What is HHC and How Is It Different From THC?
Medical cannabis patients are familiar with Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). That is the psychoactive cannabinoid found in medical marijuana, which can also provide physiological effects such as relief from pain, moderation of anxiety and depression symptoms, reduced nausea, and more.
There are actually one hundred (100) categorized cannabinoids present in both the hemp plant and cannabis plants. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is also commonly recognized and available legally for medicinal use without a doctor’s prescription.
But one of the cannabinoids you may not know much about is HHC. That is Hexahydrocannabinol and it is a cannabinoid that has started to garner more interest in terms of research for medicinal use.
Patients who see HHC alternatives in shops may wonder if the effects are similar to THC. After all, it is a cannabinoid too, but one that many people do not know much about. Does HHC have the potential to work better than Delta-9 THC for certain conditions?
Few dispensaries carry HHC. You may want to learn more about the differences between HHC and THC and whether Hexahydrocannabinol may improve or help symptom management.
What is the HHC Cannabinoid?
When it comes to helping with the relief of chronic pain symptoms, many patients find that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) works well. But for reasons the research community doesn’t completely understand, sometimes THC is ineffective and does not help moderate pain for some patients.
There are many different types of conditions that cause chronic pain. Like any other drug, it is known that the human body can develop resistance to THC. This is why researchers are exploring hundreds of other cannabinoids to find out if one of them may work better than, or in combination with, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
What is Different About the Chemical Structures of HHC?
One of the fundamental differences between HHC and THC lies in their chemical structures. HHC is similar to THC, but it possesses an additional hydrogen atom. This slight difference may contribute to distinct pharmacological properties and effects.
Delta-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol is the most prominent psychoactive compound found in the cannabis plant and the most recognized cannabinoid (other than CBD). Both cannabidiol (CBD) and THC combined account for 20% to 30% of the cannabinoids found in the marijuana plant.
Each molecule of THC contains 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two oxygen atoms (C21H30O2). Within a THC molecule is a central core constructed of a cyclohexane ring fused with a pentyl side chain.
The ring contains a double bond and a hydroxyl group that is attached at the third carbon level. This helps THC interact with human cannabinoid receptors and other cannabinoids to create the psychoactive effects of marijuana.
Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) has some minor differences at the molecular level. That is because it occurs only in very small quantities naturally in the cannabis plant. The chemical structure of HHC is C21H32O2.
Basically, HHC and THC are almost identical, with the exception of two additional hydrogen atoms. The main difference is that THC has a double carbon bond located in the cyclohexyl ring, and HHC has a hydrogen atom in that location instead.
How Is HHC Made?
Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) is considered a semi-synthetic cannabinoid. That is because the process of creating HHC is more intensive than a simple hemp extraction. HHC versus THC requires a chemical processing method.
An American chemist by the name of Roger Adams discovered HHC and patented it in 1947. Adams discovered that combining Delta-THC with hydrogen atoms (hydrogenation) transforms THC into HHC.
Can You Get High from HHC?
Despite the fact that HHC was patented more than seventy-five (75) years ago, there have not been many research studies into this specific cannabinoid. Ingesting HHC in any form will result in psychoactive and physical effects that closely mimic the “high” you get from THC.
Because HHC is also not tested or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), content can vary. The only way a consumer can actually validate the THC content (to make sure it is within the legal limits) is to choose products that have a legitimate certificate of analysis (COA). Products without a COA can be hazardous to your health and get you into legal trouble.
Because there has been so little research into HHC and human health, there is no reliable or conclusive medical data to refer to. The information is anecdotal based on surveys and comments made by people who use the products.
For some people, the “high” achieved from HHC is more intense than THC. Many people feel that HHC is equal to or greater than a high-potency Delta-8 product. Some reviews of HHC state that the psychoactive effects are slower to occur than THC. It is described as more of a body high, with some mood-lifting euphoria.
Some HHC products can be 70% to 80% of the strength of THC, which makes them more potent than other semi-synthetic or synthetic cannabis options. In many cases, HHC is more potent than Delta-8 or Delta-10 THC.
What Kind of HHC Products Are Available?
Similarly to Delta-THC products, like Delta-8 and Delta-10, you can find HHC products almost everywhere that tobacco products are sold. That includes specialty shops and more. The selection of products may vary by location.
When purchasing HHC, you can find a variety of different “strains” available. Similar to smokable marijuana flowers.
