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Since hemp became federally legal, new hemp-derived products have come forth and have found their way onto the legal marketplace. In a growing line of cannabinoids that offer a range of effects and benefits similar to those traditionally associated with THC, HHC brings some new qualities to the table.
HHC is a hydrogenated version of THC wherein the double bond is broken and replaced with hydrogen. This increases its stability and possibly its bioavailability as well. HHC is believed to render similar effects as THC, but further research is needed to better understand the effects of its use.
As the market continues to explode with new cannabinoids, keeping up with the different effects and legalities of each can become overwhelming. In this article, we’ll explain exactly what HHC is, how it differs from THC, where you can purchase it, and where HHC stands legally.
What Is HHC?
HHC stands for hexahydrocannabinol. It is a hydrogenated form of THC and can be found naturally in cannabis plants. It has two hydrogen atoms in place of the double bond that’s found in THC, which makes it less prone to oxidation. Not easily oxidizing increases the overall stability of the cannabinoid, which, in turn, results in a longer shelf life for HHC products.
Although HHC can be detected in plants, it is only present in small amounts. For this reason, much of what is in HHC products is made synthetically. This is done through the process of hydrogenation, wherein either naturally occurring THC or CBD that has been transformed into THC is saturated with hydrogen atoms.
The same process of hydrogenation that is used on CBD extract is how vegetable oils are turned into margarine. The first time HHC was semi-synthetically created in this manner was when chemist Roger Adams hydrogenated Delta-9 THC back in 1944. It was again experimented with in the 1960s and ‘70s, but has not been studied extensively until now.
THC vs. HHC
Though most of the molecular structure of HHC is identical to that of THC, there is a key distinguishing difference. While the recently popularized cannabinoids Delta-7, -8, and -10 are also slight variations of the most popular and abundant Delta-9 cannabinoid, they all vary in the location of the double bond in their molecular structure. They are all THC, just with varying degrees of compatibility with the endocannabinoid system.
In contrast, HHC comes about when the double bond is broken and replaced by hydrogen. The added hydrogen makes HHC more structurally stable than THC, which allows it a significantly longer shelf life. Along with a reduced vulnerability to oxidation, HHC can also withstand heat and UV exposure better than THC.
HHC and the Endocannabinoid System
Not many studies have been conducted on HHC and we don’t yet know much about the cannabinoid. Currently, even the potency of HHC is disputed. While some claim that HHC is approximately 70-80% as potent as Delta-9 THC, others reason that, milligram-per-milligram, HHC is less potent than even Delta-8 THC, which is approximately half as potent as Delta-9.
The thought behind HHC being less potent lies in the manufacturing of HHC products. The final product results as a mix of two different HHC molecules—9R HHC and 9S HHC. The difference between these is that 9R HHC actively binds to the endocannabinoid receptors, while 9S HHC does not bind well due to the slight difference in the molecular structure. While 9R HHC produces similar effects as Delta-8 THC, it would require more HHC to achieve similar effects.
Claims have also been made on the contrary. According to this theory, the portion of HHC products that metabolizes has stronger effects on the user due to the increased stability and bioavailability of the molecule.
HHC seems to have a strong affinity to bonding with the endocannabinoid receptors and is believed to have a much greater level of efficacy than THC as a result. This has been linked with its apparent ability to significantly reduce discomfort.
The confusion seems to lie in HHC having three chiral centers, meaning that there are actually three different forms of HHC. Each of these forms is called an enantiomer, and each enantiomer is determined by which of the three chiral centers HHC bonds to. If it bonds to the first, then this enantiomer will activate the CB1 receptor. If it bonds to the second chiral center, then that enantiomer will activate the CB2 receptor. And if it binds to the third chiral center, then it will be unable to activate either receptor.
9R HHC and 9S HHC are the two most common enantiomers found in HHC products. Although they bind with CB receptors differently, the theory is that HHC could potentially address two conditions at the same time. By binding to both receptors, HHC hypothetically absorbs more efficiently and results in stronger effects.
More research needs to be done to fully understand the effects that HHC can have, but studies done so far seem to suggest that using HHC produces similar effects to those of THC, but with predominantly sedative qualities that are similar to those of an Indica strain or of Delta-8 THC.
How HHC Is Made
HHC can naturally be found in cannabis plants, but only in very small amounts. In order to have enough HHC to use and sell, it has to be created in a lab instead. For this reason, HHC can be considered both a natural and a semi-synthetic cannabinoid.
HHC is created through hydrogenation. CBD or THC is first extracted from hemp plants, then distilled and isolated. This powder substance is the base that is then chemically saturated with hydrogen atoms, which breaks open the double bond and replaces it with two hydrogen atoms. It is then exposed to a catalyst such as nickel or zinc that helps convert the cannabinoid into HHC.
