Ever since the passage of the Farm Bill back in 2018, the world of hemp-derived cannabinoids has been revolutionized by new and exciting compounds. You probably already know about CBD, the popular non-psychoactive compound found in cannabis plants known for its plethora of health and wellness benefits. If you’ve smoked cannabis before, you also already know about THC, the main psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana.
Under the Farm Bill, however, THC derived from marijuana is illegal, so hemp manufacturers have cleverly figured out a way to extract the compound from hemp, making it fully legal. Other than CBD and THC, hemp has many psychoactive compounds to offer. One of these lesser-known compounds is HHC, or hexahydrocannabinol, but what exactly does this compound do? And how is it similar and different from the better-known THC?
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as delta 9 THC or simply THC, is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. In other words, this is the compound that gave the plant its fame as a psychotropic agent. In other words THC is the main compound that gets you high when smoking weed.
THC works by binding with cannabinoid receptors such as the CB1 receptor that is found in the body’s endocannabinoid system. THC stimulates brain cells to release dopamine, a natural bodily chemical that makes you feel good. This stimulation creates euphoria, which is closely associated with the ingestion of the compound. Because CB1 receptors also play major roles in the moderation of stress, sleep, and pain, the compound can also potentially be helpful in treating ailments related to these bodily functions.
Because the compound interacts with our cannabinoid receptors and neurotransmitters, THC has many useful potential benefits. Although the effects of THC are different for everyone—and vary depending on factors like tolerance, age, weight, and metabolism—the compound has been commonly associated with:
Despite THC’s reputation as a recreational drug—widely popularized by the likes of Cheech & Chong and Harold & Kumar—the compound actually has a number of potential medicinal uses. Modern scientific research remains relatively new, but historical evidence suggests that humans have been using cannabis for its medical benefits for millennia.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, administering THC could potentially help relieve ailments such as:
While many studies back up delta 9’s many potential medicinal benefits, some evidence of the compound’s adverse effects has also been found. If you’ve ever partaken in the casual joint or a special brownie, you’re likely already familiar with side effects like dry eyes and a dry mouth. While these effects are simply uncomfortable at worst, the compound also has other potential risks, including:
Apart from that, THC’s long-term effects on the mind and cognition are not known, but according to the World Health Organization, it does not constitute a substantial risk to users and its abuse is rarely ever reported.
As we’ve previously mentioned, THC derived from marijuana may be legal in certain states with recreational or medical cannabis programs, but the substance is illegal at the federal level. When the compound is derived from hemp, however, it is considered federally legal and subsequently legal in many states.
But what’s the difference between THC derived from marijuana and THC derived from hemp? And how exactly is THC derived from hemp?
Marijuana and hemp are actually strikingly similar; they’re both types of cannabis that are legally distinguished based on their THC contents. Under federal law, hemp is cannabis plants containing 0.3% THC or less on a dry weight basis, while marijuana refers to cannabis plants containing more than 0.3% THC. This means that THC from hemp and THC from marijuana are virtually identical, the only difference is that sourcing the compound from one type of plant is legal and one is not. So, how is THC derived from hemp? Two of the most popular ways manufacturers derive THC from hemp are isomerization and hemp-extraction.
Isomerization involves converting hemp-derived CBD into THC with a little chemistry magic. Because all cannabinoids come from CBGA, also known as “the mother cannabinoid,” they all contain very similar molecular structures. Isomerization simply involves rearranging those existing molecules in order to create the structure of another molecule, in this case, it involves rearranging CBD to turn it into THC.
The second most common method to obtain THC from hemp involves extracting delta 9 from the plant. Extraction is particularly attractive to manufacturers because it doesn’t require any sort of chemical manipulation, leaving THC in its original state from start to finish. That said, hemp plants are much higher in CBD than they are in THC, so isomerization is still the leading method in making hemp-derived THC.
HHC is short for hexahydrocannabinol, a naturally occurring cannabinoid that is just a hydrogenated form of THC. Although HHC may seem new to the post-Farm Bill hemp market, the compound was actually discovered in 1944 by the American chemist Roger Adams, who added hydrogen molecules to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and effectively created the compound for the first time. Back in the 1940s, Roger Adams synthesized HHC from conventional marijuana-derived THC, but according to Roger Brown, the president and founder of ACS Laboratory, HHC is typically derived from hemp today.
Like THC, HHC binds to CB1 receptors, which mostly act in your central nervous system, affecting sleep mood, appetite, and memory. That said, we don’t have much to go on when discussing HHC scientifically. Apart from Roger Adams’ initial discovery, not much research exists on the benefits and effects of HHC, but based on what little information we do have, it appears that HHC’s medical potential is promising.