HHC Vape Cartridges
If you prefer to vape, HHC vape cartridges are available. It is more common to find them in disposable vapes, and they cost about the same as Delta-8 or Delta-10 THC vapes. Finding HHC vape juice can be a little challenging, depending on where you live.
Gummies, HHC Beverages or Hard Candies
There are many different types of HHC candies or edibles you may find, depending on availability in your area. They may be in the form of confectionary (sweets) or losengers, gummies, lollipops, chewable licorice, drink mixes, or infused beverages.
HHC Hemp Flower
Smoking hemp flowers alone will not get you high. Raw or decarboxylated hemp has low THC content and is not enough to produce psychoactive effects. However, HHC flower is available. It is a natural hemp bud that is coated with HHC extract.
Unlike vapes or edibles, HHC-infused hemp flower is typically less potent than Delta-10 and other semi-synthetic cannabinoid products. Some people prefer that the effect is milder and less intoxicating, as it may help with pain or relief of anxiety without the feeling of impairment.
Using tinctures is also convenient if you prefer a non-smokable method of using HHC. Most tinctures cost less than $40 or roughly $1 per milligram (averaging 30 mg per bottle). The average recommended dose for an HHC tincture is between 5mg to 12 mg. Consumers can find HHC tinctures in both flavored and unflavored varieties.
HHC Tablets and Capsules
People who do not want to use an edible or inhalable route can find HHC available in tablet or capsule form. They are easy and convenient to take. Consuming tablets or capsules may delay the onset of psychoactive and physical effects of HHC by up to ninety minutes.
Are HHC Products Illegal in Some States?
In 2023, some states banned HHC products, which are illegal to sell, possess or use. Those states include Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Mississippi, Nevada, New York, Utah, and Washington.
Remember, if you are traveling to another jurisdiction, do some online research to learn the laws of the state you are visiting. Even if HHC products are currently federally legal, possessing or using them in a state which has banned them can result in criminal charges.
Where Can You Buy HHC?
If you are twenty-one (21) years of age or older, you may legally purchase HHC products at retail locations. You may find them at specialty tobacco or vape stores, alternative health retailers, or convenience stores.
Is HHC Legal to Buy and Possess?
Because HHC causes physical and psychoactive effects, products made from hexahydrocannabinol are controlled substances. However, because of ambiguity in the 2018 Farm Bill, you can find HCC products sold at tobacco shops in most states.
Technically, federal law legalized any products made from industrial hemp extracts. For example, cannabidiol (CBD) supplements are legal now according to federal law. But CBD is plentiful in hemp plants and easily extracted, and it does not require extra steps to transform hemp-derived cannabinoids through chemical reactions. Like Delta-8, Delta-10, THCA, and other synthetic or semi-synthetic cannabinoids do.
For the time being, products manufactured from semi-synthetic cannabinoids and synthetic cannabinoids derived from hemp are legal. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is proceeding to reclassify THCO, Delta-THC, and HHC to separate them from legal hemp-derived cannabinoids.
According to federal law, any substance with a THC content of more than 0.30% is a controlled substance. And falls into the Schedule I (prohibited) classification in the Controlled Substances Act, along with cannabis.
Some HHC products have low THC and may be legal. Many can, however, have much higher THC content than legally permitted. One of the things consumers need to do is check the THC content on any hemp-derived product. Please don’t assume it is legal by default.
If you have an HHC vape, edible, or flower that exceeds the 0.30% THC level, you can be charged with a misdemeanor or felony offense. To avoid legal problems, you should always research the hemp-derived product you plan to buy.
Look for a certificate of analysis (COA) that will confirm THC content, as verified by third-party laboratory testing. Sometimes the label does not match the actual content of the HHC product you buy.
What Are The Health Risks and Side-Effects of Using HHC?
There are more clinical health studies for hemp plant-derived cannabinoids and THC than there are for HHC. More research is needed, but the use of HHC can pose the same common risks as using conventional cannabis products.
Some of the side effects and risks to be aware of before you start using any cannabinoid includes:
Lower Infant Birth Weight
Cannabinoid consumption during pregnancy is never recommended. That includes THC, cannabidiol (CBD), and semi-synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols, including HHC, Delta-THC, and THCO.
Some studies suggest, however, that infant mortality rates can be higher when mothers ingest any cannabinoid during pregnancy. As a semi-synthetic cannabinoid, HHC may be linked to higher rates of infant mortality and lower birth weights.
