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In-Depth Coverage Of The Irish And European Markets

HHC: Legalities, Potentials, and Trends



HHC has increased in popularity in Ireland and across Europe in the last 12 months, but a question I'm often asked is what is HHC and is it legal? Despite the rise in popularity , many consumers are uninformed about HHC.


 

What is HHC?

HHC, or to give it its technical name Hexahydrocannabinol, is a minor cannabinoid that occurs naturally in cannabis plants (Hemp). As the amounts occurring naturally are too small to make extraction cost-effective, today HHC is synthetically produced by hydrogenation of cannabis extracts from CBD, making it a semi-synthetic cannabis product. HCC mimics the effect of THC and interacts with the endocannabinoid system in a similar way to THC.


 

Chemical Structure

Despite many people believing HHC is a new discovery, HHC was first reported in 1940 by Roger Adams. In 1947 the process, called hydrogenation was described in a patent document. Hydrogenation is accomplished by adding two hydrogen atoms to a double bond in the structure of delta 9 THC, hydrogenation alters the molecular weight of the compound and increases its stability. Because hydrogenation increases stability and resistance to thermo-oxidative breakdown, HHC is less susceptible to heat and UV light damage and has a longer shelf life.

 

 

Legal Status

Over the last number of months and years, we have seen a notable increase in the popularity of HHC in Ireland and across Europe. To date, HHC has been identified in 70% of the EU Member States between May and December 2022. It is sold in various forms, such as low-THC cannabis flower and resin sprayed or mixed with HHC, vapes, and edibles. Low-THC cannabis flower and resin containing HHC have a similar look and smell to natural cannabis. While many products on the market declare they are HHC products and many have lab testing results available for the product, there is a concern that it may be intentionally or accidentally mis-sold as, or used to adulterate, cannabis, THC, and CBD products.

 


Unlike natural cannabis, the majority of HHC compounds remain unregulated across Europe and internationally and are not subject to scheduling under the 1961 and 1971 UN Conventions. In a legal sense, HHC is in a legal grey area, it is currently not listed as a regulated substance in Ireland and is not listed as an illegal substance. This was confirmed in June 2023 in the Dáil by the Minister for Justice, where she stated “hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) is not controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Acts 1977/84.”

 


Policy considerations

Synthetic/semi-synthetic products have emerged as an alternative to traditional cannabis, and their increase in popularity can be attributed to their easy availability vs traditional black market natural cannabis. While many synthetic products have been prohibited in international law, the rapid introduction of varying synthetic products means international and domestic law can't keep up. In most countries a catch-all ban on psychoactive substances is implemented, Ireland being one of these countries. Despite this, the law has not caught up and HHC remains legal at the time of writing.

 


As numerous countries, including Ireland, stand at the brink of revising their drug policies concerning cannabis, discussions about synthetic cannabis are intensifying. I propose that, under a legal framework for cannabis access, synthetic products should not be allowed for retail purposes. The risk profile of synthetic cannabis is currently not well-understood compared to traditional natural cannabis, although this understanding may evolve over time. Once comprehensive research becomes accessible, it would be prudent to reconsider this stance, potentially permitting synthetic products for consumers under stringent regulatory oversight.



The current prohibition of cannabis has driven the popularity of synthetic products due to their legal status. Previous studies have shown that the popularity of synthetic products diminishes when legal cannabis access is introduced. Additionally, if we look at one of the longest-running cannabis markets, The Netherlands, there is no significant demand for synthetic substances.


 

Research and developments

There has been very limited research into HHC to date. The biological activity of HHC has been studied in several animal species since the 1940s but, due to the unknown purity or composition of the substance used in early investigations, the results of some of these studies are difficult to interpret. Most of the reported studies examined the cannabimimetic effects of HHC in animals.



