CBN vs. CBC: comparing two minor cannabinoids growing in popularity


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A little over a decade ago, we only knew about two cannabinoids – cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Today, scientists contend that there are 100+ cannabinoids in cannabis. It’s an interesting development considering that just a few years ago, most of these cannabinoids were utterly unknown.

Cannabinoids fall into two groups – major and minor cannabinoids. The major ones are CBD and THC, while the minor cannabinoids include CBG, CBG, THCV, CBC, among others. The growing acceptance of cannabis has created an environment for research to thrive. So, we now know more about these minor cannabinoids.

In this article, we’ll discuss CBN vs CBC. We look into their properties, how they work, their potential benefits, side effects, and legal status. We cap it by telling you where to buy quality CBN and CBC products.

CBN vs CBC: Key Takeaways

  • CBN is a mildly psychoactive cannabinoid formed when THC oxidizes. It’s mainly marketed as a sleeping aid.
  • CBC is a mostly non-psychoactive cannabinoid whose predominant effects appear to be pain and inflammation relief.
  • CBN and CBC are relatively understudied and poorly understood compared to CBD and THC. As a result, their potential benefits are primarily anecdotal or based on animal studies.

What is CBN?

CBN is a mildly psychotropic cannabinoid that forms when THC degrades in the presence of light, air, and heat. As such, it’s broadly considered a metabolite of THC. But despite its close relation to THC, CBN does not induce a noticeable “high” for most people.

This is due to its low potency, thought to be roughly ¼ of THC. As a result, this cannabinoid weakly binds to the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Nonetheless, its interaction with these receptors explains its potential therapeutic benefits, which we shall get to shortly.

Because CBN primarily comes from oxidized THC, its concentration tends to be high in aged cannabis material. In fact, one of the quality tests for cannabis is CBN content level. High CBN content levels are indicative of old or poorly stored cannabis.

A study found that if you expose newly harvested cannabis to constant light at room temperature, it will lose all its THC within four years. Now you know why you should keep your stash in a cool, dark place. Naturally, the same applies to cannabis products.

What is CBC?

Cannabichromene (CBC) is a non-psychotropic cannabinoid found only in specific cannabis strains. It is a rare cannabinoid constituting ~ 0.3% of the total cannabinoid content. So, as you can expect, CBC, for commercial purposes, is mainly synthesized from hemp CBD.

Let’s face it: CBC does not quickly come to mind when you think of potentially helpful cannabinoids. However, this doesn’t mean it is less valuable than other cannabinoids. It feels like CBD when ingested but exerts a different profile of effects.

CBC’s unfamiliarity in cannabis communities is compounded by the little research about it. But the few available studies have convinced researchers to look into its potential painkilling qualities.

How Do CBN and CBC Work?

CBN and CBC work by activating receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS has emerged as a critically important regulatory system in the body. It comprises receptors (CB1 and CB2), endogenous cannabinoids (AEA and 2-AG), and enzymes and is responsible for maintaining harmony in the body.

Usually, the endocannabinoids we make naturally bind to the receptors triggering various physiologic and behavioral responses. However, it turns out that plant cannabinoids can also bind to these receptors and stimulate similar responsess. This is actually the reason these endogenous molecules are called “endocannabinoids.”

Now, CBN and CBD interact differently with these ECS receptors. CBN is shown to bind to both CB1 and CB2 receptors but tends to bind strongly to the CB1 receptor. Even then, the strength with which it binds to these receptors is significantly weaker than THC’s. Some of CBN’s effects are linked to its interaction with receptors outside the ECS.

As for CBC, studies show that it binds to the CB2 receptor and exhibits no activity at the CB1 receptor. Its dominant pharmacological effects are attributed to its interaction with non-cannabinoid receptors.

The diversity of target receptors CBN and CBC can activate explains why cannabinoid activity is so complex. It is common to find a cannabinoid binding to a receptor and producing completely different effects. Indeed, there is still so much to learn about how these compounds work.

Do CBN and CBC Get You High?

No, CBN and CBC do not make most people “high.”

CBC is completely non-psychoactive for the majority of people because, like CBD, it does not interact with CB1 receptors. The “high” you get from cannabis is actually due to CB1 receptor activation. However, not every CB1 receptor agonist induces a “high.”

