HHC vs. delta-8: What's the difference?

HHC and delta-8 share many features and properties, but how do they differ?
HHC vs. delta-8: What's the difference?
minute read

There’s always something new to explore on the fast-moving frontier of hemp research and technology. Just when you thought you knew everything there was to know about the plant and its compounds, another fascinating discovery turns the tables and sparks new interest. 

Most recently, the hype is all about a compound known as hexahydrocannabinol, or HHC. While its discovery isn’t recent, the hemp community is buzzing with excitement over its potential for the future. Meanwhile, delta-8 THC is gaining momentum as a popular alternative cannabinoid, suggesting that demand for novel product types is greater than ever.* 

These two compounds, HHC and delta-8, are often mentioned in the same breath as a milder, lighter form of THC with a wide range of benefits and new use cases. So, there’s no better time to compare these compounds side by side and see what they’re all about. 

What is HHC?

Hexahydrocannabinol is a cannabinoid that naturally occurs in the Cannabis sativa plant. It’s found in very small concentrations in hemp flower, resulting from a natural conversion process and derived from delta-8 THC. This is our first hint that HHC and delta-8 are closely related — one cannot exist without the other, at least in a natural form.* 

HHC was first discovered in 1944 after scientists experimented with a process known as hydrogenation. This involved taking delta-8 THC and removing the double carbon bonds that give delta-8 its distinctive structure. Those bonds are replaced with hydrogen, making HHC a shelf-stable substance suitable for various delivery methods.

So, how did HHC go from a back-burner science experiment to one of the most talked-about compounds in the cannabis world? The legalization of hemp in 2018 brought HHC back to the spotlight like never before, and since then, manufacturers have been racing to bring a variety of HHC products to market.

HHC still has a ways to go in terms of research and refinement, but the compound shows promise with early findings and trials. Just like CBD and the various delta THC isomers that came before it, we may have to wait a while before HHC has the backing and support it needs to fully thrive in the hemp wellness market. 

How does HHC affect the body?

HHC affects the body with the same mechanisms and pathways as other cannabinoids, such as delta-8 and delta-9 THC. When ingested, HHC makes its way to the bloodstream, then passes the blood-brain barrier to bind with CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system.*

The ECS doesn’t stop there, of course. It’s a vast network of transmitters found throughout the body, including muscles, joints, organs, and even the skin. HHC interacts with all of these in various ways and restores balance to the ECS to provide a range of different effects.*

Users report that HHC offers a subtle psychoactive effect, somewhat less potent than delta-9, which is the main source of the typical marijuana high. The effects of HHC include a relaxed mind and body, heightened sensations like taste and smell, and an overall elevated mood. In larger servings, users may feel a mild sense of euphoria and experience slowed reflexes or sedation.*

In short, HHC’s effects are similar to other THC analogs we’ve explored, but the milder potency means users can shift gears and experience something different from the typical array of THC offerings. Still, up to this point, most of our understanding of HHC’s effects comes from anecdotal evidence. Since there is likely much more to discover about how HHC interacts with the body, we’ll have to wait for new research to come forth.*

Is HHC natural or synthetic?

HHC does occur naturally in very small concentrations in highly potent cannabis plants. In this sense, yes, HHC is a natural cannabinoid like CBD, THC, and others. However, to produce HHC in large amounts for distribution, it requires delta-8 to undergo a process of hydrogenation, which effectively constitutes HHC as a synthetic product.*

But just because today’s most popular HHC products are technically synthetic, this does not mean the product should be written off as something dangerous or ineffective. In fact, synthetic supplements and drugs are the norm in nearly all cases, whether you’re buying medicine over the counter or getting a prescription from your doctor. With this in mind, we can’t reach a definitive conclusion about whether HHC’s synthetic status is better or worse for any reason.*

Meanwhile, many of today’s consumers are wary of synthetic products more generally, which is understandable when considering that hemp is an organic plant at the start. For those who prioritize natural and organic products as a matter of health and purity, HHC may not be the best option for their needs. 

As HHC gains more recognition and we gain clarity about its effects, we’ll likely see more options become available that mirror organic production trends across the hemp industry. For now, users will have to settle for the norm, which means using HHC products created via synthetic means. 