In the quest to unravel the secrets of cannabinoids, particularly Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC), various animal studies have provided intriguing insights. These investigations, employing tests ranging from rabbit eye reflex to monkey behaviour assessments, shed light on HHC's potential effects. Early examinations showcased HHC's marijuana-like properties in rabbits and dogs, with potency evaluations relative to traditional THC. In primate studies, the 9β-HHC isomer exhibited heightened activity compared to its 9α counterpart, inducing significant behavioural changes. Mouse assays revealed HHC's lower potency in certain aspects compared to other compounds, and its metabolite, 11-OH-HHC, demonstrated noteworthy efficacy. Moreover, experiments with New Zealand White rabbits underscored differences in cannabimimetic effects between HHC and natural THC. As researchers delve into these findings, the potential parallels between HHC and THC in humans become an intriguing avenue for future exploration, warranting scrutiny and further investigation.


 

Recent investigations, spanning cannabinoid receptor interactions to potential therapeutic applications, have uncovered significant findings. Studies on cloned human CB1 and CB2 receptors indicated that both 9α-HHC and 9β-HHC activate these receptors, with slight variations in efficacy. Moreover, when examining cardiac safety, a mixture of the 9α and 9β epimers of HHC showed no significant blockage of hERG ion channels, crucial for heart function, suggesting a favourable safety profile. Beyond these, studies have probed the anticancer potential of HHC epimers, showing inhibitory effects on cancer cell proliferation comparable to known anticancer agents, hinting att possible future therapeutic applications in cancer treatment. While computational approaches highlight the binding affinities of HHC to cannabinoid receptors, user reports suggest Δ9-THC-like effects. In essence, this intricate journey through decades of research signifies that HHC shares pharmacological similarities with Δ9-THC, offering promising insights into potential medical applications.



Consumer Insights

Deciphering consumer insights into HHC products is difficult in the current landscape, we rely on anecdotal reports from consumers themselves. There are a multitude of Irish consumer voices on Reddit, and thankfully it gives us an insight into HHC consumers in Ireland.



Consumers online have voiced concerns over the lack of research on HHC, but inevitably, the uncertainty of buying natural cannabis on the black market leads them to purchase legal HHC. As for the consumption of HHC through vapes, consumers showcase a mix of caution and intrigue. The discreet nature of vape pens is appealing for on-the-go use, yet users report an array of experiences such as intense highs and journeys of self-discovery.  A shared sentiment emerges—while HHC may offer a unique experience, treating it with the same respect as traditional THC is essential. One user, drawing from personal experience, advises a cautious and measured approach, dispelling notions of an easily attainable mellow buzz.



Among users, the discomfort of HHC vape pens becomes a topic of discussion, with complaints about coughing and quick tolerance build-up. The uncertainty surrounding the contents of cartridges adds another layer of complexity, as users express the challenges of discerning what's truly inside. Yet, a notable trend surfaces—consumer preference for legal companies producing HHC. The appeal of HHC lies partly in its natural occurrence in cannabis, offering a familiar component with purportedly fewer negative effects than synthetic alternatives. Users note its popularity in regions where THC faces legal restrictions.



In contrast to concerns, a transformative narrative emerges from an individual who credits HHC and CBD for a remarkable shift in lifestyle. From a compulsive daily THC habit to an eight-week THC-free period, this consumer attributes positive life changes to HHC and CBD use. Personal relationships improve, goals take shape, and a newfound focus on self-improvement takes root. These narratives challenge negative portrayals, presenting HHC as a harm-reduction tool that, for some, leads to positive personal transformations. As HHC garners attention, these diverse consumer voices underscore the complex tapestry of perceptions, concerns, and life-altering experiences within the realm of cannabinoid exploration.

 


HHC's journey intertwines legality, research frontiers, and diverse user experiences. As countries grapple with evolving cannabis landscapes, the nuanced story of HHC underscores the necessity for informed policies, comprehensive research, and a balance between accessibility and regulation in the realm of cannabinoid exploration.

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