Learn the differences between HHC vs THC in this detailed guide. Discover the benefits of each & make an informed decision. ✓ Click here to read more.In the last few decades, the US has taken significant strides toward decriminalizing and legalizing cannabis. While marijuana remains federally illegal, many states have passed laws to legalize it for medical or recreational use. Additionally, hemp cannabis containing 0.3% or less THC was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
This legalization has led to greater exploration of some trace cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, including hexahydrocannabinol, or HHC. When cannabinoids like HHC are isolated and extracted from hemp cannabis, or in some cases, synthesized, they can be legally sold as an alternative to cannabis products that contain higher levels of THC.
Regarding HHC vs. THC, you may be interested to know how they compare and what you can expect when you choose one or the other.
What is the difference between HHC and THC? How are they similar? Is one better suited to your particular needs and preferences? Here’s what you need to know to make informed health and wellness regimen decisions.
What Is THC?
Cannabis sativa contains several hundred chemical compounds, including cannabinoids that interact with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS), terpenes, and flavonoids responsible for different strains' unique aromas and flavors. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is one of over 100 identified cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
THC is perhaps the best-known cannabinoid because it produces the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana or the euphoric feeling of being high. Also known as Delta-9 THC (not to be confused with Delta-8 or Delta-10), this compound features a double bond on the ninth carbon atom in its molecular structure, hence the “9” designation.
This is important because it impacts how the cannabinoid bonds with the ECS and produces effects. Cannabinoids typically bond with CB1 or CB2 receptors in the body, with CB1 receptors linked to effects in the central nervous system (CNS), while CB2 receptors impact the peripheral nervous system (PNS).
Delta-9 THC binds primarily with CB1 receptors, and the strength of the bond is related to its chemical structure. While Delta-8 THC produces similar effects, it is milder than Delta-9 because its double bond is on the eighth carbon atom.
Effects on the Body and Mind
Before you choose cannabidiol (CBD) or HHC vs. THC, it’s essential to understand what you can expect from THC products. Until recently, marijuana was primarily used for recreational purposes because of its THC content and its psychoactive effects, not to mention its status as a controlled substance.
Due to the ongoing legalization of marijuana for medical and recreational purposes at the state level, research has expanded in the last few decades, uncovering additional benefits linked to THC.
For example, THC has shown promise as a treatment for discomfort, nausea/vomiting, poor appetite, and a range of symptoms related to various conditions.
Generally, THC produces a sense of relaxation and often euphoria that many consumers find pleasant. It may alter senses and perception of time, increase appetite, and create a giddy, joyful sensation. It may also produce feelings of paranoia, anxiety, panic, and even hallucinations.
The effects of THC may depend on the type and amount you consume and your personal tolerance. It’s always best to consult with a trusted medical professional before starting a new form of treatment.
Legal Status and Restrictions
Although marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, it has enjoyed growing legalization for medical and recreational purposes in several states. Currently, there are only four states where marijuana remains entirely illegal.
The other 46 states have all made some strides toward legalization, although laws differ from one state to the next. Several states have fully legalized marijuana for medical and recreational use, while others only allow it for medical use for specified conditions.
Some have merely decriminalized marijuana, meaning possession of small amounts will result in penalties like fines or drug treatment rather than prosecution.
H.R.3617, a bill intended to decriminalize and deschedule cannabis, was introduced in the 117th session of Congress (2021-2022) but failed to pass both the House and Senate in the session it was introduced. It has not yet been reintroduced in the current session.
What Is HHC?
Like THC, hexahydrocannabinol, or HHC, is a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. In recent years, researchers have identified a growing number of cannabinoids and started isolating them to better understand their mechanisms and effects. While some, like CBD, have been widely studied, others, like cannabigerol (CBG), cannabinol (CBN), and HHC, are known but less well-understood.
In truth, HHC has been around since the 1940s, when chemist Roger Adams artificially created it by hydrogenating THC, but only recently has it become available as a stand-alone product.
In terms of chemical structure, HHC is somewhat similar to THC, but it differs in a couple of critical ways. Understanding HHC vs. THC starts with knowing that HHC lacks the double bond on the ninth carbon atom. It does, however, contain more hydrogen.
Like most cannabinoids, HHC occurs naturally in trace amounts, typically less than 1%. In whole-plant or full-spectrum products, HHC is beneficial for its involvement in producing the entourage effect.
While it can be isolated and extracted from marijuana and hemp cannabis, the process is complex and cost-prohibitive due to its negligible amounts. The HHC products found in the cannabis marketplace are likely made using a synthetic compound.
Potential Benefits and Uses
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a lot of research into the effects of HHC compared to THC. Consumers have reported that HHC products, such as edibles, tinctures, and vapes, produce mildly intoxicating effects similar to THC but less potent. It has also been compared to Delta-8 THC in terms of the results it creates.
