“Sativa for day, indica for night”; this is common wisdom in cannabis culture and plays a strong role in what strains us backyard farmers choose to grow each year. Indica plants are highly desired for their relaxing properties but for the outdoor grower they tend to be difficult plants with a low yield. Sativa, on the other hand, is a high yielding crop that is easy to grow but many consumers avoid it due to it’s tendency to cause anxiety and insomnia. At first this may seem like a difficult decision; do we grow for the quality of indica or the quantity of sativa? Fortunately, we don’t need to make that choice as there is a way to tame the abundant sativa plant into a more calming medicine; we will convert it’s lively THC into the sleepy CBN for use in tinctures or edibles.
If you were to look at a ripe cannabis flower under a microscope you would see hundreds of little opaque mushroom-like structures called trichomes; it is in these structures that the cannabinoids (the chemicals that cause cannabis’s effects) are found. THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the most famous of the over 100 cannabinoids that have been isolated in laboratories and is the chemical responsible for the psychoactive properties of the cannabis plant. Under prohibition, growers and consumers generally rate the quality of a cannabis plant based on it’s THC content; the higher the content, the better the plant. THC is not a stable chemical and can be converted into another cannabinoid known as cannabinoid (CBN); before we discuss CBN, however, we should discuss THCa.
THC begins its life as THCa (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid); a non-psychoactive cannabinoid whose benefits we are just beginning to learn about. THCa is converted into THC through either time or heat which explains; when we smoke or vaporize cannabis we convert the THCa into THC through the heat that we are applying to it. The first step most cannabis bakers take when creating edibles is to “decarb” the cannabis by baking it in an oven before mixing it with butter (or another cooking fat such as oil) to convert the THCa into THC; if this step is skipped than the edibles will not have the euphoric effects that most consumers desire. Most cannabis processers will stop when the THCa becomes THC but we can take the process of converting THCa into THC a little further and create a third cannibinoid; Cannabinol, aka “CBN”.
Cannabinol is essentially THC that has degraded either through heat, time, or some combination of the two. Ever smoke old flowers that weren’t stored properly and found yourself immediately tired? That is the effect of CBN; rather than getting high and paranoid you just get sleepy and lethargic. The only way to smoke CBN is through old flowers which is why tinctures and edibles are the preferred methods of consumption for this cannabinoid. The wait for THCa to convert to CBN without combustion or vaporization can take years; rather than wait for for so long we will use our oven to decarb our harvest.
Decarboxylation for CBN
Decarboxylation is the first step in creating edibles or tincture and is done to “activate” the THC (convert THCa into THC). Normally we decarb cannabis by placing the flowers in an oven for 30-45 minutes at 250ºF; THCa (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, a non-psychoactive substance) is converted into THC (the psychoactive substance most cannabis users are interested) through the heat of your oven. If we decarb our cannabis at a higher temperature and for a longer period, the THC will break down into CBN (the relaxing cannabinoid we want). Place your cannabis (you can use flowers or trimmings) in oven bags in a preheated oven for 320º for an hour and a half and be prepared to stink up the house as you will be slowly burning the cannabis; you may want to do this late at night if you have neighbors living close by. Remember that you are converting THC into CBN; you can control the balance between the two cannabinoids by adjusting the temperature and bake time to suit your needs.
Processing (Tincture, Edibles)
Once you have pulled your oven bags filled with sativa flowers out of the oven let them cool for a bit and take a look. Does it look burnt? Does it look like it was left outside for a few weeks? Is the smell overwhelming? You did it right. As horrifying as it is to see a bunch of cannabis flowers burnt in the oven, this is the CBN-rich concoction we are looking for. You will not want to smoke or even vaporize this stuff, instead you will use it in your favorite butter, oil, or tincture recipe.
Strains for CBN
Because we decarb our flowers at such a high temperature, most of the terpenes will have been burned off which means it doesn’t really matter which strains we use specifically so long as it has a high yield and a high THC count. Blue Dream, Dream Queen, and Sour Diesel are all great high yield, high THC sativa that are easy to grow outdoors so they all make great candidates for creating CBN. Because the effects of CBN are so different than THC, one can use the same plant to create a number of effects by adjusting your decarb time and temperature; it’s like having multiple strains in one easy-to-grow plant! Relax, enjoy your new favorite cannabinoid; sativa can be sleepy too!