Is HHC federally legal?

HHC is currently federally legal under the regulations set forth by the 2018 Farm Bill. In this legislation, the federal government made legal the production and distribution of hemp products containing less than 0.3% THC by total dry weight.* 

Since HHC is not delta-9 and contains none of that compound in any concentration, it achieved legal status at a time when many states still had strict policies against traditional THC. While this might not have seemed like a controversial decision at the time, the Farm Bill has had some unforeseen consequences that may lead to more changes, including the legality of HHC.*

Because HHC is so close to THC in structure and produces many of the same effects, some officials have spoken out about the possible risks associated with its accessibility on a federal level. HHC is readily available alongside non-psychoactive hemp products like CBD, but the outcomes are very different for the user, creating a more intoxicating effect and potentially introducing new risks.*

So, as the legal landscape around hemp evolves, we’re sure to see HHC as part of the conversation moving forward. For now, it’s legal like any other non-delta-9 product, but that might change in certain parts of the country sooner rather than later. 

What is delta-8?

Delta-8 has clear links to HHC, as it’s the main compound used to make HHC at scale. But what should you know about this compound on its own?

Delta-8 is yet another naturally occurring cannabinoid with a slightly different structure from its siblings. While HHC has no double carbon bonds, delta-8 has its two on the eighth carbon chain, earning it this distinction from delta-9 and 10.* 

It’s also considered a minor cannabinoid when compared to delta-9, as concentrations clock in at less than 1% in the average hemp plant. This means that delta-8, at least historically, was hard to come by and wasn’t in the spotlight as a standalone product until recently.

Like HHC, delta-8 gained popularity with the introduction of the Farm Bill, as this non-delta-9 compound was made federally legal under these 2018 changes. It was perfect timing for hemp researchers and companies, who had a large surplus of CBD that could be converted to delta-8 with some basic processing.*

This led to a huge influx of delta-8 products lining store shelves and introducing a new era of THC analogs that nobody could have predicted. Now, delta-8 is the third most popular compound behind CBD and THC, and as more research and development take place, it’s likely only going to improve with new horizons. 

How does delta-8 affect the body?

Like other cannabinoids, delta-8 is absorbed into the bloodstream and interacts with the neurotransmitter network of the endocannabinoid system. It binds loosely with CB1 receptors in the brain and nervous system but also interacts less directly with CB2 receptors in various organs and neuromuscular networks.*

Delta-8’s effects are still being fully documented, but users have reported that it’s about half as potent as delta-9 in terms of psychoactive results. Effects may include increased sensory perception, heightened appetite, and a general sense of calm and well-being. Users also report that the high from delta-8 is more clear and cerebral compared to standard delta-9 THC, which suggests it has a wider range of use cases and fewer possible downsides.* 

With many new delta-8 products coming to the forefront, this compound might offer a chance for new users to step into the world of THC without going all-in with delta-8. Of course, combining delta-8 with non-psychoactive compounds like CBD can further the therapeutic benefits, which is why many of Sunmed’s products are designed with unique formulations to meet this need.*

Is delta-8 natural or synthetic?

Delta-8 occurs naturally in hemp, but like HHC, it’s only found in very small amounts. Therefore, most delta-8 products on the market today are derived from CBD, having undergone a process of extraction and concentration with solvents, heat, and other techniques.

This leads delta-8 into a gray area with its status as a synthetic or natural hemp product. While CBD can be extracted from hemp naturally, the process of rearranging molecules to form a new compound is the part that raises eyebrows for some users. This involves the use of a catalyst — such as an acid or metal — which accelerates a process known as isomerization.* 

Isomerization is considered safe under the right conditions, especially if the delta-8 then undergoes a refinement and purification process. Technically, it’s a synthetic process, but if the CBD source is high-quality and best practices are applied, delta-8 consumers should not be concerned with any risks or side effects as a result of this approach.*

At Sunmed, we go the extra mile and make sure all of our delta-8 is 100% plant derived, meaning there are no synthetic processes in place. Check out our Above Line for natural, plant-derived delta-8 blends. 

