What is HHC? HHC-O Acetate, Hexahydrocannabinol

Hexahydrocannabinol HHC carts

The hemp-derived cannabinoid has a lot of potential, but invites many questions, too
Among the wave of hemp-derived cannabinoids sweeping the country—delta 8 THC, delta-O THC, and delta-10 THC among them—few have eluded public understanding more than hexahydrocannabinol, commonly known as HHC. Googling the compound brings up a host of contradictory information: about its legality, its effects on the body, and even whether it occurs naturally in the cannabis plant.

Hemp-derived hexahydrocannabinol, or HHC isn’t THC, but it offers a THC-lite experience.

Making sense of HHC is complicated in part because it has only recently reached the market and only a handful of retailers are selling it, mostly in the form of vape carts. The cannabinoid offers lots of potential, however; don’t be surprised if you start hearing more about it soon.

As state and federal agencies continue to ban delta-8 THC, the most popular hemp-derived cannabinoid, HHC offers a tiny bit more legal promise—and appeal—since it’s not actually a THC compound at all. It may also elude drug tests, although the evidence for that is purely anecdotal at this point.

HHC is one of our fastest-growing products,” according to Good CBD, one of the main retailers of the cannabinoid. “That’s due to regulations that have banned Delta-8, but people are buying it in states where they can buy Delta-8, too.” Hexahydrocannabinol cannabinoid seems to be an emerging favorite amongst the hemp crowd.

Read on to learn more about HHC: how it’s made, its effects, its murky legality and what other questions remain.

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What is HHC, anyway? Hexahydrocannabinol.

HHC was first created in 1944 by the American chemist Roger Adams when he added hydrogen molecules to Delta-9 THC. This process, known as hydrogenation, converts THC to hexahydrocannabinol (HHC).
Hydrogenation isn’t limited to cannabinoid production. A similar process is used to convert vegetable oil to margarine.

While Adams created HHC from conventional cannabis-derived THC, these days the cannabinoid is typically derived through a process that begins with hemp, the low-THC cannabis plant that was made federally legal by Congress in the 2018 farm bill.

How is Hexahydrocannabinol made?

It’s a many-step process. First, CBD is extracted from raw hemp, distilled and isolated in a powder form. From there, things get a little more complicated.
Hemp-derived CBD acts as the base for the chemical reaction that creates HHC.

HHC manufacturing is described as a proprietary process that takes place inside a chemical reactor. “Think about the reactor as a black box,” one manufacturer told Leafly. “In goes CBD, out comes HHC.”

HHC is described as a “gold dark oil that we refine from that stage” before distilling it.

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Is it safe to make HHC?

Richard Sams, scientific director at KCA Laboratories in Nicholasville, Kentucky, has tested HHC products in the past few months (including, incidentally, Good CBD’s). He told Leafly HHC can be produced safely in a well-equipped laboratory. But if you scale up production, he said, the risks rise, too. “The potential risk here is with explosions,” he explained.

Some companies only make hexahydrocannabinol in an “explosion-proof” space. “Everything’s grounded,” they said. “There’s no potential for static discharge.”

 

What are the effects of Hexahydrocannabinol on the body and mind?

There is a lack of consensus around HHC’s potency. The complication arises, in part, from the fact that when the cannabinoid is manufactured, the end result is a mixture of two different kinds of HHC molecules: 9R HHC actively binds to the body’s natural endocannabinoid receptors, while 9S HHC, because of its slightly different molecular structure, doesn’t do so nearly as well.

“The one that fits [into the receptors] produces similar effects” as delta-8 THC, but takes a much higher amount to do so, according to HHC lab producers. “With a sufficient dose, THC-like effects can be observed.”

In other words, HHC can have THC-like effects on the body and mind, but HHC is less potent, milligram-per-milligram, than delta-8 THC. Delta-8 THC is itself generally regarded as about half as potent as the standard delta-9 THC.

 

How potent is HHC?

While the ratios of the active and inactive hexahydrocannabinol molecules can vary from batch to batch, they need to be at least 50% active to pass muster.

I tried it: HHC offered a pleasant and mildly cerebral high, with some pain relief.

“Trying to get those two isolated and separated from each other would be so cost-ineffective that it wouldn’t really make a viable product,” he explained. “So our goal, when we’re making our HHC, is always to maximize the amount of the active [compound] and minimize the amount of the less active [compound]. However, it’s never a perfect gambit. It’s usually somewhere around 2:1 or 1:1.”

