The list of synthetic cannabinoids seems to be growing at an ever-increasing rate. One new, hot, synthetic cannabinoid that you may have heard of recently is HHC: hexahydrocannabinol. It’s a variation on THC with similar psychoactive properties and a longer shelf life. It’s not grown in large enough quantities in the plant, however, to be isolated. This means it must be synthesized. So is it safe and effective? Let’s chat about it.
HHC from THC
HHC is almost identical to THC, it just has two extra hydrogens. Thinking about it in literal chemistry speak, tetra means four, and hexa means six. THC is tetra-hydrocannabinol with four hydrogens on the ring, and HHC is hexa-hydrocannabinol with six:
Since one of the rings in THC has four hydrogens, it is deemed “unsaturated” and has a double bond (pictured on the very top right of THC). This double bond is what decreases the shelf stability of THC. It turns out, removing the double bond and replacing it with hydrogens to form HHC results in excellent shelf stability. This shelf stability is one of the major draws of HHC, coupled with the fact that it’s psychoactive effects are also comparable (70-80%) to THC.
Hydrogenation of THC
In order to go from four to six hydrogens, the chemical process called hydrogenation is quite straightforward. It usually involves dissolving THCA rich extract in ethanol. A metal palladium/carbon (or nickel, zinc, etc.) catalyst is added to solution, and hydrogen gas is then bubbled through solution under pressure for several hours. Once the synthesis is complete, the mixture is filtered through Celite (diatomaceous earth) to clean things up.
Hydrogenation is used in a lot of food processes to change the texture or shelf life of a food. It’s no surprise then that food chemists are attempting the same tricks on cannabis.
Is HHC Safe?
To synthesize? Definitely not! Hydrogen gas is explosive and should never be used without proper training and precautions.
To eat or vape? Unfortunately, the answer at the moment is “we don’t know”. There have been zero studies to date on the long term side effects of HHC use. There have also been no reported cases of severe illness or death caused by HHC consumption.
That being said, I’d say anytime a company goes to the lab bench, I’d like to see some certificate of analyses (COAs). Without a legitimate COA, we can’t be sure that all of the chemical steps were followed appropriately, and can’t ensure the safety of consumption.