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What is HHC and why should you be careful?

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What is HHC?

The cannabis plant is home to over 200 cannabinoids and terpenes that have potential health benefits. Following the wild success of delta 8 THC as a legal alternative to the more controlled availability of delta 9 THC, the cannabis industry has sought other less-known cannabinoids to compete in the diverse cannabis marketplace. One of the newest, semi-synthetic cannabinoids called hexahydrocannabinol, usually shortened to HHC.

Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) is a cannabinoid that was first discovered in the mid-1940s. In 1944, the American chemist Roger Adams created HHC when he added hydrogen molecules to Delta-9 THC. This process is known as "hydrogenation." HHC is found in limited quantities in the hemp plant. Although HHC is a naturally occurring compound, it is hard to obtain sufficient amounts to make products. But by certain production processes, companies can convert CBD into HHC to make a wide variety of products.

While HHC has been around for years, it has not been often discussed by cannabis users until recently.. HHC is a minor cannabinoid; it occurs naturally in cannabis, but in amounts too small to make extraction cost-effective - this means that for companies to sell this cannabinoid, they’re going to need to make it in a lab. HHC does, however, have one major legal advantage over delta 8 and delta 10: it isn’t THC.

So how is HHC made?

As mentioned above, Roger Adams is the first person to discover HHC using the process known as ‘hydrogenation’. There are a couple of different methodologies to hydrogenate delta-8 into HHC, but Hydrogenation is simply treating a compound with hydrogen, which causes a chemical reaction between hydrogen and another compound or element, usually in the presence of a catalyst such as nickel, palladium, or platinum. This is done in order to reduce or saturate organic compounds. 

Adams originally applied this technique to THC derived from marijuana plants, but since the 2018 Farm Bill came into effect, legalizing cannabis crops with less than 0.3% delta-9 THC, more manufacturers are applying the hydrogenation of cannabinoids to CBD to produce HHC.

When it comes to HHC specifically, Hydrogenation modifies the structure of delta 9 THC by replacing a double bond with two hydrogen atoms, which changes its molecular weight and makes it more stable. According to chemist Mark Scialdone

A major benefit to hydrogenation is that it offers stability at the molecular level, assisting with both shelf life, and resistance to heat.”

It should be said, though, that the acronym “HHC'' is also used in scientific literature to refer to dangerous synthetic substances like 9-Nor-9β-hydroxyhexahydrocannabinol and 11-Nor-9β-hydroxyhexahydrocannabinol. All those Greek letters and super-long hyphenated chemical names are surefire signs that these forms of HHC are synthetic.

What Are The Effects Of HHC?

First, it’s important to note the different types of HHC that are available on the market. There are at least 10 types of HHC:

  1. HHC — Hexahydrocannabinol (CAS# 6692-85-9)
  2. 7-OH-HHC — 7-hydroxyhexahydrocannabinol (CAS 64663-39-4)
  3. 8-OH-iso-HHC — 8-hydroxy-iso-hexahydrocannabinol (No CAS#)
  4. 9α-OH-HHC — 9α-hydroxyhexahydrocannabinol (CAS# 52171-85-4)
  5. 7-9α-OH-HHC — 7-oxo-9α-hydroxyhexahydrocannabinol (No CAS#)
  6. 10α-OH-HHC — 10α-hydroxyhexahydrocannabinol (No CAS#)
  7. 10α-ROH-HHC — 10aR-hydroxyhexahydrocannabinol (No CAS#)
  8. HU211 — 1,1-Dimethylheptyl-11-hydroxytetrahydrocannabinol (CAS 112924-45-5)
  9. HU243 — 11-Hydroxy-3-(1′,1′-dimethylheptyl)hexahydrocannabinol (CAS 140835-14-9)
  10. HDHHC — 3-Dimethylheptyl-11-hydroxyhexahydrocannabinol (CAS 140835-18-3)

HHC has very similar effects to delta-9 THC—it's a psychotropic compound that produces feelings of euphoria, changes in perception, altered cognition, as well as other potential properties. When it takes on other forms, it becomes slightly more complicated. Many users report the effects of HHC are similar to that of delta 8 THC in terms of being more heavily weighted towards relaxation than stimulation. HHC is more potent than delta 8 but slightly less potent than delta 9 THC. 

We've seen a sudden ride of THC isomers—variants of the notorious delta-9 THC molecule, as people look for a legal means to experience the intoxicating effects of marijuana. Popular THC cannabinoid analog isomers include delta-8 THC and delta-10 THC derived from hemp crops. Although HHC isn’t technically a THC, it does produce similar effects—if you use enough of it. When it’s produced in the lab, an HHC batch is a mix of active and inactive HHC molecules. The active HHC binds well with your body’s cannabinoid receptors; the others don’t.

A study published in 2010 found that HHC’s effects lasted a long time in rats. Overall, apart from the limited research outlined in this section, there is nothing else to link HHC with the benefits claimed by manufacturers. Certainly, there are no studies on humans that provide any insight.

Is HHC Legal?

Although HHC is not the same as THC, it is potentially illegal if deemed synthetic. The FDA’s Interim Final Rule (IFR) states that synthetic cannabinoids in hemp are illegal, while naturally-occurring ones are permitted. It is true that HHC occurs naturally in hemp and cannabis but only in tiny amounts. HHC manufacturers make it in a lab via a chemical process designed to create more of it.

With the rise of delta 8, hexahydrocannabinol was recognized as yet another form of “legal THC” capable of being sold to the masses. No matter how much marketing material you read, however, delta 8 and HHC will never be equitable. One is a synthetically derived cannabinoid while the other is a natural substance.

We wouldn’t be surprised if HHC starts getting attention from the DEA, as we suspect that considering the need to synthetically create it - HHC falls under the Federal Analogue Act, which automatically classifies analogs of Schedule 1 drugs as Schedule 1 drugs themselves. If the DEA agrees, HHC could have a very short market span.

Is HHC Safe?

As it stands, HHC is rarer and more difficult to derive than delta 8, the HHC market is smaller and less competitive, resulting in comparatively inferior products. Because hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) is still very new, there aren't very many studies available that investigate its potential effects and safety - which is enough to tell us that as it stands, it is not particularly safe. 

With the limited research on HHC, we highly suggest that you stick to the better known cannabinoids with ample research surrounding it like CBDV which we have done extensive research into and offer safe, legal products containing this cannabinoid. 

HHC seems to be following a very similar and dangerous route to THCO, another synthetic cannabinoid taking the industry by storm. We can only hope that the search for something stronger and different does not take priority over the search for something more beneficial and well-researched.