After its original discovery in the middle of the 20th century, a handful of studies were conducted on HHC. In 1977, a study tested the effects of HHC on rats. Researchers discovered that the cannabinoid could share some properties with narcotic painkillers, but significant differences were also found.
Another study carried out in 2007 found that HHC extended sleeping time in mice by between 80-700%. In the same research, scientists also noted a similarity to THC’s effects on the mice, but with less powerful psychoactive effects.
In 2010, another study on rats found that HHC manifested for longer periods of time in the subjects. A year later, a 2011 study examined a set of HHC analogs, LYR-7 and LYR-8, which were found to possibly prevent or stop tumor cell growth and angiogenesis, a major stage in the formation of tumors.
Apart from these potential benefits, HHC is also believed to have beneficial effects including:
There exists little to no research on the side effects of HHC. Anecdotally, people report experiencing similar side effects to those of THC, which can include:
Although HHC does exist naturally in the cannabis plant, it only occurs in trace amounts, making the plant’s natural hexahydrocannabinol reserves pretty scarce. For this reason, modern chemists have gone Roger Adams style and mainly create HHC through a synthetic procedure that takes place in a lab, majorly through THC conversions.
THC undergoes the process of hydrogenation, which involves the addition to hydrogen atoms to a chemical structure in order to stabilize it, yielding HHC. In more detail, THC is saturated with hydrogen in the presence of high pressures and a catalyst such as nickel, zinc, or palladium. This process breaks THC’s double bond structure and replaces it with hydrogen, forming HHC. Despite this chemical change, the cannabinoid’s effects remained virtually unchanged. This chemical stabilization also makes HHC a lot more resistant to oxidation, heat, and UV light.
The process, however, does result in a slight change in potency, marginally decreasing HHC’s psychoactive strength.
HHC and THC behave identically in the body. Researchers claim that both compounds offer the same effects related to mood, sleep, nausea, appetite, pain, and more. HHC, however, varies from delta 9 in its chemical makeup. Instead of delta 9’s double bonds, HHC contains hydrogen bonds, making it more stable and giving it a longer shelf-life. In turn, HHC’s potency is lessened, making hexahydrocannabinol psychoactively less powerful than THC. That said, HHC may potentially create longer-lasting effects than THC.
Similarities Between HHC and THC
Differences Between HHC and THC
Because THC must undergo the process of hydrogenation before being turned into HHC, this chemical change also changes the compound’s potency, leaving HHC at around 60-70% the original potency of THC. So, in other words, THC is stronger than HHC.
The question of which cannabinoid is better isn't really about each compound’s effects, it’s actually more about the desired effects you as a user may be seeking. We’ve already established that HHC and THC are virtually identical in terms of potential benefits and the ways each compound interacts with your bodily systems, so their only tangible difference comes down to their potencies.
Because THC products are stronger than HHC products, you may think it’s the superior compound, but you also need to keep in mind that HHC’s effects potentially last longer than those of HHC’s. The question you need to ask yourself isn’t which compound is better, but rather which compound works best for you.
Because they both help in regulating stress, mood, pain, and sleep, they can be used for essentially the same things. That said, HHC is about 60-70% as strong as THC, making it the better compound for those with lower THC tolerances or those who aren’t seeking a violently pronounced high. Additionally, HHC’s psychoactive effects have been shown to last for longer than those of THC, so those looking for long-term effects would also benefit from this type of product.
On the other hand, THC’s shorter-term effects are much more powerful than those of HHC, so if you want more potent psychoactive effects—and don’t mind refueling them every few hours—then THC products might be best suited for you.
Either way, the most important thing to consider when buying any cannabinoid—whether it be HHC, THC, or something else—is finding a reliable and trustworthy source. Because the production and distribution of hemp-derived cannabinoids is largely unregulated by the FDA, it is crucial that you do your research and find a retailer that takes your health and safety seriously. As a rule of thumb, never buy a cannabinoid without first examining its CoA, or Certificate of Analysis. If a compound has not been tested by a third-party lab, it’s a sign to look for your cannabinoids elsewhere.
HHC and THC are two tremendously beneficial compounds with strikingly similar effects. That said, THC is slightly more potent than HHC, making it better for those looking for heightened potency. Additionally, HHC’s effects have proven to be more prolonged, meaning that those seeking long-term relief would likely benefit more from this compound.
HHC and THC may be similar, but their differences can determine which type of product you choose. Before making a purchase, always consider your body’s tolerance and your desired effects. We can discuss both compounds at length—and we have—but at the end of the day, only you know your body and its needs, so the decision is up to you!