Published on April 27, 2019

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Photography by Molly Winters

Just when you thought you had a grip on understanding the trendy and complex world of CBD, a whole new buzzy ingredient is emerging from the hemp plant. Say hello to cannabinol, or CBN—the cannabinoid of 2019. The ingredient is about to be the plant’s next rising star and for a very good, sleep-inducing reason. CBN also comes from the hemp plant (the legal term for cannabis when it contains less than 0.3 percent THC—the federally legal limit), but unlike its plant family’s other byproducts, it’s been shown to have a strong sedative property, especially beneficial come bedtime.

Where does CBN come from?

CBD’s soporific little sister has an interesting backstory. It’s incredibly difficult to gather CBN in large quantities, as it occurs in the hemp plant in incredibly small levels, if present at all. “CBN is what happens when THC gets old,” says Verena von Pfetten, cofounder of Gossamer (the brand just launched its own CBN sleep aid called Dusk).

When THC, the psychoactive element of cannabis, is exposed to oxygen, light, and time, it degrades and turns into CBN. “Which is why there’s that common trope that old weed makes you sleepy,” says von Pfetten. “It does! Because it’s started to oxidize and turn into CBN.” That being said, it doesn’t have any intoxicating benefits at all and it’s a tricky thing to stabilize and bottle, which is why we’re just now seeing CBN hitting the market as a sleep aid. 

What does CBN do to you when consumed?

It takes you on the expressway to Sleepytown, population: you. While a lot of consumers are taking the popular CBD as a sleep sedative, it does not possess drowsy components. CBD helps with issues that might be causing someone to have trouble sleeping, like anxiety, muscle pain, and inflammation. “CBN, on the other hand, has been shown to have strong sedative properties,” says von Pfetten.

Not only is it wonderfully sedative, but a little also goes a very long way. The consumer needs very low levels to achieve the benefits. In a study analyzed by Steep Hill, two and a half to five milligrams of CBN has the same sedation as five to 10 milligrams of diazepam (aka Valium). Before we can get too excited about that study, take note: Dr. Alex Capano, the chief science officer of Ananda Hemp (and the first and only ever recipient of a doctorate in comprehensive cannabinoid science), cautions that while the study isn’t inaccurate, there are a lot of research barriers that prevent further testing and analysis to prove or conflict this conclusion.

Anyway, back to our new friend CBN. Not only does it sedate, but it has also been shown to have numerous other benefits. Those include anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, appetite-stimulating, and pain-relieving properties, though it needs further testing to definitively prove this.

In order to be effective, CBN can’t be without its siblings. “CBN needs another cannabinoid, usually CBD, present in a product to promote its therapeutic potential,” says Capano. “So you won’t—or shouldn’t—see isolated CBN products on the market.”

Most of the products you’ll see for purchase right now have a CBD/CBN one-two punch. “CBN’s effects are only possible when it’s combined with CBD or THC (and perhaps other rare cannabinoids, but there is not enough research on that yet),” says Capano. Its group-hang mentality is known as the “entourage effect” and it “increases the likelihood that the body and mind will absorb cannabinoids, terpenes, and the fatty components of the hemp plant, thus increasing the likelihood of receiving benefits from the cannabis oil,” says Mills Miller, the founder of CBN brand Mineral.

Interest piqued? Read this first.

The hemp plant is beautifully effective, but the market is similar to the Wild West. There is little regulation or oversight of cannabinoids, which allows retailers to slap a “CBD” or “CBN” label on practically any type of product. Unfortunately, that means consumers have to do research to make sure that a brand’s claims are reflected in the formula.

Ask for a certificate of analysis (COA) from a third party (not the brand!) to confirm how much of any and all cannabinoids are in a given product, says von Pfetten and Capano. “Make sure the lab is ISO certified and the COA matches the lot number on the product,” says Capano. (Quality products like Dusk proudly do this without prompting.)

Confirm that the test corresponds to the specific batch you would be purchasing, says von Pfetten. This type of legwork ahead of time ensures your money is well spent on a product that actually works. “The best manufacturers will make this readily available, but any good company will provide this when requested,” says Capano.

Now, onto shopping. Here are some good ones.

The founders of Gossamer, the charming weed-destigmatizing magazine, kept getting questions about sleep and cannabis-related products that could help them doze off easier. The team decided they’d create their own efficacious option. They worked with Dr. Capano (the same expert in this piece) and Ananda Hemp, the oldest producers of CBD, to create Dusk. It has CBD (300 milligrams), CBN, as well as handpicked terpenes—all of which join together to help you rest more soundly but without the grogginess of other sleep aids. It’s one of the most complex and useful CBN products you’ll find on the market. (The company is so open about the effectiveness that every bottle of Dusk comes stamped with a unique lot number so you can look up the test results of your specific batch online.) Sleep is just a dropper away.

This CBD brand has just launched its first sleep aid, dosed with a potent 520 milligrams of CBD, a hefty amount of CBN, and to top it off, an array of botanical terpenes for anti-inflammatory and calming support. It brands itself as the solution to tossing and turning and anxiety-filled nights—finally, a worthy contender for those restless evenings.

If you really want to pass out, try this powerful blend of CBN, CBD, and terpenes. If tincture taste is an issue for you, try this option, which has an added profile of blood orange, cedarwood, and pine for a flavorful boost. The brand proudly advocates for transparency in the cannabis market and leads by example by showcasing each of their lab tests, loud and proud.

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