What Is HHC?
In cannabis there is a new molecule in town that is gaining a lot of attention, and it’s no surprise why when you understand the possibilities it can offer in product development and medicine.
HHC is one of many novel cannabinoids now available around the world from select retailers and brands. Whether you’re into vapes or gummies, HHC is being infused into many classic cannabis products.
But the burning question is about safety. Is HHC safe (and legal) to consume? Before we answer that, let’s break down the basics on what HHC is and how it works.
Where does HHC come from?
Hexahydrocannabinol, or HHC, is a naturally occurring cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant in trace amounts. Tiny concentrations of HHC, delta-8 THC, and delta-10 THC appear when THC oxidizes into CBN over a long period of time, especially when exposed to UVB light or oxygen in the air.
These novel compounds occur in such trace amounts that testing their effects directly from the plant or extract proves to be impossible.
Due to its rarity in nature, it is more common to see HHC products that are produced using a synthetic chemical process called hydrogenation.
How HHC Is Made
The process of hydrogenation is fairly simple, chemists hydrogenate compounds by treating them with hydrogen (H2), which is exposed to a catalyst compound such as platinum, zinc, or nickel.
Hydrogenation will reduce or saturate organic compounds, essentially adding properties to the new compound that the original one did not have.
Hydrogenation is a minor modification compared to other synthesis processes. By adding hydrogens across the double bonds of the cannabinoid molecule you change the molecular weight, the molecule’s geometry, and also its effects on the body.
This conversion offers some shelf stability and potential medical benefits as HHC is a more stable molecule than THC, with higher heat and UV resistance.
The final result of hydrogenation is a semi-synthetic compound, or in this case a cannabinoid analogue, which has a number of applications in manufacturing and medicine.
What are the benefits of using HHC?
HHC as a therapeutic drug
As mentioned above, the most promising benefit off the bat is the stability of the molecular structure of HHC. This can benefit both product shelf life and resistance to heat.
Dr. Mark Scialdone, the chemist behind two of the US patents (US10071127B2 & US9694040B2) on hydrogenated cannabinoids explains, “hydrogenation is a chemical transformation on unsaturated compounds to improve their stability and resistance to thermo-oxidative breakdown,” – which occurs when the compounds are exposed to air. We have been using hydrogenation on cooking oils for years, this makes it so oils like canola won’t go rancid when left on the kitchen counter or are exposed to sunlight.
Beyond shelf stability, HHC also shows promise as a medicine. In a study conducted by Scialdone alongside researchers, they concluded that HHC may have an impact on resistance towards oxidative metabolic breakdown in the liver, which could lead to further medical discoveries around medical cannabis. This variation changes how the body metabolizes cannabinoids, and could influence bioavailability and overall effects.
Researchers in Japan have also been looking into the medical implications of HHC. In this 2011 study they found that HHC “strongly inhibited breast cancer cell-induced angiogenesis and tumor growth.” It is still too early to definitively say that HHC has clinically sound evidence to be a therapeutic drug, but there is much optimism around this novel cannabinoid.
Drug testing and HHC
Some claim that HHC may not show up on a drug test, but why? It appears that HHC may not break down in the body the same way as other cannabis compounds. There is some evidence that HHC doesn’t metabolize into 11-hydroxy-THC in the liver, which is the substance typically tested for on many drug panel tests.
Although alluring, this fact may not always hold true, and many drug screenings can often result in a positive test for a number of reasons; from the individual’s body type and genetics, to trace amounts of CBD or THC being present in the fat reserves of the body causing HHC or other cannabinoids to signal a failed test because the compounds are still so similar in shape.
With that being said, it’s recommended to proceed with caution when consuming HHC if you know you may need to participate in a drug screening test.
HHC in recreation and adult use application
Many who have tried HHC on the recreational market have expressed positive reviews on its effects. HHC can be compared to THC and other cannabinoids as it will support nervous system functions and may improve quality of life through the following effects:
- Appetite stimulation
- Anxiety relief
- Depression relief
- Insomnia relief
- Reducing pain and inflammation
Kyle Ray, of Colorado Chromatography was quoted in Leafly on his anecdotal experience with HHC: “I tried it: HHC offered a pleasant and mildly cerebral high, with some pain relief.” This is a very common response amongst HHC enthusiasts, as it’s often compared to the effects of THC without the heady high. Some consumers have expressed that they do not experience paranoia or anxiety on HHC as they might with a standard THC based product, but still got to experience the positive psychoactive effects of cannabis.
Is HHC Safe?
Understanding how to choose an HHC extract
In short, yes HHC is about as safe as THC or CBD to vape when it is from a reputable source. However, there is a lot to consider when looking at the quality standards of HHC products.
When HHC is synthesized, there are two types of HHC molecules that are produced as a result of the chemical reaction. One of these molecules is known as the active version, while the other is considered inactive and does not have known effects. Each batch of HHC will vary in the ratio of active to inactive HHC molecules, and typically requires at least 50% active HHC to offer any desired effects.