Dizziness and Falling Injuries
Any substance that can cause impairment or affect coordination can be correlated to injuries. Dizziness can occur, which can cause trip and fall injuries for people who use cannabinoids, including HHC.
The psychoactive effects can make muscle coordination more difficult. Hand and eye coordination may also suffer, and motor control of hands, arms, legs, and feet. This can increase your risk of a falling injury when impaired by HHC or any other cannabinoids.
May Increase the Risk of Mental Health Disorders
While there is little research into HHC and its negative impacts on mental health, heavy cannabis use is linked to specific conditions and symptoms that can worsen pre-existing mental health conditions. And in some cases, increase the risk of developing new mental health disorders.
All cannabinoids interact with the endocannabinoid system. This is a complex cannabinoid regulation network comprised of CB1 and CB2 receptors located throughout the body. The largest concentrations of CB1 and CB2 receptors are in the brain.
The endocannabinoid receptors are also responsible for regulating emotions, thought processes (cognition and memory), and mood. Cannabinoids can temporarily relieve symptoms of anxiety or depression in patients.
However, with chronic or heavy cannabis use comes increased risks. The use of high-potency cannabinoids can increase the risk of developing psychosis and conditions like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.
Some people can use cannabinoids for decades and not experience any adverse mental health side effects. Studies have concluded that adolescent use of cannabis, synthetic or semi-synthetic cannabinoids presents the highest risk of developing adverse events and long-term mental health problems.
There are other hereditary factors that may predispose some people to higher mental health risks when using HHC, Delta-THC, or cannabis. Other factors, including alternative substance abuse disorders, potency, frequency of use, and environmental factors, may also increase risk factors.
Ingesting cannabinoids can temporarily increase heart rate, according to many clinical studies. But there are many different causes of hypertension that can be related to environmental, hereditary health conditions, and lifestyle factors.
There are two different levels or types of hypertension that pose a risk to human health:
- Primary hypertension develops slowly without a chemical cause. This type of high blood pressure can be linked to heredity (genetics), age and changes in the body, or obesity.
- Secondary hypertension can develop quickly and cause significant health risks.
- It may be caused by congenital heart defects, thyroid problems, alcohol abuse, certain types of medications, over-ingestion of stimulant recreational drugs (cocaine or amphetamines), or kidney disease.
Clinical studies have shown that cannabis can cause hypertension. Regular cannabis use can contribute to cardiovascular problems. This is also true for synthetic cannabinoids and semi-synthetic HHC.
It may Increase the Risk of Chronic Insomnia
Some people may not realize that HHC can be ineffective for sleep problems. It depends on whether you choose an HHC product that contains Indica or Sativa additives. For example, if you are looking for help with pain relief and insomnia, an Indica HHC product may help.
However, if you took a Sativa HHC product, you may find yourself energized (rather than sedated) and alert, which would make falling asleep more difficult. Many people use a potency of 25 mg to 35 mg Indica strain HHC to assist with sleep problems.
Other Side Effects from HHC
Red eyes are a common side effect caused by the consumption of cannabinoids, and HHC can also cause your eyes to become dry and irritable. Some people have shared that specific blends of semi-synthetic HHC are more likely to cause cottonmouth (dry mouth) symptoms as well.
Is Cannabis Safer than HHC?
The DEA and the Food and Drug Administration are working on revising federal laws regarding semi-synthetic and synthetic cannabinoids. It is important to remember that while cannabis can have side effects, marijuana plants are natural and safer.
There are a variety of carrier oils and extraction methods patients should be aware of when choosing medical marijuana products. But by comparison, physicians strongly advise against using synthetic or semi-synthetic cannabis. There is insufficient research to determine the long-term health risks associated with the chemicals used to create non-natural cannabinoid products.
Getting a medical card and using doctor-supervised medical marijuana have many advantages. Licensed dispensaries have laws that require product safety testing and batch tracking. This helps to ensure that the cannabis products you are using are safer than non-regulated artificial cannabinoids.
I am a Chief Marketing Officer at DocMJ, a leading provider of medical cannabis health services to qualified patients. I have over 20 years of experience in healthcare marketing and communications, with a proven track record of delivering impactful and compliant campaigns that educate, inform, and empower patients to make better choices for their health and wellness.