What is HHC and How Does it Compare to THC?
Following the wild success of delta 8 THC as a legal alternative to the more controlled availability of delta 9 THC, the cannabis industry has sought other less-known cannabinoids to compete in the diverse cannabis marketplace. One of the newest and most promising is hexahydrocannabinol, usually shortened to HHC.
What is HHC?
HHC is a THC relative long known to science, but until recently not often discussed by cannabis users. HHC is a minor cannabinoid; it occurs naturally in cannabis, but in amounts too small to make extraction cost-effective. Since commercial production of HHC is just getting off the ground, it’s still not widely known.
Most cannabinoids can be converted to other cannabinoids by altering the chemistry of the molecules. Like delta 8 THC and delta 10 THC, commercial HHC is made from hemp-derived CBD in a lab through chemical processes. HHC has one major legal advantage over delta 8 and delta 10: it isn’t called THC.
How is HHC produced?
HHC was discovered in the 1940s by chemist Roger Adams. He created HHC by adding hydrogen to the THC molecule and altering its physical properties. The process, called hydrogenation, is first described in a 1947 patent document.
Hydrogenation modifies the structure of delta 9 THC by replacing a double bond with two hydrogen atoms, which changes its molecular weight and also makes it more stable. According to Mark Scialdone, a chemist and BR Brands Chief Science Officer, hydrogenation improves “stability and resistance to thermo-oxidative breakdown”—which means HHC has a longer shelf life and is less prone to damage caused by UV light and heat.
Does HHC get you high? Does it have side effects?
This is kind of tricky. Although HHC isn’t technically a THC, it does produce similar effects—if you use enough of it. When it’s produced in the lab, an HHC batch is a mix of active and inactive HHC molecules. The active HHC binds well with your body’s cannabinoid receptors; the others don’t.
Reports from users generally describe the HHC high as being somewhere between delta 8 and delta 9 THC.
Pretty much everything we know about HHC’s effects and side effects is anecdotal.
Does HHC have medical benefits?
HHC hasn’t been widely studied, unlike more abundant cannabinoids like delta 9 THC or CBD, but there has been some promising research. A 2011 study showed that some synthetic analogs of hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) “strongly inhibited breast cancer cell-induced angiogenesis and tumor growth.” Japanese researchers published a paper in 2007 describing HHC’s impressive pain-blocking capability in mice. But it is probably too early to say whether HHC has great promise as a therapeutic drug.
Is HHC legal and will it stay legal?
Congress made the hemp plant and all its derivatives federally legal in the 2018 Farm Bill—as long as the plant or anything made from it contains less than 0.3 percent delta 9 THC.
Even though HHC is found naturally in the cannabis plant, commercial HHC is made by hydrogenating hemp-derived cannabinoids under pressure with a catalyst like palladium. Scientists at the National Cannabis Industry Association call the result a “semi-synthetic” cannabis compound.
In May 2022, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals confirmed that delta 8 THC was legal under the Farm Bill hemp definition, and that all other compounds and derivatives of hemp are also legal, as long as they don’t contain more than the legal maximum 0.3 percent delta 9 THC. That apparently makes HHC a legal hemp product, and offers protection for manufacturers and sellers of HHC (and delta 8 and delta 10 THC, and THCP), although some attorneys note that other federal courts could reach different conclusions.
However, HHC could still be banned by individual states. This is likely if HHC becomes popular enough that it threatens sales in the legal cannabis market, as we’ve seen happen with delta 8 THC.