How To Buy Safe HHC Products
Reputable producers of HHC aim to keep their products around 2:1 or 1:1 ratios of active to inactive HHC. Kyle Ray adds, “trying to get those two [HHC compounds] isolated and separated from each other would be so cost-ineffective that it wouldn’t really make a viable product. So our goal, when we’re making our HHC is always to maximize the amount of the active [compound]…”
It’s also possible in the synthesis process to create other chemical byproducts in the extract aside from the active and inactive HHC. This can occur when the ingredients going into the chemical process are not pure. If contamination is present in the cannabis extract or any of the reagents, it can cause other chemical reactions to take place – producing compounds that may be dangerous for the liver. This is why it is important to be able to see testing results for starting material, as well as for the final HHC product. Any company that is ethically producing HHC from their laboratory would have access to analytical testing and will provide this through retailers or on their company’s website.
Long-Term Effects Of HHC
Beyond quality control standards, it’s important to consider that we still have yet to understand the long term effects of these novel cannabinoids on the human body. “We want to look at what impacts the hydrogenation has on the metabolic profile, and whether or not the hydrogenation is having a beneficial impact on biological actions with the cannabinoids,” explained Dr. Scialdone.
There is still a lot of leg work to be done in the field of science to see how long term use of synthetic cannabinoids effects humans, and we will likely need more clinical trials to have a deeper understanding of side effects or how hydrogenated cannabinoids differ from non-hydrogenated ones.
Is HHC Safe to vape?
If you’re interested in inhalable products, there are a number of HHC vaporizers on the market today. As far as safety is concerned, you should look for retailers that disclose full test results on each batch of product before you purchase. This will give you better insight to the potency of the product, but also confirm that it is void of contaminants.
HHC vape products can be ideal for anyone looking for a product that has a faster onset and the ability to redose quickly as needed. Vapes typically take anywhere from 2-30 minutes to take full effect, and come in a variety of concentrations. Most HHC products are produced with HHC distillate, which averages around 90-99% potency. It can impart a bitter taste that can be unpleasant to some people, so if the taste is a deal breaker for you, vapes might not be your first choice. Companies have been mixing in cannabis terpene profiles to mask the flavor of HHC, however there is still a lot of room for improvement on flavoring for HHC vapes.
Are HHC gummies safe?
An alternative to vapes, HHC gummies are a discrete and more delicious way to consume your HHC. Edible products are very accessible as they do not require inhalation to dose, and can be easy to travel with. It’s important with edible products to understand proper dosing to avoid unwanted side effects.
An average dose may be around 5-15mg of HHC, and typically takes over 30-60 minutes for effects to begin. This requires patience with dosing, starting at a low milligram count and slowly increasing every hour until at a desired dose.
Product quality is especially important when trying HHC gummies, because the product will be processed in your liver. As mentioned before, contaminated HHC extract with toxic byproducts can be very harmful for the liver, therefore its key to inquire about product testing before consuming HHC edibles.
Where can you find HHC? (Buy HHC Online)
HHC products are available at select retailers and online stores. It’s recommended to only purchase HHC vapes or gummies from company’s that release the testing results on each batch of product to ensure quality standards.
Especially with online retail, it’s possible to purchase an HHC product of low or ineffective potency due to improper processing techniques. Since there is still a lot of gray area around the legality of novel cannabinoids, there have been no FDA standards set for the manufacturing of HHC and thus each lab may have variations in their process that could impact purity.
Is HHC legal to buy?
Well, this is a little more tricky of a topic – as HHC isn’t inherently legal or illegal yet. In 2018 the Farm Bill was amended to federally legalize hemp and all its derivatives in the United States. This means that HHC produced from CBD partially falls under this umbrella of legal cannabinoid products.
But then we have a curveball, as HHC is a semi-synthetic compound, causing it to fall under both the Federal Analogue Act. This law prohibits the production or possession of any substance that is an analogue of another Scheduled substance. Since THC is still considered a Schedule I drug, meaning if the DEA agrees that HHC is an analogue of THC, then HHC may disappear from the market altogether.
We saw a similar situation play out with K2 and Spice, synthetic products that mimic THC that were once widely distributed in the US. Today, both of these substances have been classified as Schedule I drugs, due to the Federal Analogue Act.
Present day, although the laws are ambiguous, it is possible to purchase HHC without legal troubles, with the exception of a few states that have already outlawed the substance. Here is a list of the states that currently will not permit shipping or sales of HHC to consumers:
States that have banned the sale of HHC:
Beyond the buds
Due to the barriers that federal laws create, cannabis and hemp manufacturers have gotten creative at finding alternative routes to get people access to cannabinoids, and semi-synthetics have certainly taken center stage. They provide a quasi-legal alternative in some states where cannabis access is prohibited, and may even provide medicinal value unique to each analogue cannabinoid produced.
We are still a long way out from understanding the science behind these novel compounds like HHC, and with that we await universal quality standards to ensure consumers’ safety. In the meantime, it is up to consumers to do their due-diligence and question brands and retailers of HHC to guarantee that their HHC products are pure and accurately tested.