Hemp-derived cannabinoid has a lot of potential, but also raises a lot of questions
Among the wave of hemp-derived cannabinoids sweeping the country – including delta 8 THC, delta-O THC, and delta-10 THC – few have escaped public understanding as much as HHC. Searching for the compound on Google brings up a lot of conflicting information: on its legality, its effects on the body and even if it occurs naturally in the cannabis plant.
Hemp derived HHC is not THC, but it does offer a THC-lite experience.
Making sense of HHC is complicated in part because it has only recently hit the market and only a handful of retailers sell it, mostly in the form of vape carts. The cannabinoid, however, offers a lot of potential; don’t be surprised if you start hearing about it soon.
As state and federal agencies continue to ban delta-8 THC, the most popular hemp-derived cannabinoid, HHC offers a bit more legal promise – and allure – since it is not the all of a THC compound. It may also escape drug testing, although the evidence is purely anecdotal at this point.
âHHC is one of our fastest growing products,â Liam Burns, Founder and CEO of Bearly legal hemp, one of the major cannabinoid retailers, told Leafly. “This is due to regulations that have banned the Delta-8, but people are buying it in states where they can also buy the Delta-8.”
Read on to find out more about HHC: how it’s made, its effects, its murky legality, and what other questions remain.
What is HHC, anyway?
HHC was the first created in 1944 by American chemist Roger Adams, when he added hydrogen molecules to Delta-9 THC. This process, known as hydrogenation, converts THC to hexahydrocannabinol (HHC).
Hydrogenation is not limited to the production of cannabinoids. A similar process is used to convert vegetable oil into margarine.
While Adams created HHC from conventional THC derived from cannabis, nowadays the cannabinoid is typically derived from a process that begins with hemp, the low-THC cannabis plant that was legalized in the United States. federal level by Congress in the 2018 Farm Bill.
How is HHC made?
It is a multi-step process. First, CBD is extracted from raw hemp, distilled, and isolated in powder form. From there, things get a bit more complicated.
CBD derived from hemp acts as the basis of the chemical reaction that creates HHC.
We spoke with Kyle Ray, COO of Colorado Chromatography, on the process used by his company. In addition to HHC, Colorado Chromatography also produces CBG, CBN, and other specialty compounds at its facility outside of Denver. (Bearly Legal is one of their clients.)
Ray described the fabrication of HHC as a proprietary process that takes place inside a chemical reactor. âThink of the reactor as a black box,â Ray told Leafly. “Enter CBD, exit HHC.”
Ray describes HHC as a âgolden black oil that we refine from this stepâ before distilling it.
Is it safe to do HHC?
Richard Sams, Scientific Director of KCA Laboratories in Nicholasville, Kentucky, has been testing HHC products for the past several months (including, incidentally, Bearly Legal’s). He said Leafly HHC can be safely produced in a well-equipped laboratory. But if you increase production, he said, the risks also increase. âThe potential risk here concerns explosions,â he explained.
Kyle Ray, of Colorado Chromatography, noted that the company only manufactures its HHC in an “explosion-proof” space. âIt’s all anchored,â he says. “There is no static discharge potential.”
What are the effects of HHC on the body and mind?
There is a lack of consensus around the potency of HHC. The complication stems, in part, from the fact that when the cannabinoid is made, the end result is a mixture of two different types of HHC molecules: 9R HHC actively binds to the body’s natural endocannabinoid receptors, while 9S HHC, due to its slightly different molecular structure, does not do so well.
“The one that suits [into the receptors] produces similar effects “to delta-8 THC, but requires a much higher amount to do so,” said Richard Sams of KCA Laboratories. “With sufficient dose, THC-like effects can be seen.”
In other words, HHC can have similar effects to THC on the body and mind, but HHC is less potent, milligram by milligram, than delta-8 THC. Delta-8 THC itself is generally considered to be about half the potency of standard delta-9 THC.
