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HHC vs THC – Overview of the different components of cannabis
The cannabis sativa plant is very complex containing more than 480 compounds of which at least 113 are cannabinoids. There are several different classes of cannabinoids, as we will see two of the most contentious are HHC vs THC. They all interact with the human body via the endocannabinoid system, a completely natural part of human physiology that regulates biological function.
By definition, a cannabinoid is a chemical compound that locks onto the cannabinoid receptors in the human brain and body and that has a similar effect to those of the cannabis sativa plant. Also, there are three types of cannabinoids that people use, recreational, medicinal, and synthetic.
THC has long been used, mostly for recreational purposes, although it has only relatively recently been made legal in several States. HHC was discovered a long time ago but has only recently started to attract mainstream attention. So, what is it about these two cannabinoid components HHC vs THC? What are they used for? Are they safe? And are they legal?
What is THC?
Two of the best-known cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD), which is extracted from the plant resin, and used to manufacture a whole range of CBD products, which are used to treat many ailments including poor sleep, anxiety, epilepsy, and pain among many others.
The best-known THC cannabinoid is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is the primary cannabinoid that causes psycho activity in the brain when ingested. The effects on individuals vary considerably but generally include feelings of euphoria and relaxation, as well as laughter, hunger, changes in perception of time so it seems slow, increased sensory perception, such as appreciation of art and music, and sometimes paranoia.
The content of THC in different cannabis plants varies enormously. It can be found in hemp plants as well, but in much lower concentrations often only up to 0.3%. At this concentration, it will not cause any psychoactive effect. At the other extreme, growers can manipulate the THC content with selective breeding techniques, which results in some flowers containing up to 30% THC.
What is HHC?
Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) is still a relatively new product in the array of cannabis products that have proliferated in recent years, and this naturally also means that research is still thin on the ground.
For manufacturers, one of the most popular benefits of HHC products is that they can elicit a milder version of a THC experience, without being classed as a THC product. However, because these are still very early days for HHC, the battle between HHC vs THC still needs resolving. With HHC there is no guarantee on its general legality or whether you are likely to pass a drug test after taking it.
HHC does occur naturally in the cannabis sativa plant but only in small concentrations, so it has never been isolated in larger quantities. However, it can be converted from hemp-derived cannabinoids such as delta-8.
Originally, in the 1940s the chemist, Roger Adams, discovered he could synthesize HHC by attaching hydrogen to the THC molecule. This process of hydrogenation is widely used in industry, for example, in converting vegetable oil into margarine.
This process of hydrogenation is usually carried out with a metal catalyst, such as nickel, zinc, or palladium. However, in larger-scale reactions, the dynamics change drastically, and the threat of explosion becomes real. The manufacture of HHC needs to be conducted under strict controls by experienced chemists.
The process of hydrogenation with THC replaces a double bond that holds the molecule together with two hydrogen atoms. This makes the molecule more stable and less likely to break down in the presence of UV light and heat, improving overall shelf life.
What is the Endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the human body was only recently discovered in the early 1990s, when researchers were studying the effects of THC on the body. They found the ECS is a complex physiological system that helps to maintain the equilibrium of numerous functions, creating a stable internal environment or homeostasis.
Maintaining physiological equilibrium is a constant goal for any human or animal. At its simplest level, if a human is subjected to suddenly increased heat during a heatwave, for example, then the body reacts by opening the pores in the skin to initiate sweating, which cools the body and re-establishes the equilibrium.
The endocannabinoid system is a molecular system responsible for regulating and balancing many processes in the body. These include the immune response, communication between cells, appetite, metabolism, memory, and many others. It is through this system of receptors and metabolic enzymes that cannabinoids interact with the human body and constantly regulate homeostasis.
The ECS uses three core elements including endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes. The endocannabinoids and enzymes are both synthesized, and the receptors are in spread out in different parts of the body.
There are two classes of endocannabinoid receptors, CB1, and CB2. The former class is found in the brain and central nervous system associated with memory, thinking, and motor control, while the second class is found in peripheral organs and tissues associated with the immune system. It’s thought this connection with the immune system may play a part in the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabis.
The ECS is a natural part of the human regulatory system and by coincidence, cannabis products do stimulate ECS receptors, however, they are completely independent of each other. As a complex system, ECS research is still underway to identify the full extent of its operation within the human body. However, it has been established that the ECS plays an important role in regulating:
- reproduction and fertility
How is the body stimulated with HHC vs THC, so that we experience psychoactive effects?