This is perfectly demonstrated by CBN, which binds to CB1 receptors but doesn’t induce an overt “high.” The explanation is simple — CBN attaches to the CB1 receptor very weakly. So, it is almost like the receptors aren’t fully activated, or the psychoactive effects are too dilute to be felt.

What about if you take a lot of CBN? Let’s just say a certain degree of activation is needed for a “high” to be noticeably felt. So, it all comes down to how strongly it binds to the CB1 receptor. Taking a lot of CBN increases the number of CBN molecules binding to CB1 receptors but doesn’t increase their binding strength. Therefore, the receptors are not sufficiently activated, making it unlikely to get a “high.”

How to Take CBC and CBN?

There are many ways of taking CBC and CBN. And ultimately, it depends on your likes and preferences. That said, the most common method of taking cannabinoids today is supplements. These are available in different forms, broadly grouped into edibles, inhalables, and topicals.

Let’s look into each of these types of supplements.


Edibles are foods, treats, and beverages infused with cannabis. Once eaten, the digestion process releases the bioactive ingredients into the systemic circulation, where they reach the receptors.

A key disadvantage of edibles is that they are subjected to the first-pass process. This reduces the total dose of cannabinoids that reach their intended receptor targets. For this reason, users have to take a substantial amount of cannabinoids, considering that only 4% to 20% make it into the bloodstream.

Fortunately, there are ways of increasing cannabinoid bioavailability. Taking them with fatty foods or black pepper increases their bioavailability. Today, edibles come in various forms, like gummies, energy bars, capsules, and pills.


Cannabinoid topicals are skincare formulations. They are applied to the skin just like regular lotions and creams. CBC and CBN-based topicals might help with inflammation and pain, given that these two cannabinoids possess possible analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.

One major advantage of topicals is localized relief. By applying topicals directly to areas of concern, they can effectively target pain and skin conditions.

CBD topicals have become quite popular among athletes after the cannabinoid was removed from WADA’s list of prohibited performance-enhancing substances in 2019. However, all other cannabinoids—natural and synthetic—are still banned in competitions.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t stop you from using cannabis topicals. If you are a gym rat or fitness enthusiast, CBC and CBN’s wide-ranging health benefits may help in many ways. For example, CBC shares some traits with CBD (e.g., anti-inflammatory effect) and may greatly aid muscle recovery.


Cannabinoid inhalables have grown in popularity in recent years. You’ve probably heard of vape cartridges and pens for inhaling cannabinoid oils. These accessories have undoubtedly made using cannabinoid oils much easier.

Nasal sprays are another method for inhaling cannabinoids and are what you’d consider ‘plug-and-go’ products. Simply unscrew the cap, press, and inhale deeply.

Inhalables kick in quite fast, typically within minutes. Therefore, they are great for users seeking quick relief from pain and inflammation. While the specifics aren’t clear yet, cannabinoids are effective against certain types of pain but not all.

Remember that despite their broad pharmacological profile, cannabinoids are not a panacea for health problems. Where they might help, gladly use them; where they can’t, seek professional medication.

What Are the Similarities Between CBN vs CBC?

One of the main similarities between CBN and CBC is that they are non-psychoactive for most people. CBN is essentially oxidized THC, but contrary to popular opinion, it’s too weak psychotropic-wise to induce a “high.” Actually, research suggests it could be ¼ as potent as THC, which means it doesn’t activate the CB1 receptors strongly enough to make users “high.”

Another critical similarity between CBN and CBC is their significant interaction with TRP cation channels. Even though cannabinoids are known for their binding activity to CB receptors, they can interact with non-cannabinoid receptors outside the ECS. CBN and CBC display agonist tendencies at the TRP cation channels, hence their pain-relief and anti-inflammatory effects.

What’s The Difference Between CBN vs CBC?

There are several differences between CBC and CBN. For starters, CBN is not directly synthesized in the cannabis plant. Instead, it forms when another cannabinoid (THC) oxidizes in the presence of light and air. On the other hand, CBC is the product of a decarboxylation process involving cannabichromenic acid (CBCa).

Due to the nature of how it’s formed, CBN is predominantly found in aged cannabis material. In fact, CBN content is a quality control measure for assessing the quality of cannabis material. Conversely, CBC is found in mature cannabis plants where CBCa has undergone complete decarboxylation.

Both CBN and CBC are minor cannabinoids with low occurrences of <1% of the total cannabinoid content. That said, CBC is considered the third most abundant cannabinoid in cannabis. In some strains, it appears in larger quantities than CBD.

