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CBD vs CBN: What’s the Difference?

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 29, 2021

Cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabinol (CBN) are two of the more than 100 types of natural chemical components called cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.

You may have heard of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical in marijuana that produces a high. But unlike THC, CBD and CBN are dubbed as milder drugs. That means they are non-psychoactive and don’t alter your mind. Instead, they’re touted for their medical benefits.

However, they’re not the same. Though CBD and CBN interact with the same receptors in your body, they produce different effects.

CBD is more popular than CBN. It’s mostly derived from the hemp plant and legal for consumption. But state laws vary. You can find CBD-infused products in grocery stores to gas stations. It’s found in several beauty and food products such as oils, shampoos, creams, pills, and chocolates. People often use it to help manage symptoms from anxiety, insomnia, and a range of chronic pain and other medical conditions.

CBN, on the other hand, is not as popular or readily available. This is because there hasn’t been a lot of human or animal research done on the benefits, uses, and side effects. But CBN is slowly gaining popularity for its potential benefits for sleep and pain management.

CBD: Benefits and Uses

CBD is hailed as a cure-all for variety of medical conditions and pain symptoms. However, the jury is still out, and there needs to be more scientific research to back up the claims.

There is strong evidence on CBD’s benefits and effectiveness against certain seizure-causing epilepsy syndromes such as:

These medical conditions, which mostly affect children, don’t respond well to several antiseizure medications. But numerous studies have shown that CBD can significantly lower symptoms or stop them altogether in some cases.

To combat epilepsy conditions, the FDA approved the first and only CBD drug, called Epidiolex. Research on CBD use for medical treatment for health conditions is still ongoing and limited.

Currently, its uses are being looked into for medical conditions like:

  • Parkinson's disease
  • Schizophrenia
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Anxiety
  • Cancer

Other animal studies and self-reported benefits of CBD use for conditions include:

Insomnia. Certain studies have shown that CBD may help with sleep issues like falling or staying sleep.

Chronic pain. While research is limited, some studies have shown that CBD may help lower inflammation in your joints and muscles in conditions like arthritis. This may help improve quality of life, but there needs to be more evidence.

Addiction. Some studies suggest that CBD can reduce cravings caused by mind-altering drugs like opiates, THC, other stimulants, and alcohol.

CBN: Benefits and Uses

CBN can be understood as a weaker version of THC. When THC components found in the cannabis plant age, they break down. This leads to the formation of a less potent cannabinoid called CBN. It’s about 25% as effective as THC, which makes it a mild chemical.

Unlike CBD, which is entirely non-psychoactive, CBN in larger doses can produce mild psychoactive reactions.

CBN has not been studied or used as widely as CBD or THC, so there’s very limited knowledge or research on its uses and benefits. Some of the potential uses and benefits observed in few studies include:

Sleep aid. CBN has shown to have sedative properties that could relieve conditions like insomnia. However, more research is required.

Pain relief. In a study of rats, CBN use showed relief in muscle and joint pain conditions like fibromyalgia. The study also noted that pain relief was better when CBD and CBN were used together.

Neuroprotective properties. One 2005 study found that CBN could help delay the onset of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a disease that affects cells in the brain and the spinal cord. CBN was given in small amounts for a period of 12 weeks. However, more research is required in this area.

How Can You Consume CBD or CBN?

CBD is in a variety of oral and topical products that you can find online or in your local grocery store, gas station, or a pharmacy. It’s also available in legally operated marijuana dispensaries.

You can consume CBD as:

  • Gummies
  • Edibles
  • Pills
  • Patches
  • Creams
  • Oils
  • Tinctures
  • Lotions
  • Shampoo
  • Vape pens

CBN isn’t as widely available, but it’s found in forms like:

  • Oils
  • Tinctures
  • Capsules
  • Disposable vape pens
  • Tea bags
  • CBN isolate

CBD vs CBN: What Are the Risks and Side Effects?

While CBD has numerous self-reported and studied health benefits, it may have side effects and still has the potential to harm you if you use it incorrectly or use tainted or mislabeled products. According to the FDA, it’s illegal to market CBD when it’s added to food or sold as dietary supplements.

Quality of the CBD product and products with unproven medical claims can also have some serious effects on your health. While a product off the shelf or sold online may seem like a CBD-infused product, it may contain traces of THC and misleading information on purity and dosage. This can hamper the safety of the product. It can also show up on a drug test or lead to severe consequences legally or medically.

One recent study of 84 CBD products bought online showed that more than 20 products contained less CBD than the label advertised. Moreover, THC was found in 18 products.

Experts don’t fully know the long- and short-term effects of CBD use, and there needs to be more research done on its uses, risks, and benefits.

CBD side effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Diarrhea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Liver injury
  • Possible infertility in males
  • Mood changes
  • Lack of alertness
  • Irritability

CBD can also have adverse side effects if it interacts with prescription drugs or alcohol.

There are no known side effects of CBN. That’s not because there aren’t any, but there’s not enough evidence to know CBN’s short- and long-term effects on your health.

If you’re planning to try CBD or CBN and it’s your first time, talk to your doctor about potential benefits and side effects before you use it. If you’re not sure about the type of product or what dosage is right for you, consult a medical expert.

If you notice adverse or allergic reactions from CBD or CBN products, call 911 or head to the nearest hospital for medical help.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

FDA: “What You Need to Know (And What We’re Working to Find Out) About Products Containing Cannabis or Cannabis-derived Compounds, Including CBD.”

Mayo Clinic: “What are the benefits of CBD — and is it safe to use?”

Kaiser Permanente: “What you need to know about CBD.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Cannabidiol (CBD)-what we know and what we don't.”

MD Anderson Cancer Center: “CBD oil and cancer: 9 things to know.”

ScienceDirect: “Cannabinol.”

Projectcbd.org: “Cannabinol.”

National Institutes of Health: “Cannabis (Marijuana) and Cannabinoids: What You Need To Know.”

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Other Motor Neuron Disorders: “Cannabinol delays symptom onset in SOD1 (G93A) transgenic mice without affecting survival.”

Archives of Oral Biology: “Cannabidiol, cannabinol and their combinations act as peripheral analgesics in a rat model of myofascial pain.”

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