Chemistry or Organic. What is HHC?

Stephen Andrews
10 Nov 2021

Just how fast the universe is expanding. They say baby planets are being born within a blink of an eye. And my question today is, is the same happening with new cannabinoids? As the race to replace Delta 8 THC continues at a rapid pace, hemp manufacturers have been swift to introduce HHC, which they say is an entirely different category than THC, but it works a similar way.

Hemp-derived synthetic cannabinoids such as Delta 8 THC, Delta 10 THC, and THC-O-acetate have seized a fairly good chunk of the cannabis market in the last 12 months. Information on each of these THC analogs gets more evident by the day, but the least has been revealed about HHC. Which is actually one of the newest compounds. 

HHC is one of the most recent cannabinoids that have appeared on the market and is currently available predominantly as vape carts. HHC is not quite a synthetic analog of THC; this potentially gives it more chances it will not end up hunted down from federal and state agencies, which are currently busy with Delta 8 THC for that matter. 

There's also a speculation HHC could evade drug tests detection. HHC has been advertised that it doesn't convert into 11-hydroxy-THC, a standard drug test metabolite, however, there's thin evidence to support such a claim. So, it's a little early to make that kind of conclusions. 

Some of the trending HHC cart brands at the moment include Bearly Legal Hemp, Binoid, and Hydro, to mention three. A recent article from LA Weekly, which advertises premium HHC from Binoid, says HHC hemp products "are considered legal and may possibly be shipped to most states." However, just like with THC-O-acetate, not all legal experts are convinced of this.

How is HHC manufactured?

HHC is created through a process called hydrogenation, where hydrogen molecules are added to cannabis extracts. To give it its full name, HHC stands for hexahydrocannabinol. HHC has rarely been isolated from cannabis, however, it was derived in 1947 by Roger Adams, the organic chemist who first isolated and identified CBD in 1940. 

The process of hydrogenation is not exclusive to extracting cannabinoids, however. In the food industry, hydrogenated vegetable oils convert fats for products such as butter, candies, and baked goods.

While Adams used natural THC from Cannabis sativa to synthesize HHC, today, the extraction process starts with hemp. Raw hemp is used to remove CBD, which is then distilled and isolated in the form of powder. Companies use chemical reactors to process the substance into a final product, which consists of two different types of HHC molecules. One of them, 9R HHC, is more successful at binding with endocannabinoid receptors in the body, simulating effects akin to Delta 8 THC. The other, 9S HHC, is more "dormant," so to speak, but it's necessary and complements the compound. 

person gently holding hemp leaf with the palms.

What is the potency and effect of HHC?

HHC appears as less potent than Delta-8 THC, which itself is less powerful than conventional THC. According to HHC experts, products should contain at least 50% actively binding molecules in order to successfully induce the sought-after effects. 

An HHC product is not entirely successful if you try to isolate only active molecules. What manufacturers currently do is maximize active molecules in a ratio of 2:1 against non-active, or just pertain a 1:1 proportion. 

People who've tried HHC have likened its taste to somewhat plastic, and most say the experience is pleasant. HHC is reported to keep energy levels up, relax the muscles, and help pain relief. It may only generate a mild sensation of head high. 

What are laws saying?

The same legal loopholes that have allowed other THC copycats to appear have enabled the emergence of HHC as well. Like for Delta 8 THC or Delta-O-acetate more recently, manufacturers cite the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp and its derivates from federal control. 

HHC producers also argue that HHC is not THC at all; it just mimics some effects of the psychedelic cannabinoid. 

Bearly Legal Hemp, which sells Delta 8 THC, THC-O and HHC products altogether, writes on their company website that "HHC is a naturally occurring minor cannabinoid found within hemp plant. Hexahydrocannabinol is very similar to d8 and d9 in terms of effects but it is, by definition and chemistry not a THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol)... HHC is a Federally Legal hemp-extract as is 100% farm bill compliant."

Some legal experts are not so confident to make such claims, however. HHC too might be subject to the Federal Analog Act from 1986, which clarifies that any substance similar to a Schedule I drug, which in this case would be conventional THC, should be treated as such. 

Is HHC safe to consume?

Whether HHC is safe to consume, it again remains to individual users to assess risks. There's virtually no research on the immediate or long-term effects of HHC consumption. There's currently also no market standardization of HHC products, neither are HHC manufacturers required to test for potency or purity. Some of them do, but probably not everyone. Which does make me write... just stay cautious about what you purchase and look for this type of information when you browse items. Whether a brand discloses essential details like product safety, potency and purity testing info, should probably help you bring some decisions when you are not sure.

Stephen Andrews