HHC vs. THC: It’s Effects, Properties & Side Effects

Published on: December 24, 2023 January 27, 2024

Introduction of HHC vs. THC

HHC Vs. THC: Cannabis plants contain HHC and THC. They influence the endocannabinoid system differently.

While HHC is made to copy THC, they have key differences in their chemical structures, legal status, strength, and effects.

  • HHC has added hydrogen atoms, making it chemically different from natural THC in cannabis. This changes its properties.
  • The 2018 Farm Bill legalises hemp-derived HHC. THC remains illegal federally.
  • HHC appears less potent – about 80-90% as mind-altering as THC, based on early research.

Hemp and THC are compared in:

  • Chemical makeup
  • Legal status
  • Mind-altering qualities
  • Therapeutic effects
  • Harmful effects
  • Toxicity
  • Regulation

As HHC availability grows in the US market following the 2018 Farm Bill with little research, scientifically evaluating similarities and differences between HHC and THC helps inform:

  • Consumer awareness
  • Industry best practices
  • Policy reforms
  • Future research directions

in this emerging cannabinoid area.

What are HHC and THC? 

The “high” from cannabis comes from THC. HHC is a synthetic THC created from CBD or other hemp compounds. HHC goes through a process called hydrogenation.

This alters its chemical structure to interact differently with the body’s cannabinoid receptors compared to natural THC. Specifically, hydrogen atoms get added to HHC.

This makes HHC bind to CB1 and CB2 receptor sites in the body, copying some potential therapeutic effects of THC.

However, the changes to HHC also make it less potent than THC, with different start and duration of mind-altering impacts.

So, while HHC tries to mimic some properties of THC, the two cannabinoids differ a lot in their chemical makeup and effects due to HHC’s extra hydrogen atoms.

Similarities and Differences 

  • Similarities
    • Interact with cannabinoid receptors
    • Produce euphoric effects
  • Differences
    • HHC’s added hydrogen atoms distinguish it chemically from THC
    • HHC is federally legal under the 2018 US Farm Bill; THC is still Schedule I
    • HHC is less potent – about 80-90% psychoactive strength of THC
    • HHC highs faster acting but shorter duration
    • HHC long-term effects and risks less studied

Overview of Comparison 

  • HHC has recently emerged as a supposedly safer, legal alternative to THC.
  • By producing comparable effects via cannabinoid receptors but with lower potency, HHC may offer similar benefits as THC with potentially lower risks.
  • However, HHC’s distinct chemical structure changes its pharmacology – effects may differ in onset, duration and impact.
  • HHC is still unregulated in most places globally. Some countries have banned it, while experts argue better regulations are needed.
  • As research on HHC’s specific effects is still very limited, more studies across areas like efficacy, safety, legality and public health impacts are required.
  • This article outlines the current understanding of key similarities and differences between HHC and THC.

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Chemical Structure and Properties of HHC & THC

Molecular Structure 

  • HHC and THC share extremely similar molecular architecture – both feature a cyclohexane ring with a pentyl chain attached.
  • The defining difference is that HHC has additional hydrogen atoms chemically bonded at certain locations on its cyclohexane ring structure.
  • So, while HHC is engineered to imitate THC, binding and downstream effects diverge slightly due to these purposeful atomic alterations.

Effects on the Endocannabinoid System 

  • Cannabinoids like HHC and THC interact heavily with two main receptors: CB1, abundant in the brain/CNS, and CB2, found throughout the body.
  • Both compounds behave as partial CB receptor agonists – docking into CB1 and CB2 sites, activating them to produce effects.
  • Studies indicate that HHC binds more selectively to CB1 receptors than THC does. However, research confirms HHC is mildly less potent overall – about 80-90% strength of THC.

Potency and Psychoactivity 

  • Direct comparisons remain limited scientifically. Anecdotal reports suggest:
    • HHC requires lower doses than THC to produce similar effects
    • HHC intoxication can manifest faster
    • HHC effects may dissipate quicker versus THC
  • Current evidence indicates HHC is moderately less potent based on receptor activity differences.
  • Users note euphoric, relaxing qualities with some perceptual shifts – implying HHC retains substantial psychoactive effects, just somewhat lesser intensity.

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Effects and Benefits 

Mood and Anxiety 

  • Both THC and HHC may improve mood issues like depression or anxiety by interacting with CB1 receptors – inducing euphoria and lowering stress signals.
  • Users report that HHC boosts mood effectively at lower doses with less likelihood of adverse reactions occasionally caused by THC, like paranoia.
  • However, clinical studies directly comparing HHC against THC specifically for mental health applications are still lacking.

