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Cannabinol (CBN) seems to prevent cognitive decline and brain disorders

Did you know that a compound found in the cannabis plant might protect your brain from damage and decline? It’s called cannabinol (CBN), and it’s not the THC you’re probably familiar with.

Researchers at the Salk Institute are delving into cannabinol’s secrets, uncovering its potential to revolutionize how we treat brain injuries and diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

What is cannabinol?

You’ve probably heard of THC, the compound in cannabis responsible for its well-known “high”, and CBD, known for its potential therapeutic benefits. Cannabinol is a lesser-known cannabinoid, also derived from the cannabis plant.

While it does have some mild psychoactive effects, they are significantly less pronounced than those of THC. What makes CBN particularly interesting to scientists is its potential to protect our brains.

Think of your brain as being filled with tiny energy-producing factories called mitochondria. These powerhouses are essential for keeping brain cells healthy and functioning. Unfortunately, in diseases like Alzheimer’s or after a traumatic brain injury, these mitochondria can malfunction and break down.

This leads to the death of brain cells, which contributes to the devastating symptoms of these conditions. CBN appears to have the ability to intervene in this process, acting to support and protect these failing mitochondria.

This safeguarding effect of cannabinol could be key to slowing or preventing the damage caused by brain-related diseases and injuries.

Cannabinol components to protect brain

To identify the specific components of CBN responsible for its protective effects, the researchers carefully deconstructed the molecule into smaller fragments. This allowed them to isolate and analyze the active parts.

Armed with the knowledge of CBN’s most potent fragments, the scientists created four new compounds inspired by CBN’s structure but with those supercharged active parts amplified. These enhanced versions of CBN aimed to provide even greater brain protection than the original molecule.

Cannabinol’s impact on the brain

The Salk team’s research pinpointed a specific way brain cells can die, called oxytosis/ferroptosis. This type of cell death plays a role in various neurological diseases, causing significant damage. The new CBN-inspired compounds demonstrated the ability to protect brain cells from this harmful process.

In laboratory tests using both mouse and human brain cells, the enhanced compounds showed protective abilities that matched the effectiveness of natural CBN. This means they offer the potential benefits of CBN but may do so even more powerfully.

To gauge the real-world impact of these compounds, scientists used fruit flies with traumatic brain injury, a common model for studying these types of injuries in humans. One compound, named CP1, shone brightly in this study.

Flies treated with CP1 had significantly higher survival rates than untreated flies, suggesting CP1 could play a critical role in minimizing the devastating consequences of brain trauma.

More about cannabinol beyond its brain benefits

As discussed above, cannabinol is a cannabinoid derived from the cannabis plant, known mostly for being mildly psychoactive and primarily found in aged cannabis where THC has degraded over time. Here’s a bit more about CBN:

Origins and chemical nature

CBN forms when THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, is exposed to oxygen and light. Over time, THC breaks down and converts into CBN. Compared to THC, CBN has a lower psychoactive effect, which makes it less potent but potentially more suitable for medical use without strong euphoric effects.

Potential Medical Benefits

  • Sleep aid: CBN is often marketed as a sleep aid or sedative, with some reports suggesting it can help users fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly.
  • Pain relief: It may work as an analgesic or pain reliever, particularly when combined with other cannabinoids like CBD.
  • Anti-inflammatory: Like other cannabinoids, CBN has shown anti-inflammatory properties, which could be beneficial in treating conditions like arthritis.
  • Neuroprotectant: As demonstrated in the Salk Institute’s research, CBN may offer neuroprotective effects, making it a candidate for treating neurodegenerative diseases.
  • Antibacterial: Studies have shown that CBN can act as an antibacterial agent, effective against various bacterial strains including MRSA.

Use and Accessibility

The legal status of CBN can vary depending on local laws, especially as it is derived from cannabis. In regions where cannabis is legal, products containing CBN are becoming more available.

While there is promising research supporting CBN’s efficacy, more clinical studies are necessary to fully understand its therapeutic potential.

The future of brain health

“Our findings help demonstrate the therapeutic potential of CBN, as well as the scientific opportunity we have to replicate and refine its drug-like properties,” says Research Professor Pamela Maher, senior author of the study.

Imagine giving this CP1 compound to athletes at risk for head injuries or to someone immediately after a car accident. Could it lessen the long-term consequences of brain trauma?

The Salk team is determined to find out. Their future research will explore these enhanced CBN compounds in the context of age-related brain decline, potentially changing how we approach brain health as we age.

The study is published in the journal Redox Biology.


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