The entire hydrogenation process occurs within a chemical reactor, and out comes a dark, golden oil that is HHC. This oil is then refined and distilled, at which point it can be transformed into a usable product.
What Are the Effects of Using HHC?
HHC is one of the newest cannabinoids on the market and there are not yet many conclusive results surrounding it. Some anecdotal evidence points at HHC having similar effects as THC, presumably because of the similarities in their molecular structures and the resulting interactions with the endocannabinoid system.
Studies are being conducted on animal test subjects, but we do not yet know much about the effects of HHC with certainty.
Where to Purchase HHC
HHC has barely hit the marketplace, which means that, for now, it can only be purchased through a few retailers. It also means that there is a limited selection to choose from. Although HHC can be inhaled, consumed, or used via tincture, it is currently still primarily found sold as vape carts.
Delta Extrax is a leading brand in CBD and other hemp-derived products. They now also have a “Hydro Collection” dedicated to HHC. Their available products include vape cartridges, disposable vapes, and gummies.
All Delta Extrax HHC products contain less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC and are hemp compliant according to the Farm Bill. Delta Extrax highlights using only a limited list of premium ingredients and lab tests all products first in raw form and again upon completion.
Delta Extrax also has a wide variety of products that combine cannabinoids for varying effects and benefits. HHC can be found alongside THC-O in the Ocho Extrax collection which features an Indica-like vape cartridge and a Sativa-like disposable vape.
Binoid CBD is another retailer that is selling some of the newest hemp-derived products. Their selection includes:
- Delta-8 THC
- Delta-10 THC
Binoid has a large selection of HHC products that primarily consists of vape cartridges, but also includes disposable vapes, tinctures, and softgel capsules.
The vape cartridges sold by Binoid claim to be 100% natural, with 94% premium HHC distillate and the rest terpenes. The softgels are vegan and contain 25 mg of HHC each, and their tinctures are made of 92% premium HHC distillate combined with MCT oil.
Additional information is provided for each listed product, and lab tests are easily accessible from the top menu.
Bearly Legal Hemp Co.
Bearly Legal Hemp Co specializes in psychoactive, hemp-derived products that claim to be legal. Their products are made with several common new cannabinoids, including:
- Hemp-derived Delta-9
Bearly Legal Hemp Co sells HHC as vape carts and gummies, both of which come in an array of flavors. Their site also provides further information on all available products to help customers become familiar with their options.
Bearly Legal Hemp only posts verified reviews and holds their products up to the brand’s standard of quality. A link to the lab results for their vape carts can be found directly above the listed products, and a link to available lab reports for all of their products can be found in the bottom menu.
Does HHC Show Up on a Drug Test?
Claims have been made that HHC may not show up on a drug test, but the findings are not yet conclusive. For now, it is recommended that anyone who may have to pass a drug test in the foreseeable future not use HHC products.
Anything that our bodies ingest gets processed through the liver and turned into a metabolite, and drug tests detect metabolites that occur from specific substances. The metabolite that reads for THC use is 11-hydroxy-THC, which can be detected with the use of all known Delta variations. However, the theory is that HHC doesn’t convert into 11-hydroxy-THC and would thus, hypothetically, not be detected by a drug test.
Studies on HHC are still in their infancy and nothing has been confirmed as to whether or not HHC will show up on a drug test. HHC is already gaining a following and studies are sure to continue, so perhaps we will soon have a clearer understanding of HHC and the effects it can have.
Is HHC Legal?
As is the case with many of the products that have recently appeared on the market, HHC falls into a legal gray area, and there’s a reason for that. Since the Farm Bill was passed in 2018, all hemp-derived substances that contain less than 0.3% THC are not considered a controlled substance and are thus technically legal. As long as all products originate from a substance that has been extracted from a hemp plant, the resulting product is also a legal hemp derivative.
Some have even expressed that HHC may have even greater legal promise than the Delta varieties of THC simply because it isn’t actually THC at all. While all Delta varieties still contain up to 0.3% Delta-9 THC, HHC doesn’t have the same double bond and doesn’t metabolize into 11-hydroxy-THC. Furthermore, some states have already banned Delta-8 and Delta-10, but HHC does not fall under the same rules.
As it stands, HHC seems to remain federally legal under the Farm Bill, but it should be noted that some states are more liberal about psychoactive substances than others. Always exercise caution and be aware of the laws in your state.
HHC at a Glance
HHC is the newest hemp-derived cannabinoid to make waves, and its unique molecular composition offers a lot of promise for the legal marketplace. With hydrogen atoms in place of a double bond, HHC lends a longer shelf life and psychoactive effects that may not show up on a drug test. Although there is a lot left to learn about this cannabinoid, HHC is likely to grow in accessibility and popularity as research around hemp-derived products continues.