CBD vs. CBN: What’s the Difference?

cbn vs cbd
By Anthony Pellegrino Updated May 3rd

Fact-checked by Alexandra Arnett, MS

These days, whether you use cannabis or not, it's likely you've heard of CBD. In recent years, its popularity has exploded, and you can find CBD products being sold everywhere, from your local gas station to your local pharmacy. 

While CBD is one of the most prominent and well-known cannabinoids alongside THC, it is far from the only one found in the cannabis plant. Another has been making waves in the world of wellness and health – CBN. But what sets these two compounds apart?

Cannabinoids are the naturally occurring compounds found in cannabis plants.1 Our bodies have an endocannabinoid system (ECS) that works harmoniously with these cannabinoids.2 It's like a special lock-and-key mechanism, with specific cannabinoids binding to certain receptors, helping regulate various bodily functions like mood, appetite, pain sensation, and more.

You might be surprised to know that there are over a hundred different cannabinoids out there, each with its unique potential to affect the body and brain. It's like a diverse family, but in this article, we're focusing on two members – CBD (cannabidiol) and CBN (cannabinol).

CBN doesn't get as much attention as its sibling CBD, but it certainly deserves some spotlight. While research on its effects is still in its early stages, it shows great promise in certain areas.

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What is CBD?

CBD, short for cannabidiol, is a remarkable cannabinoid found in cannabis plants. It's one of the most abundant compounds in the plant, comprising up to 40% of the plant's extract. However, CBD is primarily derived from hemp, a cannabis variety with extremely low levels of THC, the component that gets you high. This means that CBD won't leave you feeling intoxicated or impaired in any way.3

The legality of CBD has been a topic of much debate, but in recent years, there has been a significant shift toward its acceptance and legalization. In the United States, the 2018 Farm Bill made industrial hemp legal at the federal level, leading to the widespread availability of CBD, provided the products contain less than 0.3% delta 9- THC.

While research is still ongoing, numerous studies and user testimonials suggest that CBD may hold therapeutic promise for a wide range of conditions. From anxiety and depression relief to help with sleeplessness and chronic pain, CBD seems to be a multi-talented player in the wellness game.4

For those battling anxiety, CBD might offer a ray of hope. Some studies have indicated its potential to reduce anxiety symptoms, helping users find a sense of calm and relaxation.5 Not only that, but individuals struggling with sleep issues might find solace in CBD, as it could potentially improve sleep quality.6

While these findings are encouraging, the results aren't conclusive just yet. As mentioned in a 2022 review of existing CBD research, much of the existing data comes from case studies or open-label trials, which have their limitations.7 Further research, including placebo-controlled clinical trials, is needed to provide more robust evidence of any conclusive claims.

What is CBN?

CBN, short for cannabinol, is another intriguing cannabinoid found in cannabis plants. Although it might not be as well-known as CBD, CBN has unique properties worth exploring.

So, where does CBN come from? Well, it's not a primary compound in fresh cannabis flowers. Instead, CBN is a byproduct that forms over time as the plant ages and its THC content degrades. When exposed to oxygen or heat, THC slowly converts into CBN.8 This is why aged or improperly stored cannabis may have higher levels of CBN.

Considering CBN is produced as THC degrades, it should be no surprise that CBN is mildly intoxicating, in stark contrast to CBD, which is not intoxicating at all. 

When it comes to the legality of CBN, things start to get a bit tricky. CBN itself is not listed as a controlled substance, and it does fall under the 2018 Farm Bill as a legal-hemp derivative. However, CBN derived from marijuana plants is still subject to the same regulations as other cannabis compounds. 

The problem is although CBN is found within hemp plants, it is only found in trace amounts. CBN is produced by the degradation of THC, of which hemp contains virtually none. Therefore, to create CBN in commercially viable quantities, manufacturers need to convert CBD biomass into CBN, which is first done by converting it to delta 8-THC or delta 9-THC. CBN can be found at both licensed dispensaries and online retailers selling hemp-derived cannabinoids. CBN is typically sold in the form of edibles or otherwise ingestible products. 

