What is Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC)? 

A large majority of cannabis users are well aware that the cannabis and hemp is comprised of cannabinoids, and they’re familiar with some of the more popular cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD.

While there’s no doubt that these are the two best-known cannabis cannabinoids, and that both provide a wealth of benefits (THC is responsible for creating the psychoactive effect that marijuana is famous for and CBD offers numerous health benefits, such as pain and anxiety reduction), these aren’t the only cannabinoids that marijuana contains.

In fact, at the time of writing, it has been determine that hemp and cannabis plants produce an astounding 150 different types of cannabinoids – and it’s believed that there are even more! 

Some of the cannabinoids that marijuana and hemp contain are naturally produced in high quantities, while others are produced in relatively small amounts.

Some of the natural compounds that are generated in small amounts offer several notable benefits, and thanks to scientific advances, ways to synthetically create these cannabinoids have been discovered such as Delta 8 for example. One of the natural compounds that cannabis produces in minimal quantities that can be created synthetically is hexahydrocannabinoil, or HHC. 

What is HHC? What benefits does it provide? How does it compare to other cannabinoids, such as Delta-8? Is it safe and legal to use? To find the answers to these questions and more, keep on reading. 

what is hhc

What is Hexahydrocannabinoil?

As mentioned, hexahydrocannabinoil (HHC for short) is a naturally occurring compound found in the cannabis plant. It was first discovered by an American organic chemist, Roger Adams, in 1944 at the University of Illinois. Adams is credited with playing an integral role in demystifying the properties of cannabis after it was banned and criticized by the federal government in the 1930s.

HHC is famed for creating effects that are similar to the effects that THC creates; that is, psychoactive effects. 

This naturally occurring phytocannabinoid is found in such small amounts in the cannabis plant that Adams discovered a way to create it synthetically. The organic chemist added hydrogen molecules to delta-9 THC (the primary and best-known compound in the cannabis plant, more commonly referred to simply as “THC”) to create synthetic HHC in his lab.

Because it was first produced from THC, HHC is like THC’s cousin. Though it’s been known of for nearly 80 years, it wasn’t until recently that it started to be a topic of conversation amount cannabis users. While it is receiving more attention, because it’s a minor cannabinoid and since commercial production is just starting to take off, HHC still isn’t as well-known as other cannabinoids, like CBD and Delta-8

How is HHC Made? 

As mentioned, Roger Adams created the first HHC by adding hydrogen molecule to Delta-9 THC, a process that is known as “hydrogenation”, which changes THC to hexahydrocannabinol. Hydrogenation isn’t used solely for the production of cannabinoids; vegetable oil is turned into margarine using a similar process.

Though the first HHC that Adams created was made from natural, cannabis-derived THC, today, it is more commonly made from a process that starts with hemp-derived CBD (like delta-8 THC), the cannabis plant that contains low-levels of THC that was Congress made federally legal when they passed the 2018 farm bill. 

The process of making modern-day HHC involves several steps since as stated, it is a synthesized compound not a naturally occurring one. The process is not exactly simple, to say the least.

First, natural CBD is extracted from the hemp plant. Next, it’s distilled into an isolate. The next step in the production process varies and depends on the manufacturer, as different methods can be used.

One method that can be used to convert hemp-derived CBD isolate into HHC is an isomerization process, which converts the CBD into Delta 9 THC. Once the Delta 9 THC is obtained, hydrogenation, the patented process that Adams developed, is used. Hydrogenation alters Delta 9’s structure, as it replaces the double bond with two hydrogen atoms, changing its molecular weight; it improves the stability of the cannabinoid and makes it more resistant to thermos-oxidative breakdown.

As a result, HHC has a longer shelf life and isn’t as prone to heat and UV light damage, which makes it of interest to mass production leaning corporations similar to those who have seen the rapid economic growth of Delta-8 THC derivatives.  

HHC vs Delta 8 – What’s the Difference? 

