Lack of sleep is not an uncommon issue in this country. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) estimates that 83.6 million adults in the U.S. get less than the recommended eight hours. That said, I’ve rarely experienced insomnia — until recently. Lately, stress has put a dent in my near-perfect sleep record, and I’ve found myself tossing and turning before being able to drift off. This development forced me to explore the buzzy cannabis-derived CBN and figure out exactly what it does — and if its reputation for improving sleep were legit.
Strong coffee and a good eye cream might be a temporary fix for this deficiency but, long-term, inadequate sleep has serious 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. On the vanity front, even one night of poor sleep can result in droopy eyelids and under-eye circles. (It’s called “beauty sleep” for a reason!) Now, I’m not one for traditional sleep aids — melatonin works, but not without some morning sluggishness and grogginess. 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 weed. “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 weed 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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