Now, the million-dollar question: What are the main benefits of CBN? What is CBN good for? While research on this particular cannabinoid is still in its early stages, some studies have hinted at its potential therapeutic effects, specifically regarding relaxation and sleep. 

However, it's crucial to note that evidence supporting CBN's sleep-related claims is lacking. A 2021 study, for instance, found that "Evidence demonstrating that CBN itself elicits cannabis-like effects in humans is mixed, with the majority of available evidence demonstrating a lack of such an effect. Consequently, there is insufficient published evidence to support sleep-related claims."9

As the research on CBN continues to unfold, we'll keep our eyes peeled for more concrete evidence and insights into this lesser-known cannabinoid. While it may not be the star of the show like CBD, CBN is undoubtedly an exciting player in the world of cannabis compounds.

CBD vs. CBN: Comparing the Benefits

First things first, both CBD and CBN have shown promise in certain areas, but they aren't exactly carbon copies of each other. While they share some potential benefits, they also possess distinct qualities that set them apart.

CBD's repertoire of potential benefits is quite extensive. It's been linked to helping manage anxiety and stress, promoting relaxation, and potentially reducing pain and inflammation. Some users have also reported improved sleep patterns with CBD use. And all these benefits are likely due to CBD's interaction with the endocannabinoid system, which may contribute to its ability to support overall well-being.10

On the other hand, a new animal study published in August 2023 reported that isolated CBN had the potential to reduce wake after sleep onset and may increase non-rapid eye movement.11 Anecdotal reports also suggest that CBN has a particular knack for sleep-related issues. However, research on CBN's sleep benefits is still limited, and more studies are needed to fully understand its efficacy in this area.

What is most notable about the differences between CBN and CBD is the fact that CBN is mildly intoxicating, whereas CBD is not. CBN is largely produced by decaying THC, so it shares some of the intoxicating effects of this cannabinoid. 

When it comes to comparing the two, it's challenging to definitively say which cannabinoid is "better" because their effects can vary from person to person. Individual responses to cannabinoids can be influenced by genetics, metabolism, and the specific health condition being addressed.

Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that while CBN interacts with the endocannabinoid system, much like other cannabinoids, it has a lower affinity for the CB1 receptor.12 This means you'd need, in theory, to take much higher doses of CBN to experience its effects compared to other cannabinoids like THC. Though it may affect the endocannabinoid system in other ways, like CBD does.

To add another player to the mix, let's bring CBG (cannabigerol) into the equation. Some research suggests that CBG may have potential benefits related to pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects.13

However, like CBN, research on CBG is still in its infancy, and more comprehensive studies are needed to understand its full potential.

When exploring the diverse world of cannabinoids, it's important to remember that the effects of these compounds can be complex and multifaceted. What works wonders for one person might not have the same impact on another.

Best CBD and CBN Products

Best CBD and CBN Products

While CBD and CBN have their unique potential benefits, combining them might just be a winning strategy. The entourage effect suggests that cannabinoids work better together than in isolation. When CBD and CBN team up, they may enhance each other's effects, producing a more comprehensive and well-rounded experience.

There are a variety of fantastic products utilizing CBD, CBN, or in the best cases, both. There's no single best answer for getting the most out of these cannabinoids, so consider your options and pick what looks best for you.

Flower

CBD and CBN-rich hemp flower offer a convenient and natural way to enjoy the entourage effect. You can find strains with varying CBD to CBN ratios, allowing you to tailor your experience to your preferences. 

Some of the best CBD-CBN flower may include:

  • Animal Cookies: A cross between Girl Scout Cookies and Fire OG, Animal Cookies contains high levels of cannabinoids like CBN. 
  • White Widow: A hugely popular strain and is one of the most accessible CBN-rich hemp strains available
  • Strawberry Haze: An award-winning strain that boasts a scent of sweet strawberries along with an assortment of other delicious fruits

Gummies

CBD gummies have gained immense popularity as a tasty and discreet way to consume cannabinoids. However, for CBN products in general, gummies are another immensely popular choice. These delightful treats come in various flavors and potencies, making them a favorite among many users.

