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What You Need to Know About Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC)
4 min

What You Need To Know About Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC)

4 min

HHC is making waves across the cannabis community, especially in North America, where HHC vape cartridges and flower are flooding dispensary shelves and marketed as a legal alternative to THC. Keep reading to learn what little we know about this novel cannabinoid, its legality, safety, effects, and more.

Heard about hexahydrocannabinol, or HHC? This semi-synthetic cannabinoid is making headlines across the globe, touted as a “clean”, safe, and—most notably—legal way to experience a high similar to THC. However, just what is HHC, how is it made, and how does it work in the body? In this article, we take an in-depth look at the HHC cannabinoid, examining its production, pharmacology, and safety.

What is hexahydrocannabinol (HHC)?

What is hexahydrocannabinol (HHC)?

HHC is a cannabinoid that's shaking the cannabis community. Like Δ-8-THC, most of the hype surrounding HHC comes from its similarity to Δ-9-THC. But unlike “traditional” THC, HHC has a more complicated legal status. While it shares a lot of similarities with its natural counterpart, hexahydrocannabinol is a different compound with a unique molecular structure and effects.

Many sources have dubbed hexahydrocannabinol a "semi-synthetic cannabinoid". This is because while it has been found in trace amounts in the cannabis plant, HHC is most often derived synthetically from THC. In fact, HHC was first discovered in a lab, rather than in cannabis.

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Origins of hexahyrdocannabinol

HHC was first synthesised by American chemist Roger Adams in the 1940s. Adams was the head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois from 1926 to 1954, and served as a key cannabis researcher at the time. In fact, Adams was granted a licence to continue studying cannabis even after it was federally criminalised under the 1937 US Marihuana Tax Act.

It's estimated that Adams, together with the 250+ PhD students he taught, ran over 20 different experiments on cannabis during his time at the University of Illinois. Through these experiments, Adams and his students isolated and/or synthesised many cannabis compounds, including CBD, THC, and HHC, and documented the unique relationships between these and other components in the plant. Adams is also credited with creating the Adams Scale for measuring cannabis potency, and for discovering the Adams Catalyst (or platinum dioxide), which is used as a catalyst in hydrogenation.

What is the difference between HHC and THC?

What is the difference between HHC and THC?

While HHC has been found in the cannabis plant, its concentrations are naturally very low. As such, it is most commonly synthesised in the lab from THC. In many ways, HHC and THC are similar, but a few key differences set the two compounds apart.

First and foremost, HHC and THC have different chemical structures. Whereas Δ-8 THC has a double bonding at the 8th carbon atom in the central ring, Δ-9 has this bonding at the 9th carbon atom—HHC is simply missing those double bondings. These minor differences make HHC a much more stable compound than THC, giving it a longer shelf life (THC naturally degrades quickly into CBN when exposed to heat and light).

Another major difference between HHC and THC is that, while the latter is most often derived from recreational/medical cannabis, most of the HHC currently on the market is actually derived from hemp, which allows manufacturers and retailers to bypass some of the laws regulating THC.

Unfortunately, there is little information on how HHC acts in the body. However, its psychoactive effects and similar chemical structure to THC suggest it likely binds to the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. However, more research is needed to confirm HHC's exact mechanism(s) of action.

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Can HHC get you high?

Can HHC get you high?

Yes, HHC is psychoactive. Regrettably, most of the info on its effects comes from user reports, which are very subjective. HHC product manufacturers support this, claiming that HHC is roughly 70–80% as potent as THC.

Effects of the HHC cannabinoid

Users describe the effects of HHC as similar to THC, only less intense. Some describe it as being cerebral and "heady", while others describe it as uplifting, slightly euphoric, clear-headed, and energetic. Compared to Δ-8 THC, HHC seems to have more energising effects.

Research from 1977 also claims that HHC shares some minor similarities with analgesics like morphine (Bloom et al.), but further research to expand upon these findings has yet to be conducted.

Remember that, like with other cannabinoids, the effects of HHC are subjective and may vary depending on your body chemistry, your tolerance to cannabinoids, your set and setting, and the quality and quantity of the HHC product you're using.

HHC, like other THC variants such as Δ-8 and Δ-10, is often touted as a legal way to get high. Yet, the legality of all of these cannabinoid analogues is very complicated and varies by region.

In the US, HHC is legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, which allows hemp and hemp products to contain minimal levels of THC. Thanks to this law, HHC can be sourced from THC in hemp and shipped/sold across all 50 states. Whether HHC is legal in Europe, the UK, and other parts of the world, however, is less clear.

As often happens in the cannabis space, many world governments are playing catch-up, and are yet to clarify their stance on HHC. For anyone interested in buying HHC products and having them shipped to their country, we recommend contacting your local authorities for detailed information on whether or not HHC is legal in your area.

Will HHC show up on a drug test?

Again, the lack of research into HHC makes it difficult to know if consuming the cannabinoid will affect drug test results. In theory, drug tests screen for THC metabolites, predominantly the compounds 11-OH-THC and THC-COOH. As HHC is distinct from THC, one might assume it won't be metabolised into either of the aforementioned compounds, but we just don’t know for sure. Hence, we recommend not consuming HHC for a minimum of four weeks prior to a drug test to avoid a potential positive test result.

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Is HHC safe?

Is HHC safe?

There are no studies into the short or long-term effects of HHC. Most of what we know about this compound comes from user reports and claims from HHC manufacturers. As such, while there are no reported cases of HHC having any serious safety concerns, it is far too early to judge the compound's entire safety profile.

If you're interested in trying HHC products, remember to do your due diligence. Check to ensure that buying and/or using HHC isn't against the law, and screen the manufacturers you intend to buy from to ensure their products are of the highest quality. Some HHC companies offer third-party test results to help you gain more insight into the composition of their offerings.

Though so much is unknown, the hope is that as we learn more about HHC, it might make cannabinoid products more accessible to people in various regions of the world. For now, all we can do is keep up with new developments.

Steven Voser
Steven Voser
Steven Voser is an independent cannabis journalist with over 6 years of experience writing about all things weed; how to grow it, how best to enjoy it, and the booming industry and murky legal landscape surrounding it.
Disclaimer:
We are not making medical claims. This article has been written for informational purposes only, and is based on research published by other externals sources.

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