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HHC was first created in 1944 by the American chemist Roger Adams, when he added hydrogen molecules to Delta-9 THC. This process, known as hydrogenation, converts THC to hexahydrocannabinol (HHC).
Hydrogenation isn’t limited to cannabinoid production. A similar process is used to convert vegetable oil to margarine.
While Adams created HHC from conventional cannabis-derived THC, these days the cannabinoid is typically derived through a process that begins with hemp, the low-THC cannabis plant that was made federally legal by Congress in the 2018 farm bill.
It’s a many-step process. First, CBD is extracted from raw hemp, distilled and isolated in a powder form. From there, things get a little more complicated.
We spoke with Kyle Ray, chief operating officer of Colorado Chromatography, about the process his company uses. In addition to HHC, Colorado Chromatography also produces CBG, CBN, and other specialized compounds.
There is a lack of consensus around HHC’s potency. The complication arises, in part, from the fact that when the cannabinoid is manufactured, the end result is a mixture of two different kinds of HHC molecules: 9R HHC actively binds to the body’s natural endocannabinoid receptors, while 9S HHC, because of its slightly different molecular structure, doesn’t do so nearly as well.
“The one that fits [into the receptors] produces similar effects” as delta-8 THC, but takes a much higher amount to do so, said Richard Sams of KCA Laboratories. “With a sufficient dose, THC-like effects can be observed.”
In other words, HHC can have THC-like effects on the body and mind, but HHC is less potent, milligram-per-milligram, than delta-8 THC. Delta-8 THC is itself generally regarded as about half as potent as the standard delta-9 THC.
Kyle Ray, of Colorado Chromatography, has the ratios of the active and inactive HHC molecules can vary from batch to batch, they need to be at least 50% active to pass muster.
Trying to get those two isolated and separated from each other would be so cost-ineffective that it wouldn’t really make a viable product,” he explained. “So our goal, when we’re making our HHC, is always to maximize the amount of the active [compound] and minimize the amount of the less active [compound]. However, it’s never a perfect gambit. It’s usually somewhere around 2:1 or 1:1.”
Like any of the new hemp-derived cannabinoids, there is no standard dose and little to no research on the immediate or long-term effects of HHC ingestion.
Because hemp-derived cannabinoids (including HHC) are not subject to cannabis regulations in legal adult-use states, HHC product makers and retailers are not required to test their products for potency and purity.