HHC or hexahydrocannabinol is a newer cannabinoid to hit the cannabis market, but it's not exactly a new cannabinoid.
HHC was discovered in 1944 by the American chemist Roger Adams while experimenting with the hydrogenation process with the THC molecule in marijuana.
Today, the compound is going through a rebirth in the cannabis market as a "legal" means to experience a marijuana high with a hemp-derived cannabinoid.
Learn the effects of HHC, the types of HHC products on the market, and how to use it safely in this article.
HHC stands for hexahydrocannabinol, and it's a hydrogenated form of THC
HHC is a psychoactive cannabinoid that produces mind-altering and euphoric effects in high doses.
HHC is made by converting delta-8 THC from hemp through a hydrogenation process (similar to transforming margarine from vegetable oil).
While there's not as much research on HHC, it's believed to behave very similarly to THC, and many people use it as a THC alternative for its mellower high.
High doses of HHC may have similar effects to taking too much THC and can lead to nausea, dizziness, lethargy, slow reaction times, paranoia, and anxiousness.
There is no proof that HHC products are safe THC alternatives for passing drug tests.
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What Is Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC)?
HHC stands for hexahydrocannabinol, an analog of the THC compound. It's essentially the margarine of THC.
These two compounds share virtually the same molecular structure with some slight differences, which can affect how they interact in the body.
To get HHC, it has to undergo a chemical process called hydrogenation, which replaces the carbon bond with hydrogen molecules. The result is a more stable compound with a longer shelf-life that's less potent.
Margarine is made using the same process but with vegetable oil.
HHC made in a lab is semi-synthetic, but it is found to occur naturally in high-potency cannabis plants, making it a minor cannabinoid .
The problem is that if you want to harvest HHC in substantial amounts to create HHC gummies or HHC vapes, you'll need a lot of hemp plants, and it's just not feasible on an industrial level.
This is where chemists convert THC into this hydrogenated form using catalytic acids.
How Does HHC Work In The Body?
HHC's chemical structure is nearly identical to THC, so it binds to the same CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system is a modulating system that's present in all mammals. It helps to regulate vital functions, including sleep, memory, pain, immune system, hunger, mood, and much more.
Cannabis-derived cannabinoids like THC, CBD, and HHC, fit like a key to these receptor locks to initiate a biological process.
The critical difference between HHC and THC is in their potencies. HHC is less potent than THC, but it still produces psychoactive effects.
When you smoke HHC or ingest it, the compound enters the bloodstream and makes its way to your brain. There, it binds with CB1 receptors that tell specific neurons to fire.
This alters things like mood, perception, and appetite—in other words, it gets you high.
Cannabinoids can affect individuals differently, which is why some people are more susceptible to adverse effects. Still, they can help many others reach wellness goals like improving relaxation, sleep quality, and reducing pain.
Generally speaking, the higher the HHC concentration, the more intense the high will be.
Does HHC Occur Naturally In The Cannabis Plant?
Some experts speculate on the nature of HHC—some claim that it's completely synthetic and requires a lab to produce. While some researchers have found very small concentrations of the compound in high potency cannabis plants .
Most of the HHC you'll find in your smoke shops, and online are produced in a lab due to the scarcity of the compound found in nature, but that doesn't mean it's inherently dangerous. However, there are some precautions.
There are various ways to produce HHC in a lab. One of the popular methods involves acids to convert delta-8 THC into HHC.
While this can be done safely for the consumer, some brands take shortcuts in their cannabinoid manufacturing and leave behind chemical solvents and acids that could be dangerous when consumed in large amounts.
Unfortunately, government regulation in manufacturing hemp-derived cannabinoids is lacking, so many companies are getting away with this.
While it's not a mandatory practice, reputable brands in the cannabis space will always opt for a full Certificate of Analysis conducted by credible third-party labs to test their exacts for purity and safety. You should only buy HHC that comes with this full report.
What Are The Effects Of HHC?
Despite being known for some time, there's still a lack of research on HHC specifically. Most cannabinoid research focuses on THC and CBD.
From what we can gather online from anecdotal evidence and the little research available, HHC and THC have similar effects on the body.
THC has been extensively studied for its anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory, anti-depressive, and analgesic properties . Because HHC operates on the same receptors, many believe that HHC offers the same potential benefits. Of course, there isn't much scientific research to back this.
The reason HHC products are becoming so popular is for the same reason delta-8 THC is popping up all over the place—they alternative cannabinoids to delta-9 THC from marijuana and a "legal" way to get high.
The effects of an HHC high include:
Elevated mood, a sense of euphoria
Heightened sense of smell and taste
Relaxed mind and body
Slowed reflexes and clouded judgment
Support nausea and vomiting symptoms
May provide some pain relief
A key highlight for many brands that sell HHC products is that HHC is indetectable through most conventional drug tests—but this isn't true (more on this shortly).
