CBN did not make people more sleepy, but when combined with THC, it enhanced its sedative effects (2). So it’s possible that CBN might strengthen the effects of other sleep-inducing cannabinoids.

But one old study isn’t enough to say that CBN helps you sleep; rigorous evidence is needed. As concluded by researchers in a 2021 review paper, “…there is insufficient published evidence to support sleep-related claims. Randomized controlled trials are needed to substantiate claims made by manufacturers of cannabis products containing CBN.” (11).

The bottom line is that while CBN might work synergistically with CBD and other cannabinoids to improve sleep, more studies of its effects on sleep are sorely needed.

How Does CBN Work?

We don’t yet fully understand how CBN works. But like all cannabinoids, it seems to interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).

In particular, research suggests that CBN has a stronger attraction to CB2 receptors, which are common in immune system tissues, rather than CB1 receptors (which THC has a strong affinity for) (1).

CBN may also interact with TRP channels, which are involved in pain and inflammation.

My Experience With CBN

I’ve tested over a dozen CBN products, including oils, gummies, and capsules. It’s tough to say how CBN compares to CBD; for one thing, most of the products that are sold combine CBN with larger amounts of CBD.

Still, CBN products were more effective at improving my sleep than regular CBD formulas. I generally fell asleep faster, woke up fewer times during the night, and felt more rested. I also felt the calm and relaxation that’s common with CBD.

Most of the products I tested used full-spectrum formulas with more CBD than CBN. Until more research on CBN is done, I believe this is the ideal approach. After all, the only human study of CBN found that it improved the drowsiness caused by other cannabinoids. 

cbn products I've tested and reviewed
Some of the CBN products I’ve tested.

Safety & Side Effects

There isn’t much research on CBN so we don’t know if it has any side effects. However, considering its similarity to CBD, it’s probably relatively safe and has only minor side effects, such as drowsiness. 

But until more studies are done we won’t know for sure, so you should exercise caution. That’s especially true if you’re taking prescription medications that CBN could potentially interact with.

CBN Dosage

We don’t have enough evidence to suggest a CBN dosage. Besides, it varies based on your body weight, genetics, the type of product you’re using, and other factors. 

The ideal approach is to start with a small amount and slowly work your way up until you start to feel the desired effects (12). You can also use your product’s suggested dosage as a starting point. 

I used this method to find the right CBD and CBN dosage for myself.

Shopping for and Using CBN Products

CBN is sold in the same variety of products as CBD, including oils, capsules, gummies, topicals, and vapes. In most cases, the CBN is combined with a larger dose of CBD, but it depends. 

Generally, you’ll come across three types of CBN formulas:

  • Pure CBN isolate without any other cannabinoids
  • Pure cannabinol isolate combined with pure CBD
  • A full-spectrum CBD formula containing the full range of hemp cannabinoids and terpenes, plus added CBN

I recommend going for full-spectrum CBN oil as your go-to product. Full-spectrum formulas are more effective than isolated cannabinoids, while oils are generally the best way to administer CBN, thanks to efficient absorption, long-lasting effects, and easy dosage control.

Whatever product you choose, if you’re using CBN for sleep, take it about 30-60 minutes before bed to give it time to kick in.


  1. Maioli, Chiara, et al. “Cannabinol: History, Syntheses, and Biological Profile of the Greatest “Minor” Cannabinoid.” Plants 11.21 (2022): 2896.
  2. Karniol, Isac G., et al. “Effects of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabinol in man.” Pharmacology 13.6 (1975): 502-512.
  3. Jan, Tong-Rong, et al. “Attenuation of the ovalbumin-induced allergic airway response by cannabinoid treatment in A/J mice☆.” Toxicology and applied pharmacology 188.1 (2003): 24-35.
  4. Wong, Hayes, and Brian E. Cairns. “Cannabidiol, cannabinol and their combinations act as peripheral analgesics in a rat model of myofascial pain.” Archives of oral biology 104 (2019): 33-39.
  5. Weydt, Patrick, et al. “Cannabinol delays symptom onset in SOD1 (G93A) transgenic mice without affecting survival.” Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis 6.3 (2005): 182-184.
  6. Liang, Zhibin, et al. “Cannabinol inhibits oxytosis/ferroptosis by directly targeting mitochondria independently of cannabinoid receptors.” Free Radical Biology and Medicine 180 (2022): 33-51.
  7. Farrimond, Jonathan A., Benjamin J. Whalley, and Claire M. Williams. “Cannabinol and cannabidiol exert opposing effects on rat feeding patterns.” Psychopharmacology 223 (2012): 117-129.
  8. Somvanshi, Rishi K., et al. “Cannabinol modulates neuroprotection and intraocular pressure: A potential multi-target therapeutic intervention for glaucoma.” Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA)-Molecular Basis of Disease 1868.3 (2022): 166325.
  9. Appendino, Giovanni, et al. “Antibacterial cannabinoids from Cannabis sativa: a structure− activity study.” Journal of natural products 71.8 (2008): 1427-1430.
  10. Hergenrather, Jeffrey Y., et al. “Cannabinoid and terpenoid doses are associated with adult ADHD status of medical cannabis patients.” Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal 11.1 (2020).
  11. Corroon, Jamie. “Cannabinol and sleep: separating fact from fiction.” Cannabis and cannabinoid research 6.5 (2021): 366-371.
  12. Lucas, Catherine J., Peter Galettis, and Jennifer Schneider. “The pharmacokinetics and the pharmacodynamics of cannabinoids.” British journal of clinical pharmacology 84.11 (2018): 2477-2482.