Even if this is the first time you’ve ever heard of HHC, chances are you’re familiar with Delta 8. Just in case you haven’t or you need a refresher, here’s an overview of Delta 8. 

Short for Delta 8 tetrahydrocannabinol, Delta 8 is also a naturally occurring cannabinoid that’s present cannabis and hemp plants. Similar to HHC, Delta 8 is a minor cannabinoid, meaning that it’s produced in trace amounts. It’s also similar to Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta 9 THC), the primary naturally occurring compound that marijuana produces and is best-known for, as it’s responsible for creating the psychoactive, “high”-like effect that the plant is famous for, sometimes infamous for, if you ask those who have especially indulged.

Delta 8 works the same was as Delta 9, but it’s about two-thirds the potency of Delta 9. Because Delta 8 is less potent than Delta 9, it’s legal and it’s more widely available; it’s made in a variety of forms, such as gummies, oils, and tinctures, and can be purchased at vape shops, head shops, gas stations, and even convenience stores. 

So, what’s the difference between HHC and Delta 8? They are quite similar, yet very different. Basically, HHC is THC, as it’s derived from THC and the molecular structure of both compounds is pretty much identical.

With that said, however, the structure of HHC does not contain any double bonds. The reason is because the hydrogenation process that is used to manufacture HHC breaks down and replaced the double bonds that are found in THC.

Additionally, Delta 8 doesn’t have an ester atom or a carbon bond. It’s these molecular differences that make HHC more stable and give it a longer shelf life than Delta 8. You see, it’s SCIENCE!

HHC vs Delta 8

What are the Effects of HHC? 

The consensus surrounding the effects of HHC are widely debated. Though technically, it’s a type of THC its potency is contested. That’s because during the manufacturing process, the final product is a mixture of two different types of HHC molecules: 9R HHC, which actively binds to the body’s endocannabinoid receptors, and 9S HHC, which has a slightly different molecular structure, and it doesn’t bind as well to the endocannabinoid receptors. 

As such, the effects of HHC on the mind and body can be similar to the effects of THC; however, generally speaking, HHC isn’t as potent, and therefore, you would need to consume larger quantities to mimic the effects of THC. 

The makers of HHC have not yet determined how to cost-effectively separate the high-potency HHC from its lower-potency counterpart. Therefore, commercially produced HHC, which is a blend of two forms of THC, can be somewhat of a crapshoot in regard to the effects that you can expect. That said, HHC does cause noticeable effects.

Most users report that an HHC high falls somewhere between delta 8 and delta 9 THC… So, you could say it’s like a delta 8.5 THC. 

Virtually everything that is known about HHCs effects on the mind and body are anecdotal, as studies have not been conducted to conclusively determine the effects. If you’re sensitive to delta 9 THC, you may experience similar adverse side effects, such as anxiety, paranoia, dry mouth, dry eyes, red eyes, hunger, and insomnia. 

Does HHC Have Medical Benefits? 

Because HHC hasn’t been studied as extensively as primary cannabinoids, like delta 9 THC and CBD, it hasn’t been confirmed if HHC offers medicinal benefits; however, some research has been conducted, and the findings have been promising. In a 2011 study, for example, it was found that some synthetic forms of HHC strongly inhibited “breast cancer cell-induced angiogenesis and tumor growth”.

In 2007, Japanese researchers stated that HHC had impressive pain-blocking capabilities in mice. That said, it’s likely too soon to definitively say whether or not HHC offers a lot of promise as a therapeutic drug. 

Is HHC Safe? 

Similar to any other hemp-derived cannabinoids, there isn’t a standard dosing recommendation for HHC. Also, very little to no research on the immediate or long-term effects of HHC ingestion have been conducted.

Since cannabinoids that are derived from hemp, including HHC, aren’t subject to the same regulations as cannabis in states where cannabis is legal to purchase and consume, HHC makers and distributors don’t have to run tests to assess the purity and potency of their products.

