Another new cannabinoid, Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC)

Another new cannabinoid, Hexahydrocannabinol or HHC for short, is starting to make its way onto the market.  What is this new material, where does it come from, and what are its properties? Is it safe, is it legal, and should it be something of interest to me?

 

With the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp, and all materials derived from it, became legal.  Well, sort of …  Things like Delta-8 and Delta-10 THC’s, while made from hemp via CBD isolate, are isomers of THC and thus still are considered Schedule 1 Controlled Substances at the Federal level.  It’s a gray area which the Federal government, also politely ignoring stateslegalizing cannabis, has so far chosen to tolerate. Hexahydrocannabinol, as an analog of THC, also falls into this gray area.  On September 15, 2021 the DEA finally clarified its position on Delta-8, saying it is exempt from Schedule 1 under the farm bill; furthermore, the exemption includes all “derivatives” of the hemp plant, provided they have a delta-9 content not more than 0.3%.  This presumably means that not only delta-8 is legal, but also delta-10, Hexahydrocannabinol and all over hemp-derived cannabinoids… At the state level there are three states which still ban hemp materials, considering them in the same category as cannabis. Other than that, the door seems open for Hexahydrocannabinol to take its place on stage.  It should be noted, however, that HHC metabolites closely resemble Delta-9 THC metabolites, closely enough they would be expected, like Delta-8, to give a false positive result in the commonly-used urine screening test; discretion should be exercised if subject to testing for cannabis usage.

 

Hexahydrocannabinol was first made in the 1960’s.Israel was the only major country at that time that permitted cannabis research, so almost all cannabis research until recently was done in that country.  Delta-9 THC was hydrogenated to give a 2:1 mixture of the two possible isomers of Hexahydrocannabinol.  The major isomer (with an equatorial methyl group) is about half as active as Delta-9 THC, while the minor isomer (with an axial methyl group) is almost inactive, having only about 1/20th the activity of Delta-9 THC; this puts the mixture obtained from Delta-9 THC as having about 35% the activity of Delta-9 THC itself.  Using Delta-8 as a starting material (in order to qualify as a hemp-derived product) and using the same reaction conditions give a different ratio of isomers, 1:3, in which the nearly inactive isomer dominates; this translates to a weaker mixture having only about 15% the activity of Delta-9 THC.  Chemists are working on improving this ratio in order to produce a more active material, but testing laboratories are only beginning to include HHC in their analyses and there is no way currently to assess the relative potency of any Hexahydrocannabinol product making it to market, even if it states a specific HHC content.

 

Unlike the various isomers of THC, pure Hexahydrocannabinol is a waxy white solid.  Material containing larger percentages of the more-active isomer tends to be more solid (harder, less waxy) than those in which the less-active isomer dominates.  The more-active isomer can be isolated pure, in which case it is a low-melting white crystalline solid.  Both isomers are considerably less soluble in ethanol than THC, but still have adequate volatility to be vaporizedor smoked.  HHC is completely stable in storage and does not oxidize upon exposure to air. Metabolism and excretion is similar to THC, despite being slower, so HHC should have the same lack of toxicity as THC, and no toxic effects have been reported.

 

Despite being less active than Delta-9, Hexahydrocannabinol is still a desirable material in its own right.  It is metabolized slightly slower than THC’s, so produces a brighter up-front high with a longer and gentler transition into its stoned phase; the overall duration is just a little longer than THC’s, also.  Some remark that it initially is rather vivid and colorful; others report the high as neutral, existential, sideways from that of THC, very contemplative, even introspective.  There is very little mental or physical impairment during use, and almost no burnout aftereffects the next day.  Being distinct in its action from both Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC’s it adds another dimension to cannabinoid use and definitely deserves consideration if you can find a good source.  Hopefully this material will continue to increase in availability and potency; it is worthy and has its place!  

John Heaney

 

 

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