Is delta-8 federally legal?

Delta-8 currently exists in the same loophole territory as HHC and other hemp compounds that skirt the delta-9 designation. Because delta-8 is chemically unique and doesn’t fall under the delta-9 umbrella, it was granted legal status alongside CBD and many other cannabinoids under the 2018 Farm Bill.

At first, lawmakers saw no issue with this legal shift until questions came up about the safety of having full-strength delta-8 products readily available on a national scale. This has led some states to reconsider the legal status of delta-8.* 

With this knowledge, delta-8 users should stay tuned to any updates that may affect them on a state level with regard to this class of hemp products.

How do HHC and delta-8 compare?

HHC and delta-8 share many similarities, from their classifications to the very processes that create them. Now, it’s time to examine these two compounds side by side and see how they differ, helping you make the right choice moving forward. 

Chemistry

A quick glance at the molecular structure of HHC and delta-8 might not reveal the subtle difference at first, but on closer inspection, it’s apparent. While delta-8 features a double bond in its eighth carbon chain, HHC has no double bonds, instead replacing that gap with two extra hydrogen atoms.

This chemical difference has a big effect on how HHC and delta-8 affect the body and mind, however, and it’s always worth remembering the scientific foundations of the hemp products we use. 

Effects

In terms of effects, HHC is considered slightly less potent than delta-9 THC, but still more potent than delta-8. This means HHC may produce more powerful psychoactive effects, including changes in perception, senses, reaction times, and more. 

Meanwhile, delta-8 is recognized as one of the less potent delta variants, and the effects are much milder. Both compounds have upside, whether it’s reducing tension or offering feelings of comfort and uplifting.* 

When it comes time to configure your serving sizes and adopt one of these compounds into your routine, remember to acknowledge the potency differences that separate them.

Delivery methods

Taking HHC and delta-8 starts with picking a delivery method that suits your preferences and comfort level. Thankfully, both compounds can be found in familiar formats, including tinctures, edibles, vapes, and more. Since delta-8 is a more common product and has been on the market for slightly longer than HHC, you may find a wider range of product types and formulations that check all the boxes.

As always, the delivery method is just one part of the equation. More importantly, you need to prioritize products that are clean, consistent, and come with a stamp of approval for quality and transparency. That’s why Sunmed always does third-party testing on any product batch we sell, and we make our lab reports available to the public every time.*

Best use cases

Designing your hemp lifestyle requires knowing when, where, and why to use specific products, and that includes both HHC and delta-8. 

Because HHC is a more potent and intoxicating compound, it might be wise to reserve its use for the end of the day or at times without major pressures or responsibilities. This relaxed setting will allow you to enjoy HHC to the fullest and not run the risk of possible downsides.

Alternatively, delta-8 is less potent, while still producing some psychoactive effects. You may feel more comfortable performing active or creative tasks with delta-8, while HHC could be better suited for more passive and relaxed experiences.* 

It’s always smart to start slow and see how your body and mind respond to new compounds, even if you’re familiar with other types of cannabinoids beforehand.

The bottom line

HHC and delta-8 are finally here, and they’re often compared side by side for good reason. Delta-8 is the compound used to create HHC, after all, and the two substances share many features that make them worth a closer look.

If you’re looking for a milder way to enjoy the best hemp benefits without the full-on effects of delta-9, HHC and delta-8 might be for you. Our Above Delta-8 collection features full spectrum blends and live resin formulations that match any experience level and preference.*

Remember to pick the right delivery method, keep a close eye on serving sizes, and stay balanced with a lifestyle that supports your health on every level. Sunmed is here to guide the way with resources and top-quality products, so you’ll always have the support you need throughout your journey. 

Sources:

Hexahydrocannabinol on the Light Cannabis Market: The Latest "New" Entry | NIH

Studies Pertaining to the Emerging Cannabinoid Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) | NIH

Consumers who buy cannabis products containing HHCs could be getting less than they hoped for | UCLA Newsroom

5 Things to Know about Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol – Delta-8 THC | FDA

Delta-8-THC: Delta-9-THC’s nicer younger sibling? | BMC