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News > THC vs HHC — What's the Difference?

THC vs HHC — What's the Difference?

Mon, Aug 15, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

THC vs HHC — What's the Difference?

First it was CBD…then delta-8 THC…then delta-10 THC…just when you thought you’d seen everything, a novel new cannabinoid comes onto the scene. 

One such cannabinoid is HHC. Also known as hexahydrocannabinol, HHC is quickly becoming a top THC alternative. In this article we’ll be looking at the differences — and similarities — between HHC and delta-9 THC. 

  • What is HHC?
  • HHC vs. THC: how they’re made
  • HHC vs. THC: how they feel 
  • HHC vs. THC: drug testing
  • HHC vs THC: potential health benefits
  • HHC vs. THC: are they legal?

What is HHC?

Chances are good you already know what delta-9 THC is, so let’s skip ahead a bit and look at HHC’s identity. 

HHC is a hemp-derived cannabinoid that mirrors THC in terms of its buzzy, uplifting effects. 

Unlike THC and the rest of the ‘big six’ cannabinoids, however, hemp only produces very small amounts of HHC. Also unlike THC, any amount of hemp-derived HHC is federally legal.  

HHC vs. THC: how they’re made

HHC was discovered back in the 1940s by American chemist Roger Adams (yes, the same guy who discovered a slew of other cannabinoids). Adams actually created HHC by taking regular THC and hydrogenating it. It’s safe to say he was ahead of his time! HHC is still produced by the hydrogenation of THC molecules today. [1]

Regular THC, on the other hand, is produced through a much simpler process. Federally legal THC products are almost always extracted directly from mature hemp flower. This extraction process entails using a safe solvent — we use CO2 — to separate hemp’s fat-soluble active ingredients from its fibrous biomass. The end result? A pure, potent, legal, chemically diverse THC extract. 

HHC’s more extensive production process gives it its own set of upsides. Its status as a fully hydrogenated compound means it resists degradation or decarboxylation for far longer than most cannabinoids. Chemists describe it as having incredible stability, even when subjected to light or heat. [2]

HHC vs. THC: how they feel

Technically speaking, HHC isn’t in the same category as delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC, or delta-10 THC. It’s not a THC isomer, meaning it has a slightly different chemical structure. 

But HHC has THC-like effects nonetheless. People who try HHC tend to say it’s relaxing, uplifting, and perfect for social settings! It may not be quite as powerful as delta-9 THC, but that actually makes it perfect for people who are new to cannabis or hemp. It’s also possible that HHC is cleared out of the bloodstream slightly faster than THC. Feel free to think of HHC’s effects as falling somewhere between delta-9’s stronger effects and delta-8’s milder effects. 

HHC vs. THC: drug testing

HHC may have an upper hand over delta-9 THC when it comes to the topic of drug testing. 

While delta-9 and other THC isomers convert to a metabolite called 11-hydroxy-THC after consumption and metabolization, HHC is different. It doesn’t convert to 11-hydroxy-THC, which allows it to evade detection by normal drug tests. 

This distinction could make HHC a great choice for consumers who undergo frequent drug testing. That being said, more research is needed before we can have 100% certainty that HHC won’t trigger a false positive on your next drug test. 

HHC vs. THC: potential health benefits

Unlike THC and the rest of the ‘big six’ cannabinoids, HHC hasn’t been extensively studied. 

But the research we do have available implies that HHC may possess many of the same health benefits as THC. A 2011 study reported that HHC analogs “strongly inhibited breast cancer cell-induced angiogenesis and tumor growth,” while an earlier mouse study found that HHC may inhibit pain. [3][4]

These reports are likely only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Will we find out that HHC regulates hunger, normalizes sleep cycles, or promotes full-body balance in the future? Science has attributed all these benefits and more to regular THC! Only time will tell. 

HHC vs. delta-8 THC

As we mentioned above, HHC is generally thought of as slightly stronger than delta-8 THC. But beyond that these two cannabinoids are surprisingly similar. Check out the list below and you’ll see what we mean. Both HHC and delta-8 THC are:

  • Psychotropic 
  • Vibrant and uplifting
  • Subject to side effects at high doses
  • Often taken via tinctures, gummies, and vape pens
  • Federally legal per 2018’s farm bill (more on that next)

HHC vs. THC: are they legal?

Legal status is one of the biggest distinctions between HHC and THC. Hemp-derived HHC is legal in virtually any quantity. Hemp-derived THC, on the other hand, is only legal at concentrations of 0.3% or less. Cannabis-derived THC isn’t legal at all. 

If HHC gets its users almost as uplifted as delta-9 THC does…you might wonder…then why is it legal?

You can thank the federal farm bill for HHC’s availability. This same farm bill legalized CBD, delta-8 THC, and countless other cannabinoids. Just as long as your HHC is derived from hemp, it’s fully legal! 

But this issue gets more complex when HHC’s sourcing is taken into account. 

While HHC can be extracted directly from hemp, commercial HHC is rarely produced this way. It’s more commonly made in the lab, where CBD is subjected to high pressure and reacted with catalysts like palladium.

2023’s Farm Bill will likely solidify THC and HHC’s respective legal statuses. Some hemp industry figures, such as Kentucky Agricultural Commissioner Ryan Quarles, are pushing for HHC and other THC-like cannabinoids to be subjected to the same cutoff point as delta-9 THC. Quarles thinks that all these compounds should be subjected to a new and improved 1% threshold. [5]

Current CBD, HHC, and THC regulations

  • Hemp-derived CBD: any amount currently allowed
  • Hemp-derived HHC: any amount currently allowed
  • Hemp-derived delta-9 THC: <0.3% currently allowed

Proposed CBD, HHC, and THC regulations

  • Hemp-derived CBD: any amount allowed
  • Hemp-derived HHC: <1% concentration allowed 
  • Hemp-derived delta-9 THC: <1% concentration allowed

Quarles says these changes would help farmers create higher-quality hemp products — and “better reflect [these product’s] true intoxicating potential." While he might be right, only time will tell if his propositions become reality. 

HHC vs. THC: Summing things up

If you’ve been searching for a mellower experience than ‘normal’ THC allows, consider HHC. It may be uplifting, but it’s also gentler than what you may have come to expect from all the usual THC isomers! 

Yet HHC also offers a sense of mystery. It hasn’t been tried by nearly as many people as THC has, nor is it nearly as well-studied. Early adopters take note: you still have time to try HHC before it goes mainstream…

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