How powerful is HHC?
Kyle Ray, of Colorado Chromatography, told Leafly that while the ratios of active and inactive HHC molecules can vary from batch to batch, they must be at least 50% active to be successful.
I tried it: HHC provided a pleasant, slightly cerebral high, with some pain relief.
âTrying to isolate these two and separate them from each other would be so unprofitable that it wouldn’t really make a viable product,â he explained. âSo our goal, when we manufacture our HHC, is always to maximize the amount of the active [compound] and minimize the amount of less active [compound]. However, this is never a perfect bet. It’s usually somewhere around 2: 1 or 1: 1.
When it comes to the effects of HHC, Liam Burns of Bearly Legal is a true believer.
âPersonally, with HHC, I feel energetic,â he said. âI go to the gym. I’m sharp, my brain is working fine. I usually have back and shoulder pain, but I don’t have any pain when I’m on it.
Aside from a slight plastic taste, my own experience with the company’s HHC vape carts was equally enjoyable. While the Blue Dream Cart didn’t give me the same energy boost, it did offer a pleasant, slightly cerebral high, and it also soothed my sore muscles.
Does HHC show up on a drug test?
Burns, of Bearly Legal, believes that part of the appeal of HHC stems from evidence suggesting that it can evade drug testing. But – and this is important – he recognizes that the evidence is only anecdotal. This is exactly what he hears from his clients.
James Stephens, Vice President of Innovation at Creo, a cannabinoid biotech company, has seen similar arguments made about HHC. “I also saw that he announced that [HHC] does not convert to 11-hydroxy-THC, which is a common metabolite in drug tests, âhe told Leafly. âIt could possibly be used to evade drug testing regimes if this proves to be true,â he added.
Word of the wise: There is no hard evidence that HHC does not show up on a drug test for marijuana. Don’t bet your job or career on anecdotal evidence.
Is HHC safe to consume?
As with all newer cannabinoids derived from hemp, there is no standard dose and little to no research into the immediate or long-term effects of ingesting HHC.
Because cannabinoids derived from hemp (including HHC) are not subject to cannabis regulations in states that are legal for adult use, manufacturers and retailers of HHC products are not required to test for cannabis. potency and purity of their products.
Bearly Legal, however, includes results of third party testing with their HHC products, from KCA Laboratories. These tests show that the vape carts contain around 99% HHC. (The ratio of 9R and 9S HHC molecules in the test amounted, strangely, to just over 100%. Colorado Chromatography attributed this to slight deviations in the margin of error).
Binoid, another major retailer of HHC, did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this story.
Is HHC Legal?
And now we come to perhaps the thorniest question of all: is HHC legal?
Bearly Legal say yes. The company’s website argues that since HHC is derived from hemp and not THC, it should be clear. “HHC vapes, gummies or edibles are perfectly legal at the federal level and will likely remain legal at the state level as well,” the website read.
Company officials further contend that since HHC is found in the seeds and pollen of hemp plants, it is a “federally fully legal hemp extraction”.
Other retailers, unsurprisingly, agree. In a strange element of branded content who recently ran in LA Weekly, Binoid claimed that the cannabinoid is legal … with the caveat that it “may” be shipped to all 50 states.
Other experts are more skeptical. James Stephens, the cannabinoid scientist at Creo, believes that HHC is subject to the Federal Law on Analogy, which states that any substance analogous to a Schedule I drug – in this case conventional THC – would itself be considered a Schedule I drug. Since THC remains illegal, so too would HHC. Stephens also believes it has important similarities to the synthetic drugs K2 and Spice, which mimic THC and are also classified as Schedule 1 drugs.
âI don’t think HHC is legal,â he told Leafly.
At the moment, HHC products exist (and thrive) in the murky legal zone between hemp (which is legal nationwide) and cannabis (which is not). Until HHC comes under a state regulated system, consumers will have to weigh the risks and benefits of these compounds for themselves.