What Are The Side Effects Of HHC?
Again, the clinical studies on the HHC chemical compound are scarce, so there's not much to go off from other users' experiences.
The side effects of HHC seem to be very similar to delta-8 and delta-9 THC. Depending on the person's body chemistry and the dose, HHC can induce:
Feelings of anxiousness and paranoia
Nausea and upset stomach
Sensitivity to sound and light
Low blood pressure
Cannabinoids can affect people differently, so you must start with low doses of any new cannabinoid to mitigate the chances of inducing a negative effect.
Fortunately, the chances of a bad experience with HHC seem low as long as you stay within your dose range and use a high-quality product.
Is HHC Legal?
HHC lives in a bit of a loophole.
If your HHC is hemp-derived, it's considered federally legal through an interpretation of the 2018 Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill specifies that as long as the hemp plant contains less than 0.3% THC by dried weight, hemp products, and its harvested cannabinoids are considered federally legal.
The issue comes as to whether or not HHC is a synthetic cannabinoid.
Synthetic cannabinoids are entirely lab-made compounds not found naturally in the cannabis plant. Synthetic cannabinoids like K2 and Spice caused a huge public health risk in the early 2000s when people were consuming them recreationally as a "legal" way to get high and pass drug tests.
These synthetic cannabinoids don't behave the same way as naturally-derived compounds and were found to have very severe health implications.
HHC is a semi-synthetic compound. Because it doesn't exist naturally in meaningful quantities to produce products, it is lab-made by transforming hemp-derived cannabinoids into HHC.
The DEA isn't looking to ban semi-synthetic cannabinoids because they haven't been on the radar as a public health concern — but some bad manufacturing practices can make certain products dangerous, which is why it's important to shop for high-quality HHC.
That being said, some states have banned all analogs of THC, including delta-8 and delta-10, from hemp plants, so it's worth looking into your local laws before shopping online for HHC.
Is HHC Safe For Drug Tests?
HHC products generated a lot of buzz in the cannabis community as THC alternatives for passing a drug test—but this isn't necessarily true.
HHC and THC are molecularly very similar to the point where they produce almost the same experience.
The body even breaks it down into similar metabolites.
THC breaks down into THC-COOH, and HHC becomes HHC-COOH.
The tricky thing is that drug testing isn't an exact science, and these compounds can be mistaken for each other because they look nearly identical.
While some people may have luck passing their drug test with HHC vape cartridges, we wouldn't rely on this as a safe THC alternative.
The only sure way to pass your drug test is to avoid THC and THC analogs altogether for at least 4 weeks or more, depending on your frequency of use and the dosages you consume.
The Takeaway: HHC's Effects
HHC is a cannabinoid that produces effects very similar to THC. HHC is found in trace concentrations in certain strains of cannabis, and it has been shown to bind strongly to the CB1 receptor, though not as potent as THC.
HHC produces psychoactive effects, including relaxation, euphoria, and increased appetite. Although this hydrogenated form of THC has been around for a while, there's not as much research on the effects of this cannabinoid. We can summarize that it's expected to behave very similarly to THC.
While further research is needed to confirm the full extent of HHC's therapeutic potential, it clearly shows promise as a cannabinoid worth exploring.
What is HHC?
HHC is an abbreviation for hexahydrocannabinol, a semi-synthetic cannabinoid that was shown to occur naturally in high-potency cannabis plants, making it a minor cannabinoid. It must go through a chemical process called hydrogenation. As a result, the substance is more stable, has a longer shelf life, and is less potent.
What is the difference? HHC vs Delta 8?
HHC is created by converting delta-8 THC from hemp, causing it to behave remarkably similarly to THC, and many individuals utilize it as a THC replacement due to its mellower high.
Is HHC legal?
If your HHC is hemp-derived, it is regarded federally legal under an interpretation of the 2018 Farm Bill, which states that hemp products and harvested cannabinoids are legal as long as the hemp plant contains less than 0.3% THC by dried weight. The question is whether HHC is a synthetic cannabis.
Is HHC safe?
Because HHC is a semi-synthetic substance, it is produced in laboratories by converting hemp-derived cannabinoids into HHC, and poor manufacturing procedures can make certain goods harmful.
Ahmed, S. A., Ross, S. A., Slade, D., Radwan, M. M., Khan, I. A., & ElSohly, M. A. (2015). Minor oxygenated cannabinoids from high potency Cannabis sativa L. Phytochemistry, 117, 194-199.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2017). The health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids: the current state of evidence and recommendations for research.