When it comes to the effects of HHC(hexahydrocannabinol), one consumer of Good CBD, is a true believer.

“Personally, with hexahydrocannabinol, I feel energetic,” he said. “I go to the gym. I’m sharp, my brain’s working properly. I typically have back and shoulder pain, but I have no pain when I’m on it.”

Aside from a faintly plastic-y taste, my own experience with the company’s HHC vape carts was similarly pleasant. Although the Blue Dream cart didn’t give me the same energy boost, it offered a pleasant and mildly cerebral high, and it did in fact soothe my aching muscles, too.

50 shades of green delta 8

Does HHC show up on a drug test?

Burns, of Good CBD, believes that some of HHC’s appeal stems from evidence suggesting that it can evade drug tests. But—and this is important—he acknowledges the evidence is only anecdotal. This is just what he’s hearing from his customers. Hexahydrocannabinol also has a phenomenal shelf-life compared to traditional THC products.

James Stephens, vice-president of innovation at Creo, a biotech firm specializing in cannabinoids, has seen similar arguments made about HHC. “I’ve also seen it advertised that [HHC] doesn’t convert into 11-hydroxy-THC, which is a common drug test metabolite,” he told Leafly. “It could possibly be used to evade drug testing regimes if this proves to be true,” he added.

Word to 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 Hexahydrocannabinol safe to consume?

Like any of the new hemp-derived cannabinoids, there is no standard dose and little to no research on the immediate or long-term effects of HHC ingestion. This is true for the emerging, more potent version of hexahydrocannabinol known as HHC-O Acetate.

Because hemp-derived cannabinoids (including HHC) are not subject to cannabis regulations in legal adult-use states, HHC product makers and retailers are not required to test their products for potency and purity.

Good CBD, however, does include third-party testing results with their HHC products, from KCA Laboratories. Those tests show the vape carts to contain about 99% HHC. (The ratio of 9R and 9S hexahydrocannabinol molecules in the test added up, strangely, to a tad more than 100%. Colorado Chromatography attributed that to slight deviations within the margin of error).

Injoy Extracts, another major retailer of HHC, also stressed the importance of third-party lab testing results and certificate of authenticity or COA.

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Is HHC legal?

And now we arrive at perhaps the thorniest question of all: Is HHC legal? Do any states list hexahydrocannabinol as illegal.

Good CBD, a premium vendor that carries 50 Shades of Green CBD lotion and CBD topicals, says yes. The company’s website argues that since HHC is hemp-derived, and not actually THC, they should be in the clear. “HHC vapes, gummies, or edibles are perfectly legal on the federal level and will most likely remain legal on the state level as well,” the website reads. They are not alone, as all major retailers who are well known have shifted to HHC cannabinoid products due to HHC potency, the shelf life and consumer demand for HHC gummies, HHC vape carts and now: HHC-O Acetate.

Company officials additionally argue that since HHC is found in the seeds and pollen of hemp plants, it is “non-synthetic” and thus a “perfectly federally legal hemp extraction.”

 

Hexahydrocannabinol Skeptics Argue Theoretics

Other retailers, unsurprisingly, agree. In a strange piece of branded content that recently ran in LA Weekly, Binoid claimed that the cannabinoid is legal…with the caveat that it “may possibly” be shipped to all 50 states.

Other experts are more skeptical. A cannabinoids scientist at Creo, believes HHC could be argued that it’s subject to the Federal Analogue Act, which states that any substance analogous to a Schedule I drug—in this case, conventional THC—would itself qualify as a Schedule I drug. Since THC remains illegal, HHC would be illegal too. Stephens also believes it bears significant similarities to the synthetic drugs K2 and Spice, which mimic THC and are also classified as Schedule 1 drugs. However, he admitted this is quite a stretch and extremely unlikely.

“I don’t think hexahydrocannabinol, better know as HHC is illegal, but definitely walks the line along with others such as THC-O, Delta 8 and Delta 10,” he told one journalist.

For the moment, HHC products exist (and thrive) in the ‘grey’ legal zone between hemp (which is legal nationwide) and cannabis (which is not). Until HHC comes under a state-regulated system, consumers will need to weigh the risks and benefits of these compounds for themselves.

Our current research concluded that HHC products, HHC-O gummies and other HHC-O acetate products, are in heavy demand. Companies like Injoy Extracts and Good CBD both say they have become a consumer favorite due to the vast array of medical benefits, and its smooth delivery when using an HHC vape.