For reference, Delta-8 THC has a chemical structure very similar to Delta-9, with the main difference being that the double bond is on the eighth carbon atom instead of the ninth. This difference impacts how it binds with ECS receptors, producing milder effects.
Studies have linked Delta-8 THC to feelings of relaxation, euphoria, increased appetite, and milder potential side effects.
Because hemp derivatives and synthetic products are virtually unregulated, it’s not always easy to know what you’ll get and how it will perform. Depending on your HHC products, the effects could fall somewhere between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC.
Legality and Accessibility
One area of concern for many consumers when it comes to HHC vs. CBD or THC is whether usage is legal.
The 2018 Farm Bill separated hemp (defined as cannabis containing 0.3% or less THC) from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This made the cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, possession, and transport of hemp cannabis and its derivatives legal at the federal level.
Because of this, many companies manufacturing or distributing products containing trace cannabinoids (like Delta-8 THC, Delta-10 THC, CBG, CBN, HHC, and so on) rely on extraction from hemp cannabis plants or, in some cases, use synthetic versions of these chemical compounds.
These products fall into something of a legal gray area, but by and large, they are not considered illegal, mainly when derived from hemp cannabis.
Still, some states have started to pass laws on a piecemeal basis to address the legality of hemp derivatives, so it’s always best to fully understand the laws in your state.
Difference Between HHC and THC
When it comes to understanding the THC-HHC difference, there’s not a lot of research to fall back on. While THC has been exhaustively researched and reported on, what we know about the effects of HHC is mainly anecdotal at this point. Still, there are some differences in the chemical structure of the two cannabinoids.
In addition, they offer slightly different benefits that may appeal to consumers seeking specific outcomes, such as milder effects or side effects. Then, there’s the fact that THC is readily available in its natural form, while HHC products are much more likely to be synthesized.
Chemical Composition and Properties
As noted, THC is distinctive from other cannabinoids because of the double bond on the ninth carbon atom, resulting in stronger binding with CB1 receptors in the ECS and, subsequently, greater efficacy for consumers.
The chemical difference between HHC and THC is primarily attributed to hydrogenation, a process by which the double bond of Delta-9 THC is replaced by hydrogen to create a milder but more stable molecular makeup.
Effects on the Body and Mind
Because the chemical composition of HHC vs. THC differs, the results are also naturally distinctive. With high concentrations of THC, as found naturally in marijuana plants, consumers can expect intense feelings of relaxation and euphoria and relief of symptoms like discomfort, nausea, sleep disruption, worry, and more.
HHC can accomplish similar outcomes but to a lesser degree. Consumers may still experience relaxation, euphoria, and symptom relief, which is milder, similar to Delta-8 THC (although it will depend on factors like product type and personal tolerance).
Side effects like anxiety and paranoia were also noted, but these were anecdotally described as mild, like the beneficial effects. Further research is required to understand the differences between THC and HHC and the variations between natural extracts and synthetic HHC.
Legal Status and Restrictions
One significant difference between THC and HHC lies in the realm of legal status. Hemp-derived products like HHC exist in something of a legal loophole. As long as they contain 0.3% THC or less, they benefit from the legal protections provided by the 2018 Farm Bill, which means they can be legally manufactured, distributed, possessed, and transported.
To date, this protection has been assumed to extend to synthetic versions of trace cannabinoids derived from hemp cannabis, although they are not explicitly covered by the 2018 Farm Bill. Because of this, some states have taken matters into their own hands and started introducing legislation regulating synthetic products.
As for marijuana with higher THC content, it remains illegal at the federal level. It’s best to understand your state's laws regarding the legality of cannabis and cannabinoids.
Similarities Between HHC and THC
Some cannabinoids deliver very distinctive effects. For example, THC is more effective in relieving discomfort, while CBD is better suited to reducing swelling. However, when discussing HHC vs. THC, the two compounds are more similar than different, perhaps because HHC is essentially a version of THC that has undergone a slight chemical change.
Similarities in Chemical Composition
The chemical composition of THC and HHC is relatively similar, as discussed, with HHC lacking the double bond on the ninth carbon atom and having more hydrogen present.
Similarities in Potential Benefits and Effects
Consumers seeking THC alternatives may ask, “Is HHC stronger than THC?” Unfortunately, clinical and peer-reviewed research on this topic is lacking. Reports indicate that HHC is similar to THC in its effects, including feelings of relaxation, euphoria, and discomfort relief, but the outcomes are much milder.
Which Is Better for You: THC or HHC?
Generally, if you qualify for medical marijuana, you may be better off relying on products that include THC, whether they’re derived from marijuana or hemp. For one thing, these products will provide the most potent symptom relief.
In the THC vs. HHC debate, HHC shows some promise to give a similar, milder form of relaxation and comfort. However, more research is required to fully understand the effects and benefits of this cannabinoid, particularly in the realm of synthetic HHC.
For patients worried about the intoxication associated with Delta-9 THC, low- or no-THC products derived from hemp cannabis offer a great alternative, as do Delta-8 and Delta-10 products.
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