What is CBN? Is CBN legal in the UK?

Jonathan Dunkley
What is CBN? Is CBN legal in the UK?

The two most well-known cannabinoids are THC and CBD, however there are a range of other naturally occurring cannabinoids which are less obvious; one of which is CBN (cannabinol). CBN has become more discussed in recent years, as legal cannabis industries abroad try to find new and exciting cannabinoids which users will be interested to try. This growth has been so successful, that CBN edible sales now encompass more than 10% of total edible sales of Colorado's legal cannabis industry. Will CBN be a passing fad or does it have interesting properties that will make it popular and useful in the long-term?

What do you need to know about CBN? What kind of effects does it have? Today we’re taking a closer look at this less common cannabinoid and covering all the essential information you need to know.

Is CBN natural?

CBN was one of the first naturally occurring phytocannabinoids isolated by scientists from the cannabis plant in the late 1800s. CBN isn’t usually found in high concentrations in living cannabis plants, however once a plant has been harvested its CBN content will slowly increase.

CBN is a metabolite of THC, meaning that THC breaks down into CBN. This happens when THC is exposed to heat and oxygen, with the process increasing in speed as temperature and oxygen levels are also increased. For this reason, aged and cured cannabis flowers typically contain elevated levels of CBN, although it can take a very long time for all of the THC in a plant to be metabolised into CBN.

Delta-9-THC + Heat + Oxygen = CBN

In legal cannabis markets in the USA, it’s common for manufacturers to cure the plants as quickly as possible, in order to minimise CBN content, maximise THC and maintain the buds’ bright green “fresh” appearance. Conversely, in Amsterdam manufacturers will often extend the curing process to 90 days or longer, resulting in slightly darker coloured buds, which have a significantly higher CBN content.

Ultimately, a CBN product is likely to be “natural” if the THC used to create it was naturally harvested from a cannabis plant. It’s certainly possible for synthetically created THC to be artificially degraded into CBN, though this is not thought to be a common practice in legal markets abroad.

What effects does CBN have?

CBN is psychoactive, providing the user a “high” when consumed. It does this by acting as an agonist against the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the body, which are the same receptors that THC acts on. 

Anecdotally, users of CBN suggest that it feels very similar to THC, but leans towards a sedative experience which is best for sleep and relaxation. The stimulating effects of cannabis are said to be less common with CBN, making the overall experience milder and shorter. In commercial CBN products, it is frequently paired with CBD, as both are thought to help users to relax and sleep, with minimal anxiety.

There are currently ongoing studies to see if CBN could help insomnia patients to sleep better, as well as research underway to see if CBN could be a treatment for ocular diseases and epidermolysis bullosa. Quite often CBN is paired with Melatonin (an important chemical which supports sleep in humans) in cannabis products, to help people get to sleep quickly and easily.

There is limited evidence that CBN could help to protect ageing brain cells, but more research is required before this can be said for certain. One of the lead researchers for this study said, “Evidence has shown that CBN is safe in animals and human. CBN could also work in a wide variety of cells with ample therapeutic potential.”

Is CBN safe?

There are no reports in medical literature of CBN having significant toxicity, with most assessments suggesting that it has a very similar safety profile to THC, where effects may be pronounced, but its ultimate safety is likely to be good.

Some users of CBN say that consuming it alongside THC products intensifies the overall effects, in some cases making them too intense. There’s some research supporting this, showing that when both substances are consumed together they produce a pain relieving analgesic effect. Legal cannabis users outside the UK should take care with CBN’s powerful combination.

Is CBN legal in the UK? 

The Psychoactive Substances Act 2016 bans all psychoactive cannabinoids in the UK, and classifies them as Class B drugs. This means that it is illegal to trade and possess all CBN products and extracts.

In the United States, CBN curiously is not prohibited under federal law, although many states will have their own laws which specifically criminalise CBN possession and sale.

In Canada, the Cannabis Act of 2018 regulates the production, distribution, sale, and possession of CBN. This legislation allows adults to possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis. However, the sale of cannabis, including CBN, is strictly regulated and only licensed retailers are permitted to sell these products.

In Australia, CBN is classified as a Schedule 9 substance under the Poisons Standard. This means that CBN is considered a prohibited substance, and its manufacture, possession, sale or use is illegal without a specific license or authority.

In the European Union, the legal status of CBN varies from country to country. While some countries have strict regulations on cannabinoids, others have more lenient laws. It's important to check the specific laws of each country before purchasing or possessing CBN.

In many parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, laws regarding cannabinoids including CBN are generally very strict. In some countries, possession or sale of these substances can lead to severe penalties.

It's crucial to note that while CBN is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid, it is still derived from the cannabis plant, which is a controlled substance in many jurisdictions. Therefore, even if CBN itself is not specifically listed as a controlled substance, products containing it may still be illegal under broader cannabis laws. Always check local laws and regulations before purchasing or using CBN products.

Please note this is not legal advice.

In Summary

Because CBN naturally arises from the cultivation of cannabis, humans have likely had a relationship with it for thousands of years, meaning that while there is little formal research on CBN, it has a better chance of being well-tolerated by the body than more exotic and novel cannabinoids.

As in countries where cannabis is legal, a framework for using CBN as a medicine or recreational drug could be developed in the UK in coming years, but at the moment it remains an illegal Class B drug.

For people trying to get the benefits which cannabinoids can offer, CBD and CBG both remain as top choices, both for their established safety, numerous benefits and legal status. CBN may be interesting, but there are countless reasons that UK shoppers should steer clear for the meantime.

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