CBN Explained: How This Cannabinoid Can Lead to Better Sleep

CBN is growing in popularity due to its sleeping aid properties. Here's what we know.

Mercey Livingston CNET Contributor
Mercey Livingston is a health and wellness writer and certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. She's written about fitness and wellness for Well+Good, Women's Health, Business Insider, and Prevention.com among others. When not writing, she enjoys reading and trying out workout classes all over New York City.
Mercey Livingston
4 min read
woman sleeping in bed

CBN could be an alternate sleep aid to melatonin and other supplements that can make you groggy. 

Getty Images

Cannabidol, mostly known as CBD, has become mainstream over the last several years. CBD has infiltrated almost every part of life -- from activewear, to lattes, to pet products and much more -- and as it continues to gain popularity, more products hit the shelves every day. But another chemical that's derived from hemp and cannabis just like CBD is becoming increasingly popular as a sleep aid. It's called cannabinol (CBN) and it may be able to help you get better, more restful sleep.

As someone who doesn't respond well to melatonin, I've heard that CBD can help counteract the hangover effect that people can experience from melatonin. So I was intrigued when I heard from the CBN brand Sandland, which makes CBN supplements that contain microdoses of melatonin that promise to help you sleep without that groggy feeling. I hoped that CBN combined with a tiny dose of melatonin would be exactly what I needed on the occasional nights I have trouble sleeping. When I tried the supplements, I was pleasantly surprised when they helped me sleep without the typical next-day fog I usually feel. 

Currently, all types of CBD lack solid clinical research studies -- but many are in progress, and we are close to having more scientific explanations on exactly how CBD works. CBN is even newer to the scene: For now, the information we have is largely anecdotal or based on animal research, which is helpful but not as helpful as human clinical trials. With that in mind, I spoke to the Sandland Sleep CEO Josh Townsend to gather more information on CBN and how it works.

Read also: For better sleep, also check out our rundown of the best mattresses, the best pillows and the best alarm clocks of the year

What is CBN? How is it different from CBD?

Both CBD and CBN are cannabinoids, or compounds derived from cannabis plants. According to Sandland Sleep, CBN is the most sedative out of all the compounds in cannabis. CBN was discovered recently from decomposed THC (the psychoactive compound in cannabis). 

"Cannabinoids can be classified in several ways, one of which is Broad vs Narrow," Townsend says. "CBD is a very broad cannabinoid that does a good job in addressing general inflammation and potentially supporting mood stability. However, CBN is very specific and contributes to sleep and the decrease of anxiety."

Even though CBN comes from THC, Townsend says it doesn't have the psychoactive properties you might think of. "CBN is its own molecule and does not contain THC or any other psychoactive compound that could create a mind-altering event, or that could create a 'positive' drug-screening test result," says Townsend.

a hand holding a hemp leaf, casting a shadow against a yellow backdrop

CBN is a type of CBD that is derived from decomposed THC. 

Getty Images

CBN and sleep

If CBD research is still considered in its early stages, then CBN is in its infancy. According to Townsend, CBN has been studied even less than CBD. In a study by Steep Hill Labs, CBN seemed to show sedative properties, but the lab later said more research is needed to understand if that's true. 

Although we don't have the research (yet) to understand how CBN might improve sleep, Townsend says it could be explained in part by terpenes. "Within a hemp or cannabis plant there are several other compounds than just the cannabinoids. It is generally believed that all these compounds work in synergy to give the cannabis/hemp plant its medicinal properties. This effect is called the entourage effect," says Townsend. 

You might have heard of "broad spectrum" vs "full spectrum" CBD -- many people debate whether one is better than the other. According to Townsend, this all comes down to terpenes. "Basically, the full spectrum camp claims that there is a greater entourage effect with full spectrum oil because none of the terpenes and flavonoids were removed. Whereas broad spectrum oil has removed most of the terpenes and flavonoids, leaving a more concentrated CBD," he says.

sandland Stay Asleep product package

Sandland is a product line that contains microdoses of melatonin with CBN.

Sandland Sleep

Terpenes are found in every type of plant, and they can explain both CBD's and CBN's medicinal effects. "Through scientific and some anecdotal research, it has become widely accepted that certain terpenes assist with relaxation and sleep, beta caryophyllene, cedrol, linalool and alpha pinene specifically," says Townsend. "We have been able to extract certain terpenes and combine them in our formulation to augment the effects of CBN. Our proprietary terpene package is delivered using dehydrated hops."

Melatonin and CBN

Melatonin is one of the most-hyped sleep supplements out there, and when combined with CBN it may offer an even better sleep-inducing effect. "Our bodies create very little melatonin naturally and a large dose of synthetic melatonin may very well have negative effects (read: hangover)," says Townsend. This is why he says Sandland's CBN products contain a small amount of melatonin, which is supposed to more closely emulate how the body naturally produces it. 

It turns out the small melatonin combined with CBN was a sweet spot for me: I felt a difference, though not dramatically, and most importantly, I woke up without a groggy hangover. The verdict is still out on the science behind CBN, but you should always consult with your doctor before adding any type of supplement. 

More recs for better sleep

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.