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What's HHC, and how is it different from delta-8?

You might have seen HHC on the shelves of your local hemp shop in vapes, gummies, or drinks. And you might have heard it’s similar to delta-8 THC. But how? And what is HHC, exactly?

What’s HHC?

HHC is short for hexahydrocannabinol. If that sounds complicated, remember that THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol. Tetra means four. And hexa means six. Not so unfamiliar after all. In fact, on a molecular level the two are almost identical.

HHC vs. Delta-8

According to the cannabis education site Leafly, consumers and scientists report that HHC has psychotropic effects akin to THC but is less potent than delta-9, the most well-known and naturally abundant form of THC. This is one reason people compare HHC to delta-8.

“Manufacturers often equate the HHC high with a delta-8 THC high,” Max Savage Levenson wrote for Leafly. “Anecdotally, I found HHC to be even less psychoactive than delta-8.”

How is HHC Made?

HHC was first made by the same chemist who identified CBD in the 1940s, Roger Adams. According to Way of Leaf, Adams added hydrogen molecules to THC and voila: HHC. This process is called hydrogenation — the same process by which liquid vegetable oils are turned into solids.

But if HHC is made from THC, how can it be derived from hemp — which by definition contains only trace amounts of THC? The process involves (you guessed it) hemp-derived THC.

To make either delta-8 THC or hexahydrocannabinol, CBD is extracted from hemp and chemically converted into THC. One could stop the process at this point and have delta-8 or delta-10 THC. But in places where all forms of THC are prohibited beyond trace amounts there’s a legal reason to go a step further, hydrogenating the THC to make HHC.

Is HHC Legal?

Because hemp is legal across the nation and HHC isn’t listed as a controlled substance, many argue that HHC derived from hemp is legal, at least at the federal level.

The same argument has been used successfully to make the case that delta-8 is legal. A federal appeals court and the US Drug Enforcement Administration concluded independently that delta-8 is legal under current federal laws.

This argument can only be used for compounds that are derived from hemp and occur naturally in cannabis. Delta-8 and delta-10 fall into that category. As for HHC? Research has suggested that it can form naturally as THC breaks down in cannabis. However, according to Cannabis Business Times, that claim has yet to be proven by peer-reviewed research. Time and further study of HHC will likely clear that up.

Despite being a known compound for some 80 years, there’s not a lot of scientific research on HHC. According to the cannabis education site The Cannigma, while a handful of animal studies have explored the effects of HHC, no studies have been published on the safety of the compound for humans.

Anecdotally, people have described its effects as uplifting, likely because the body processes it similarly to THC. And for now, at least, interest in HHC appears to be growing.

“It is reasonable to think that market demand for HHC and compounds like it will continue to increase, especially while federal prohibition remains,” Dr. Mark A Scialdone wrote for The Cannigma. All the more reason, he added, to gather information from clinical trials and use it to develop safety standards and regulations for the HHC products on store shelves.

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