Nearly all of the feedback regarding the effects of HHC is anecdotal rather than researched, and we already know that different people’s experience of cannabis products varies wildly. However, there is a consensus that HHC does often elicit feelings of happiness, increased energy, and mild euphoria, like THC but a milder version.
One of the current problems with lab HHC manufacture is that two different molecules are produced. One is active and able to lock onto the endocannabinoid receptor, creating an effect, while the second is inactive. Current production methods can’t distinguish the two types of molecules, and so, the effects of the two molecules mixed together randomly can be hit and miss.
The two best-known analogs of psychoactive THC are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol
and delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol. An analog refers to a similar molecular structure with usually just one change. So HHC is an analog of THC with two extra molecules of hydrogen. Anecdotal reports by users of HHC suggest that the effects of HHC are somewhere in the middle between delta 8 THC and delta 9 THC, where the overriding experience is more relaxing than exciting.
These are some of the wider effects of taking HHC:
- Relaxation in mind and body
- Heightened mood and euphoria
- Bigger appetite
- Improved sense of smell and taste
- Slower reflexes and clouded thought processes
- Some pain relief
How is the body stimulated so that we experience psychoactive effects?
By reacting directly with the endocannabinoid receptors cannabis and cannabis products elicit a range of effects throughout the body. The ingested molecules of THC or HHC stimulate the endocannabinoid receptors in place of the naturally occurring endocannabinoids synthesized by the body.
When the THC or HHC locks onto the receptors in the brain, neurotransmitters are released. This results in increased neurotransmitter activity, so if THC, stimulates the pleasure part of your brain, then the neurotransmitter dopamine is released, which gives you a euphoric, relaxed feeling.
The speed the cannabis gets into your system varies with the way it is taken. Vaping and inhaling are very quick methods as the cannabis quickly transfers through the lung tissue straight into the bloodstream. However, if you eat a cannabis product it has to be digested in the stomach before transferring into the bloodstream. It will also become mixed with the remainder of the stomach contents increasing dilution.
Medical benefits of HHC?
Although some of the claims by manufacturers of the medical benefits of HHC are very positive, this must be tempered by the lack of peer-reviewed research.
There have been indications that HHC has potential, in particular a study from 2011 demonstrated positive results with breast cancer cell growth and an earlier study from 2007 corroborated HHC’s potential to reduce pain.
The legal position on THC and HHC?
The 2018 Farm Bill in the US legalized the cultivation of hemp and its derivatives at the federal level. Under this law, to be legal cannabis derivatives must contain less than 0.3% THC by dry weight.
This means that all cannabis products containing THC at a concentration above 0.3% are illegal in the US. At such a low concentration it is unlikely you will experience any psychoactive effects in these products.
For HHC the legal position is far from clear and constantly undergoing change. Some argue that HHC is a separate product from THC, while others say it is just an analog.
Just a quick scan of the complexity of the legal position regarding HHC in the US demonstrates there is a long way to go to a clear picture. Future changes in State and federal law may limit manufacture.
As with the case in the legality of HHC and THC, the picture concerning drug tests is equally cloudy. It is still a popular belief that HHC won’t cause a positive result on a drug test. Unfortunately, this isn’t true, as the way the body metabolizes HHC may lead to the production of THC-type metabolites, which are enough to trigger a positive result. Again, there is scant research on the subject and anecdotal reports suggest some pass the test without a problem, while others fail after minimal use of HHC.
What are cannabinoids?
There are several different classes of cannabinoids, which all interact with the human body via the endocannabinoid system. This is a natural part of human physiology that regulates biological function.
What is THC?
THC stands for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is a cannabinoid, which when ingested causes psychoactive effects. The effects vary from person to person but often include feelings of euphoria and relaxation, as well as laughter, hunger, and changes in perception of time so it seems slow, increased sensory perception, such as appreciation of art and music, and sometimes paranoia.
What is HHC?
Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) is an analog of THC. It’s a similar chemical compound, which is converted using the process of hydrogenation. This makes the molecule more stable, producing a longer shelf life. HCC can also be converted from hemp-derived cannabinoids such as delta-8.
What is the endocannabinoid system?
The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a complex physiological system that helps to maintain the equilibrium of numerous bodily functions, creating a stable internal environment or homeostasis.
Are HHC & THC legal?
For HHC the legal position is far from clear and constantly undergoing change. Refer to your State laws for clarity.
How do I know if HHC products are safe for me?
If you haven’t taken any cannabis products before, always check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe. Always reference a product’s third-party lab tests before purchasing any product to ensure its potency and quality.