Some of the highest rated CBD-CBN gummies include:

Tinctures

CBD and CBN tinctures are liquid extracts in dropper bottles, making dosing a breeze. By placing a few drops under your tongue, you can experience the potential benefits of both cannabinoids. Tinctures also offer the flexibility to adjust your dosage according to your needs.

Some of the highest rated CBD-CBN tinctures include:

Topicals

CBD and CBN topicals like creams, balms, and salves are recommended by consumers for targeted relief. When applied directly to the skin, they may help soothe sore muscles, alleviate discomfort, and provide potential anti-inflammatory effects.

Regardless of your product of choice, always opt for reputable brands that provide third-party lab test results to guarantee product quality and potency.

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References

  1.  Radwan MM, Chandra S, Gul S, ElSohly MA. Cannabinoids, Phenolics, Terpenes and Alkaloids of Cannabis. Molecules. 2021;26(9):2774. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26092774
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  2.  Shahbazi F, Grandi V, Banerjee A, Trant JF. Cannabinoids and Cannabinoid Receptors: The Story so Far. iScience. 2020;23(7):101301. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2020.101301
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  3.  Spindle TR, Cone EJ, Goffi E, et al. Pharmacodynamic effects of vaporized and oral cannabidiol (CBD) and vaporized CBD-dominant cannabis in infrequent cannabis users. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2020;211:107937. doi:10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2020.107937
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  4.  Rapin L, Gamaoun R, El Hage C, Arboleda MF, Prosk E. Cannabidiol use and effectiveness: real-world evidence from a Canadian medical cannabis clinic. Journal of Cannabis Research. 2021;3(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/s42238-021-00078-w
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  5.  Blessing EM, Steenkamp MM, Manzanares J, Marmar CR. Cannabidiol as a Potential Treatment for Anxiety Disorders. Neurotherapeutics. 2015;12(4):825-836. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-015-0387-1
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  6.  Shannon S. Cannabidiol in Anxiety and Sleep: A Large Case Series. The Permanente Journal. 2019;23(1). doi:https://doi.org/10.7812/tpp/18-041
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  7.  Peng J, Fan M, An C, Ni F, Huang W, Luo J. A narrative review of molecular mechanism and therapeutic effect of cannabidiol (CBD). Basic & Clinical Pharmacology & Toxicology. 2022;130(4):439-456. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/bcpt.13710
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  8.  Repka MA, Munjal M, ElSohly MA, Ross SA. Temperature Stability and Bioadhesive Properties of Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol Incorporated Hydroxypropylcellulose Polymer Matrix Systems. Drug Development and Industrial Pharmacy. 2006;32(1):21-32. doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/03639040500387914
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  9.  Corroon J. Cannabinol and Sleep: Separating Fact from Fiction. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research. Published online August 31, 2021. doi:https://doi.org/10.1089/can.2021.0006
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  10.  Chye Y, Christensen E, Solowij N, Yücel M. The Endocannabinoid System and Cannabidiol’s Promise for the Treatment of Substance Use Disorder. Frontiers in Psychiatry. 2019;10. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00063
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  11.  Lavender I, McCartney D, Marshall N, et al. Cannabinol (CBN; 30 and 300 mg) effects on sleep and next-day function in insomnia disorder ('CUPID' study): protocol for a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over, three-arm, proof-of-concept trial. BMJ Open. 2023;13(8):e071148. Published 2023 Aug 23. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2022-071148
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  12.  Morales P, Hurst DP, Reggio PH. Molecular targets of the phytocannabinoids: A complex picture. Progress in the Chemistry of Organic Natural Products. 2017;103:103-131. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-45541-9_4
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  13.  Kogan NM, Lavi Y, Topping LM, et al. Novel CBG Derivatives Can Reduce Inflammation, Pain and Obesity. Molecules. 2021;26(18):5601. doi:https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules26185601
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The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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