Therefore, there is a chance that other compounds could end up being mixed into the HHC that you purchase, which means that you could end up purchasing a product that isn’t pure and that contains other compounds. 

We thus are not recommending HHC use but we are however still curious about it. Delta 9 will hold us over until science can better understand long term effects of Delta 8 and HHC ingestion.

Is HHC Legal?  

Now comes the question that you’ve probably been eager to find the answer to: Is HHC legal to purchase and use? 

As mentioned above, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the hemp plant and all of its derivatives. Unless the plant itself or anything that is made from it is comprised of delta 9 THC at a concentration that is greater than 0.3 percent, HHC is legal. Technically speaking, HHC isn’t THC, so you would think that it’s legality wouldn’t be scrutinized by the federal government, right? Possibly. 

While HHC is a naturally occurring compound of the cannabis plant, commercial HHC is not derived from the cannabis plant. Rather, it’s a lab-generated product that is procured from hemp-derived cannabinoids using the hydrogenation process. The final product is referred to as a “semi-synthetic” cannabis compound by scientists, meaning that it is partly natural and partly synthetic. 

As such, there is a chance that HHC will receive the attention of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). According to an expert from Creo, a biotech company, HHC is believed to fall under the Federal Analogue Act, which means that the semi-synthetic cannabinoid is automatically classified as a Schedule 1 drug. If the DEA agrees with this thought process, the commercial production and purchasing of HHC may not be around for long. 

Additionally, HHC could be banned by some states. This is particularly true if the popularity of HHC takes off and if it endangers the legal cannabis market. That said, however, at the moment, HHC is too new and not well known, so to date, it probably hasn’t caught the attention of lawmakers… yet.

HHC legality

Where can HHC Be Purchased? 

It’s been reported that only one US manufacturer was known to product HHC and sell it wholesale. While we can’t confirm this and we aren’t 100% sure it’s true, what is true that few companies are producing it. As a result, there are only a select few companies that sell retail HHC. Do a quick search on Google and you can find several online retailers that carry HHC products. That said, the majority of distributors sell vapes or oil, as well as gummies. If the popularity of HHC takes off and it remains legal, it’s safe to assume that it will become more widely available. 

Types of HHC Products

Like CBD, Delta 8, and Delta 9, there are several different HHC products available; however, it should be noted that some of these products can be difficult to find, as it isn’t very popular… yet. To give you an idea of the different types options that are available, here’s a quick breakdown of the different types of HHC. 

  • Flower. HHC flower is a high-potency cannabis hemp bud that is coated with HHC distillate, and offers a positive smoking experience without causing adverse effects for most. 
  • HHC pre-rolls. With HHC pre-rolls, you don’t have to worry about rolling the flower yourself; rather, it’s already done for you. HHC pre-rolls are packed with finely ground hemp flower, which are tightly rolled and free of are free of pockets. 
  • HHC cartridges. An easy and convenient way to experience the benefits that HHC provides. With vaping, you don’t have to worry about combustion or smoke; instead, a heat chamber activates a battery, heating up the vape juice and producing vapor that you then inhale. 
  • HHC gummies. For an easy and tasty way to use HHC, gummies are a great option to consider. The semi-synthetic compound is mixed with other high-quality ingredients to create a flavorful gel-like gummy. 
HerbCEO Final Thoughts

Herb CEO Summary

The acceleration of the cannabinoid field via research and discovery is seeming to be matching the same rapid pace at which technology and processing power evolve. With discoveries and refinement and exploration of compounds like Delta 8 and Delta 9 we can’t help but bristle at the notion that there are yet more unique cannabinoids to be found, isolated, and experimented with.

All that said, good old fashioned Delta 9 is pretty friggin fantastic and this author lives in Oregon where there are some particularly tasty whole organic forms of Delta 9 readily available via local dispensaries so no, I don’t have any time to go out and purchase some HHC anytime soon.

That said, curious as always, this post will be updated as HHC continues to be studied and new understandings are discovered.

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