The U.S seems to have some issues with sleeping. According to the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) some 83.6 million adults don’t catch enough Zzzs. I never considered myself a part of that statistic, until recently. The compounding stress of the past 18 months has taken its toll on my untouched sleep record, and now I’m one of the millions who tosses and turns for hours before finally drifting off. That said, this newly found sleep issue has forced me to explore solutions to the problem, and I’m digging into the cannabis space, particularly CBN. What does CBN do exactly and, more importantly, is it the golden ticket to a great night’s sleep?
While there are lots of morning remedies to help mask sleep deficiency (thank you, coffee and eye creams), they are not exactly long-term solutions to the problem at large, which can come with a range of health-related consequences. According to the CDC, a lack of sleep puts people at risk for heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and depression. And don’t even get me started on the physical marks poor sleep can leave in its wake — under-eye circles, lackluster skin, etc. (It’s called “beauty sleep” for a reason!)
While I’ve tried other sleep supplements like melatonin, they’ve always left me feeling sluggish and groggy in the morning. And, there’s not enough Sleepytime tea in the world to prevent my anxiety from keeping me awake at night — as cute as that little bear in the nightcap is.
Enter CBN, aka cannabinol, a cannabis compound similar to CBD in the way that it’s non-intoxicating, but is believed to have numerous therapeutic benefits. One of them being a sleep aid. As someone who uses cannabis products for various medicinal purposes, I decided I wanted to try CBN to see if it would help me regain my normal sleep hours.
What Is CBN?
In the simplest of terms, CBN is what you get with old cannabis. “CBN is a breakdown product of THC and it is commonly found in older cannabis samples,” Dr. June Chin, founder of MedLeaf RX, tells me. “Over time, when the cannabis is heated or exposed to oxygen, the THC will convert to CBN.” Since the THC is degraded, you won’t experience any psychoactive effects, but CBN has a whole host of its own potential benefits, which is why we’re hearing about it more and more.
Aside from being non-intoxicating, CBN shares other similarities with its CBD counterpart (which at this point has saturated the beauty and health worlds). “According to researchers, CBN has anticonvulsant and anti-inflammatory effects," Dr. Chin explains. But the thing that sets it apart is its rumored potential as a sleep aid, whereas small amounts of CBD are known to have a more energizing effect. However, in exploring said characteristics as a sleep aid, it seems CBN doesn't always work alone. “CBN has been shown to be sedating and relaxing, especially in the presence of THC,” says Dr. Chin. There is one well-cited (and old) 1975 study that explores the connection between CBN and sleep, but only shows CBN used with THC, making the claims that CBN is sedating by itself questionable.
Dr. Nadia Musavvir, a naturopathic doctor based in L.A, says that the more clinically established effects for CBN suggest that it can work for pain relief, and as a sleep aid and appetite stimulant. However, she also points out that formal studies on the various cannabis cannabinoids are still very preliminary and limited. “I think it can be effective as a sleep aid and [...] it is one of the more studied effects and supposed to be more effective than CBD for sleep,” she says.
That said, many medical professionals like Dr. Jordan Tishler, CEO/CMO of InhaleMD, have their doubts about the sleep claims altogether. “It’s not clear that there are any proven effects or benefits," he says. "People often discuss that CBN promotes sleep. However, THC/cannabis promotes sleep themselves, so it’s not clear how the conclusion that CBN is helpful has been determined. In my practice, there has only been one instance where a patient did not get adequate benefit for insomnia from ordinary cannabis. In that case we did try a CBN product, but it was not more helpful.”
There is also the possibility that CBN’s sleep-promoting power has to do with the entourage effect. This is the theory that the synergistic combination of the cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes (which are the essential oils in all plant life that have their own medicinal benefits) amplify the effects more than if they were alone. This is why full-spectrum CBD, which has all of the above cannabis compounds, is often promoted as “better” than CBD isolate, which only contains the pure, extracted CBD without anything else.
Dr. Tishler mentions one particular terpene, myrcene, which is commonly found in cannabis, as well as mangoes, lemongrass, and thyme. “Many cannabis strains contain high levels of myrcene, which has been shown to promote sleep (and is marketed in Germany as a sleep aid, without THC).” Jeremy Riggle, Chief Scientist of Mary’s Medicinals, a cannabis brand that makes a CBN transdermal patch, also believes CBN is more effective when combined with THC. “There are many anecdotal stories about CBN being a great sleep aid,” he says. “Interestingly, CBN was found to be ‘inactive’ when tested alone in humans, meanwhile producing greater sedation when combined with THC.”
I Tried CBN For Sleep — Here's What Happened
After talking to these experts, it seems like a CBN/THC product would be the way to go. Edibles brand Kiva Confections recently came out with a cannabis gummy marketed towards better sleep that combines both CBN and THC. Co-founder Kristi Knoblich Palmer says that the brand decided to make the Camino Midnight Blueberry gummies after hearing from customers who used the brand’s Terra Bites and Petra Mints, specifically for sleep. “Studies have shown that CBN works best in conjunction with THC, so we knew we were working with both those cannabinoids,” she explains. “Midnight Blueberry is also the second product we've added functional ingredients into, in this case chamomile and lavender, to increase the efficacy.” (Both chamomile and lavender have been used throughout history to help humans relax.)
While developing the gummy, Kiva found that a higher amount of CBN created a kind of “cannabis hangover experience,” something most people wouldn’t want. Keeping this in mind, they devised a perfectly balanced ratio of 5mg of THC and 1 mg of CBN, which would allow users to get a good night’s sleep, but wake up refreshed the next day. That was exactly what I needed.
My first impression was that it had a nice, natural blueberry flavor, with only minimal cannabis plant taste. (Kiva opts for natural flavors over the corn syrup commonly used in edibles.) It was delicious, but dangerous, since I had to make sure I shut the tin immediately so I didn’t mindlessly pop another one in my mouth. The gummy worked fairly quickly, and I began feeling sleepy within 30 minutes.
With my eyes half-closed, I brushed my teeth and barely made it to bed, thankful that I had the smarts to wash my face earlier. I passed out as soon as my head hit my pillow. In the middle of the night, I woke up to use the bathroom and noticed I felt groggy. However, the next morning, that sluggishness was gone. The next day, I had a similar experience, falling asleep fairly fast. Though, this time I slept through the entire night. For the next couple of days, I didn’t change my dosage, deciding to stick to just one gummy. I thought, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and I feared two gummies (10 mg of THC) would be too strong for me.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with these CBN gummies. While I’m not entirely sure if I could attribute the good sleep solely to the CBN, I do know that in the past, with other 5mg THC edibles, I hadn’t been able to fall asleep as quickly. There is definitely more research needed to be done when it comes to CBN and its potential sleep benefits, but I’m just happy that I found something to help me quiet my mind a little in these trying times.
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