Pain Management 

  • Cannabinoids can reduce acute and chronic pain through anti-inflammatory actions, plus modulating pain processing pathways.
  • THC has some reasonable supportive evidence regarding analgesia. Research specifically on HHC is very limited.
  • Preliminary anecdotal reports suggest HHC may relieve certain types of pain when used properly. It could necessitate lower doses with less mental fog or physical coordination issues.
  • Still, direct comparative studies between these two compounds are needed to clarify their relative effectiveness for pain relief.

Nausea and Vomiting 

  • Both THC and HHC are proposed to control nausea and vomiting partly by activating CB1 receptors. THC’s antiemetic effects have solid documentation.
  • Though clinical trials are absent, user accounts indicate that HHC also eases nausea successfully when dosed appropriately.
  • One computational analysis noted that HHC shared significant spatial similarities to approved anti-nausea pharmaceutical medications, implying therapeutic prospects.
  • Nonetheless, scientific studies directly juxtaposing HHC against THC are still required to elucidate differences in efficacy and safety for nausea.

Sleep and Relaxation 

  • Scientific literature supports THC’s capacity to facilitate falling asleep and enhance sleep quality partly via general relaxation.
  • While still necessitating more formal research, self-reported evidence suggests HHC also delivers beneficial sedation and relaxation effects at suitable dosages.
  • Owing to its faster onset and shorter duration, HHC could enable utilising it strictly for sleep initiation without lingering “high” feelings or next-day drowsiness.
  • However, additional comparative research on HHC versus THC is required, especially for applications like treating sleep disorders.

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Side Effects and Safety 

Potential Side Effects 

  • Reported adverse effects for both HHC and THC include dizziness, sedation, confusion, rapid heart rate and coordination impairment at excess doses. THC may also elicit anxiety, fear, or psychotic reactions in a minority of people.
  • Given its lower potency and potentially greater CB1 receptor selectivity, HHC may cause a lower occurrence of unwanted psychological effects. However, physical side effects like drowsiness and balance/stability issues can still happen with irresponsible use.
  • The long-term impacts of habitual HHC intake remain scientifically undetermined due to its novelty and lack of dedicated research. About 10% of THC users develop dependence – whether HHC poses addiction liabilities as well is still unknown.

General Safety Profile 

  • No sole fatal overdoses from THC have been scientifically documented. Though its intoxicating properties can precipitate accidental injuries if misused. Animal toxicology data implies that HHC also has low toxicity risks regarding lethal overdose potential by itself.
  • Still, the long-term health repercussions of repeated, concentrated HHC consumption specifically remain largely unstudied in human trials compared to marijuana. When manufactured following regulations, licensed HHC products are generally safe for human use. Analytical assessments show low contaminant occurrence.
  • Nevertheless, HHC and THC usage remains unadvisable for adolescents, pregnant women, and elderly individuals. It remains unadvisable for those with pre-existing health conditions due to potential physical or mental health risks to these vulnerable groups.

Drug Interactions 

  • Both THC and HHC exhibit the capacity to interact with certain pharmaceutical drugs. This is because of shared effects on metabolic enzymes like the liver’s CYP450 system. Resulting interactions may alter blood levels of other drugs taken concurrently.
  • Specifically, THC and likely HHC can inhibit chemical processing by CYP enzymes that break down over 60% of pharmaceuticals. This can elevate drug concentrations to potentially toxic ranges if combined haphazardly with contraindicated medications.
  • Minimal clinical research exists documenting HHC drug interactions. But based on similarities to THC, experts caution that HHC should also be used carefully with essential medications. This should be done under medical guidance that possesses identified interaction risks. Monitoring by a physician is imperative for reducing the chances of adverse reactions.

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Legal Status and Availability

Federal and State Laws

  • Currently, hemp-derived HHC is federally legal in the US under the 2018 Farm Bill. While THC remains a Schedule I illegal substance.
  • The legal status of HHC varies in different states:
    • 15 states have banned HHC product sales so far.
    • In other states, HHC occupies a grey area with conflicting interpretations of its legality under state laws. Some allow it; others prohibit it.
    • Local law enforcement actions related to HHC have been largely inconsistent across different regions as well.
  • Given varying state laws and localised enforcement discrepancies, the legal landscape for HHC continues to evolve quickly.

