Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC)

Updated: Feb 21

A throng of new variants of the marijuana-based cannabinoid delta-9 THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) has recently entered the market, gaining the attention of both cannabis users and the businesses that serve them.


While options are generally a good thing, one negative effect of the availability of these new phytocannabinoids has been confusion and misinformation among patients and lifestyle consumers.

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The most popular of these new chemical cousins of THC, delta-8 THC, has been called "weed lite." This is due to the fact that it is very similar to the delta-9 THC to which all cannabis consumers are familiar. Many consumers—especially patients who must medicate while on the job, when driving a vehicle, or during childcare—actually prefer the lower potency of delta-8.


The most recent entrant into this cacophony of cannabinoids is HHC (hexahydrocannabinol), also called "hydrogenated THC." One media outlet reported that "HHC is to THC, what margarine is to butter."


In simple terms, HHC is delta-9 THC that has been saturated with hydrogen atoms (a process called hydrogenation).

In simple terms, HHC is delta-9 THC that has been saturated with hydrogen atoms (a process called hydrogenation). Like delta-8 and unlike delta-10, HHC is naturally occurring. However, it is typically found in select cultivars of cannabis and hemp in quantities of under one percent. Like with delta-8 (which is typically converted from hemp-derived CBD), commercially viable volumes of HHC are possible only via industrial-scale laboratory processing.


HHC Efficacy

But enough with the technical details. How does the effect of HHC compare to that of more common cannabinoids such as delta-9 and delta-8? While hard scientific research data is lacking, anecdotal testimonies indicate that HHC delivers a euphoria and overall psychotropic effect that is very similar to that of conventional delta-9 THC.

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Personal testimonies indicate that HHC may reduce pain and act as a conventional "indica" cultivar of the plant, aiding relaxation and stress reduction. These characteristics may make it a viable treatment for anxiety and a variety of sleep disorders. Like a long list of cannabinoids and terpenes, HHC is said to reduce inflammation, something that is of positive impact to hundreds of disease states.


In terms of potency, HHC is said to be somewhere between delta-8 and delta-9. Thus, HHC avoids the risk of its more potent sibling THC-O Acetate, which is purported to be 300 percent stronger than delta-9.

In terms of potency, HHC is said to be somewhere between delta-8 and delta-9. To give some scope to this, delta-8 delivers 50-75 percent the strength of its big brother delta-9. By this math, HHC is approximately 85 percent the potency of delta-9 THC.


Thus, HHC avoids the risk of its more potent sibling THC-O Acetate, which is purported to be 300 percent stronger than delta-9. Such potency could more easily cause consumers to experience negative symptoms such as disorientation, confusion, or even panic attacks.


Longer Shelf Life

One clear superiority of HHC to delta-9 THC is its shelf life. Delta-9 THC is actually the most unstable and easily converted form of THC, meaning it has the shortest shelf life. While delta-8 features a longer shelf life than delta-9, HHC features the longest of all THC isomers.

This is due to the hydrogenation of the THC molecules, which makes them more stable by shielding them from environmental influences such as heat, UV light, and oxygen—all of which can cause the molecules to morph into a different form. HHC is basically THC without the molecular double bonds characteristic of the delta-9 analog, each of which has been replaced by two hydrogen atoms.


Getting Technical

All molecules "break down" or morph into other forms after varying amounts of exposure to a variety of environmental factors, including heat, humidity, wind and physical movement or agitation, UV light, and pressure, among others.


When delta-9 THC experiences this molecular transmogrification, most of the molecules convert to CBN (cannabinol), a cannabinoid that delivers relaxation and even sedation in sufficient doses. However, a small amount is sometimes converted to delta-8 THC or HHC.


When delta-9 THC experiences this molecular transmogrification, most of the molecules convert to CBN (cannabinol), a cannabinoid that delivers relaxation and even sedation in sufficient doses. However, a small amount is sometimes converted to delta-8 THC or HHC.

The path traveled by these molecules is known as the biosynthetic pathway. For example, the biosynthetic pathway of HHC in the description above would be CBGA > THCA > THC > HHC.


HHC Research

Just as delta-9 THC features isomers, or analogs, such as delta-8 and delta-10, HHC features more than 10 isomers of itself (including HHC, 9α-OH-HHC, 7-OH-HHC, 8-OH-iso-HHC, HU211, HU243, and HDHHC). This increases the challenge of researching the molecule.


A 1977 study entitled "9beta-HHC, a Cannabinoid with Potent Antinociceptive Activity: Comparisons with Morphine" that was published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics investigated various properties of the beta-HHC isomer of HHC and involved male rodent test subjects.


The study's authors found that beta-HHC may exhibit pain killing properties, but that its underlying mechanisms are very different from conventional analgesics such as morphine and other narcotics.


A 2011 study entitled "Novel Hexahydrocannabinol Analogs as Potential Anti-cancer Agents Inhibit Cell Proliferation & Tumor Angiogenesis" that was published in the European Journal of Pharmacology explored the potential anti-cancer characteristics of HHC isomer molecules.

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The study noted that "both natural and synthetic cannabinoids have been shown to suppress the growth of tumor cells in culture and in animal models by affecting key signaling pathways."


The researchers noted that their study data "suggest that novel synthetic hexahydrocannabinol analogs (LYR-7 and LYR-8) inhibit tumor growth...and suppress...cancer cell growth."


Conclusions

Like delta-8 THC, the cannabinoid hexahydrocannabinol, or HHC, is another example of a non-delta-9 cannabinoid that delivers psychoactivity, euphoria, and a range of potential health benefits. The ease of producing it in commercial volumes, combined with its significantly longer shelf life, could make this cannabinoid a future darling of Big Cannabis.


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