CBN vs. CBC Potential Benefits

So, why all the sudden interest in cannabinoids? Well, cannabis has been used as a recreational and medicinal herb since ancient days. So, it certainly has some value. Presently, the identified potential health benefits of CBN and CBC include the following:

  • Pain relief
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Appetite stimulation
  • Antibacterial
  • Sleep promotion

However, we must emphasize that most of these benefits are based on animal studies or anecdotes. CBN and CBC are novel cannabinoids that have recently started getting scientific attention, so little is known about them.

CBN vs. CBC Potential Side Effects

Non-psychoactive cannabinoids are generally well-tolerated by most people. So, reports of side effects due to cannabinoid use are pretty rare. Still, people respond differently to cannabinoids, so we often advocate for a cautious approach.

CBN and CBC cannabinoids have little research, and potential side effects are not well-established. That said, CBN may induce drowsiness owing to its close relationship with the ultra-psychoactive THC. You could also fail a drug test with CBN products.

Things are even blurrier with CBC because it closely resembles CBD – probably the safest cannabinoid in the family. But CBD can cause mild side effects like dry mouth, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, and appetite loss. It’s still unclear if CBC has similar effects.

CBN vs. CBC: Which One Is Better?

This is akin to comparing oranges and mangoes — both cannabinoids have different abilities that may help boost health and overall wellness. Generally, cannabinoids are thought to work better together, as theorized by the “entourage effect” theory.

Can You Take CBC and CBN Together?

Absolutely, yes! In fact, the best way to get the most out of CBN and CBC is by taking them together. Fortunately, most cannabinoid supplements often mix cannabinoids and even throw in adaptogenic herbs for good measure!

What Is the Legal Status of CBC and CBN?

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and its compounds (e.g., cannabinoids) as long as they contain no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight. Essentially, CBC, CBN, and other cannabinoids are legal as long as they are derived from federally-compliant hemp.

However, be advised that hemp is not universally legal across the US. So, it’s essential to research the legality of its products in your state and other states you plan to visit. For example, hemp remains illegal in Hawaii and Idaho. In other states, the legality of these cannabinoids depends on their form. Texas, for instance, prohibits smokable hemp products.

Conclusion — CBC vs. CBN

As compounds whose range of pharmacological effects is yet to be fully established, CBC and CBN are cannabinoid wild cards. CBN is mainly marketed as a sleep aid, while CBC appears to have painkilling and anti-inflammatory properties. Still, more research is needed to shed light on the many gray areas concerning CBN and CBC’s effects.

Where to Buy CBN and CBC Products Online

Looking for where to buy CBN and CBC products online? Here are some of our favorite brands and products.

First up is ELYXR LA’s best efforts at a premium CBC product. This CBC Tincture that’s available in two flavors – peppermint and citrus orange. It’s diluted in MCT oil to enhance its bioavailability and ensure you reap the full benefits of these amazing cannabinoids.

For users after an authentic cannabis experience, this CBN Oil from NuLeaf is the go-to. Made with whole-plant extract, this full-spectrum CBN oil comes in three strength levels – 300 mg, 900 mg, and 1800 mg – to ensure you get your desired potency. So, if you’re seeking improved sleep and relaxation, this CBN Oil provides that much-desired relief!

Apart from their CBN oil, Nuleaf also has this amazing CBC Oil. It has whole-plant extract to ensure you experience the synergism of cannabinoids and terpenes. With up to 60mg of CBC per milliliter, this is as potent as they come! Therefore, we recommend a starting dose of 10 drops (or 30mg) for better cognitive function and pain relief.

But gummies are the real deal! Tasty, sweet, and convenient, these CBN-infused blackberry-flavored gummies from Erth Wellness contain 20mg of CBN and 1.5mg of melatonin per gummy and are formulated to make you sleep better and longer!

If you’re looking for a 1:1 blend of CBC and CBD, this is what you’re looking for. This full-spectrum CBC + CBD Tincture from Rare Cannabinoid is for better overall health and wellness. With 500mg of CBD and CBN (1:1), this tincture promotes relaxation and balance and relieves post-exercise inflammation and discomfort.

Hearst Newspapers participates in various affiliate marketing programs, which means we may earn a commission when you purchase products featured here. Please consult your doctor before starting any new supplement to see it is right for you.