Legality in Different Countries

  • HHC exists in a legal grey area globally right now as an unregulated new substance.
  • While the USA has seen expanding market penetration, many countries prohibit HHC entirely presently, including:
    • Much of the European Union
    • United Kingdom
    • Australia
    • Some parts of Canada
  • Multiple European governments have moved to ban HHC over 2022-2023. They cited public health concerns over its safety, addictiveness and appeal to youth.
  • Advocacy efforts continue to promote proper regulations for consumer access rather than a blanket prohibition. But legislative statuses continue shifting rapidly.

Accessibility and Distribution

  • As awareness and demand expand, HHC products have proliferated through online shops, vape stores, smoke shops, and cannabis dispensaries (where legal). They have proliferated through other retail channels across the USA.
  • However, supply chain transparency and general product quality remain variable in this largely unregulated market. There are few standardised manufacturing or labelling requirements for companies. Consumer education on responsible HHC usage is still emerging.
  • Some industry leaders have put forth suggested guidelines and best practices. These are around aspects like process monitoring, contaminant testing, safe packaging and dosage information to protect public health. This is because the market keeps growing quickly.

Comparison Table of HHC vs. THC

SourceSynthesised from CBD/hemp cannabinoidsNaturally occurs in cannabis
Legal StatusFederally legal under the 2018 Farm BillSchedule I illegal substance
Psychoactivity Relative to THC~80-90%100% (baseline)
Onset of EffectsFasterSlower
Duration of EffectsShorterLonger
Mental Side Effects RiskLowerHigher
Addiction LiabilityUndetermined~10% dependence rate
Toxicity/Lethal Dose RiskLow (based on limited data)Low

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Frequently Asked Questions of HHC & THC

Q: Is HHC safer than THC?

A: There is insufficient research to definitively state if HHC is safer overall than THC. Preliminary findings suggest it may have lower risks of side effects or overdose due to lower potency. However, long-term safety data in humans is lacking.

Q: Can HHC cause addiction like THC does?

A: It’s currently unknown if HHC poses addiction or dependence risks like THC. Around 10% of adult THC users develop dependence. More research is needed to clarify if repeated HHC usage leads to comparable rates of substance abuse disorders.

Q: How do HHC and THC differ in drug testing results?

A: Most standard drug tests are not yet calibrated to detect HHC unless specified. Though structurally related, HHC does not produce positive tests for cannabis metabolites. However, speciality lab testing can identify and distinguish HHC from THC.

Q: Does HHC have proven medical benefits like THC?

A: Evidentiary support for THC’s therapeutic effects exists across areas like chronic pain, nausea, poor appetite and multiple sclerosis symptoms. Data on HHC’s specific medical efficacy is very limited presently, requiring further investigation.

Q: Why is HHC legal federally while THC remains prohibited?

A: Chemically modifying THC to create analogues like HHC alters the molecular structure enough to skirt previous federal controlled substances laws. The 2018 Farm Bill also enabled hemp-derived products with under 0.3% residual THC, including HHC.


In conclusion, HHC and THC share an intertwined relationship. Though chemically distinct, HHC was designed to mimic THC’s activity.

This was for potential therapeutic benefits while remaining federally legal. This is thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill provisions.

Early evidence suggests that HHC’s differing pharmacology owing to its added hydrogen atoms could reduce adverse outcomes. It could also improve safety, but more research is required.

Both compounds can deliver a wide range of holistic effects by interacting with the body’s endocannabinoid system.

However, HHC appears less potent than THC while producing shorter-lasting highs. In turn, HHC may enable access to cannabinoid-mediated analgesic, anxiolytic and other effects with lower impairment and dependence risks.

Still, the long-term impacts of this relatively new substance necessitate further investigation through controlled trials.

For consumers and policymakers, HHC products’ conflicting legal status across jurisdictions has created confusion. This confusion is around the ballooning HHC market presence, especially online.

While some urge caution until safety profiles improve, experts contend regulations and oversight rather than prohibition may enable upholding public health.

This would be as novel HHC derivatives continue emerging. As more countries and states confront HHC legislative decisions, scientific guidance will remain vital.

It will navigate the ongoing risks versus the potential upsides of this unique cannabinoid alternative.

About the Author

Gaanja Heal

Gaanja Heal’s goal is to give people easy access to medical marijuana resources and qualified doctors. These doctors can evaluate patients to see if medical cannabis may help treat their health conditions.

View all posts by Gaanja Heal

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